Lobelia, sometimes called Indian tobacco, is prescribed for both respiratory ailments and external conditions, but it can be extremely toxic. Herbalists use the whole hairy plant, which grows up to 3 feet high and contains a milky sap; the seeds, however, are the most potent part. Two of lobelia's active ingredients, lobeline and isolobelanine, may give the plant the ability to act as a relaxant for the entire body even while it stimulates the respiratory system. Lobeline mildly mimics the effect of nicotine; this has prompted people who are trying to quit smoking to use it as a temporary substitute.
Because it is thought to relax overworked bronchial muscles and promote coughing, which helps to clear mucus from the lungs, lobelia is most widely used to treat respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and whooping cough. Lobelia compresses also have been used to treat skin injuries, fungus infections and muscle sprains.
Taken internally for:
Applied externally for:
Over the counter:
Available in dried bulk, capsules and tinctures.
Tea: 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. dried leaves steeped in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Compress: A piece of fabric soaked in a lobelia infusion for several minutes, wrung out and applied to affected area.
Combinations: For asthma, used with cayenne, skunk cabbage and ginger.