Habitat & Cultivation : An indigenous plant to America, lobelia is distributed across much of North America, particularly in the eastern regions of the United States. It commonly thrives by roadsides and in neglected areas, displaying a preference for acidic soil. Harvesting is done in early autumn, focusing on the aerial parts when the seed capsules are most abundant, and they are meticulously dried for use.
- Piperidine alkaloids (6%) – principally lobeline, but many others present Carboxylic acids
- Respiratory stimulant
- Induces vomiting
- Increases sweating
Traditional & Current Uses
- Native American remedy : Lobelia held a significant place as a traditional Native American remedy with diverse applications. Its utilization gained prominence through the advocacy of the American herbalist Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), who established the herb as a cornerstone in his therapeutic system (refer to p. 27). Thomson primarily employed lobelia for the purpose of inducing vomiting.
- Therapeutic properties : The entire herb exhibits potent antispasmodic properties. The component lobeline acts to stimulate the respiratory center in the brain stem, resulting in enhanced and deeper breathing. Studies conducted in laboratory settings during the 1990s indicate that lobeline may possess antidepressant activity.
- Respiratory problems : Possessing robust antispasmodic and respiratory stimulating qualities, lobelia proves beneficial for conditions characterized by chest tightness, such as asthma—especially bronchial asthma—and chronic bronchitis. The herb aids in relaxing the muscles of the smaller bronchial tubes, facilitating the opening of airways, encouraging improved breathing, and fostering the expulsion of phlegm through coughing. In the Anglo-American herbal tradition, the combination of lobelia with chili has been a longstanding practice; the heating and stimulant effects of chili complement lobelia’s action by directing blood into areas that lobelia has helped relax.
- External applications : Certain constituents, notably lobeline, undergo rapid breakdown within the body, making external application of lobelia often more effective. The herb’s antispasmodic properties contribute to muscle relaxation, especially in smooth muscle, rendering it valuable for conditions like sprains and back problems where muscle tension plays a pivotal role. Lobelia, when combined with cayenne, has been employed as a chest and sinus rub.
- Tobacco addiction : The piperidine alkaloids, with lobeline being particularly notable, exhibit chemical effects akin to nicotine, which is present in tobacco. Herbalists utilize lobelia to assist individuals in their efforts to quit smoking.