If you haven’t heard of lobelia before, you’re in good company. Though lobelia is a powerfully effective natural remedy for asthma, cough, fever, and other ailments, this herb is surrounded by much controversy and has fallen out of popular use. It has been described as having “some toxic effects” and having “no harmful effects” in the same paragraph by the well-known herbalist and author, Jethro Kloss (1988). Also, it is so notorious for its ability to induce vomiting that it has been nicknamed “pukeweed” and “vomitwort.” Most herbal experts agree that this herb should only be used under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
Lobelia Inflata, the “Puke Weed”
Lobelia inflata, known to herbalists simply as lobelia, has a diverse reputation. “Safe,” “possibly toxic,” “harmless,” and “poisonous” have all been used to describe this plant. While some herbalists laud its ability to induce vomiting, others warn against using it for this reason. However, these practitioners do all seem to agree heartily on one thing: Lobelia is one powerful herbal remedy.
Lobelia is known best as a powerful relaxant and respiratory remedy. Its main active chemical constituent, an alkaloid called lobeline, has been shown to cause deeper, stronger breathing by stimulating the brain’s respiratory center (Gladstar, Grieve). It has also been said to be such a powerful muscle relaxant that it has instantly cured the effects of lockjaw (Kloss).
Because it causes vomiting, lobelia is known by a slew of descriptive names: emetic herb, emetic weed, pukeweed, vomitwort. It is also known popularly as “Indian tobacco,” which may be because its fresh leaves, when chewed, are said to have a burning taste like tobacco (Grieve).
The lobelia plant is found in northern North America, where it grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet and bears pale, violet-blue flowers. While all of its aerial (above-ground) parts can be used medicinally, the leaves and seeds are said to be most potent (Kloss,; Gladstar).
According to Rosemary Gladstar, this plant is at risk because of growing popularity and limited range. If intending to use this plant, purchase lobelia that has been organically cultivated.
Uses for Lobelia, Natural Fever Remedy
Lobelia is considered an invaluable remedy for serious respiratory problems, like asthma, and for issues that require relaxation of the entire body, as with spasms. It is also a diaphoretic (sweat-inducer) that makes it a natural fever remedy. Of course, it is also an emetic (inducer of vomiting), though it should not be specifically taken for this reason. Lobelia’s indications include:
- Cough (both wet and dry)
- Expectorant (brings up mucus)
- Diaphoretic (causes sweating)
- External inflammation
How to Prepare and Administer Lobelia
Lobelia can be taken internally as a tea or a tincture, though only under guidance of a qualified herbalist. It can also be applied externally as an infusion, tincture, poultice, or compress to sooth local inflammation.
To make lobelia tea, steep a teaspoon of the herb in a cup of boiling water, and take two tablespoons of this herbal infusion every two hours, hot (Kloss). Also, it can be used as a tincture, though this should certainly be diluted in water or tea before use (Gladstar). Gladstar advises beginning lobelia with small doses, using it with other herbs, and diluting it in water. It should be used cautiously, as it induces vomiting even at normal therapeutic doses. It is usually given with other herbs, such as herbal stimulants like cayenne, as these are said to strengthen and prolong its efficacy (Kloss).
Lobelia Warnings and Side Effects
In excessive doses, lobelia is said to depress the nervous system and possibly cause death (Grieve, 1971). However, some herbalists deny its poisonous properties. This is certainly a controversial herb, and should only be used under professional guidance!
Lobelia induces vomiting. Kloss (1988) writes that it is a more powerful emetic than ipecacuanha, the herb that makes up syrup of ipecac.
Lobelia should not take during pregnancy, for it is known to relax the uterus.