The Health Benefits of Lobelia

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

The Health Benefits of Lobelia

Inflammatory respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, upper respiratory tract infection, pneumonia, and emphysema.

Mechanism of Action

The leaves and seed pods are the most commonly used medicinal parts of Lobelia. They have been shown to have antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, emetic, expectorant, and respiratory stimulant effects.1

α-Lobeline is the most biologically active and frequently investigated alkaloid in Lobelia, the more than 20 piperidine alkaloids that have been identified. α-Lobeline has been shown to be a partial nicotine agonist with effects on the CNS, neuromuscular system, and peripheral circulation. It is known as a strong respiratory stimulant, activating the carotid and aortic body chemoreceptors.

α-Lobeline relaxes lung tissue and aids in expectoration. Small amounts stimulate respiration and have expectorant activity. Larger amounts have emetic, purgative, and diuretic effects.

2 α-Lobeline initially causes CNS stimulation and then causes CNS and respiratory depression.

Lobelia has been used with success in an array of respiratory conditions including asthma, chronic pneumonia, bronchitis, and laryngitis.3

Evidenced-Based Research

A study on horses tested the respiratory effects α-lobeline. The results revealed a transitory hyperpnea (increased depth and rate of breathing) with an increase in tidal volume and respiratory rate.

This increase in respiratory ventilation lasted for about 90 seconds and was accompanied by a sharp rise in the respiratory peak airflows, especially the expiratory flows.4 Additional studies have been conducted on pigs5 and rabbits6 and have produced similar results to the horse study.

Currently, clinical trials with lobeline have been limited to investigating its use as a partial nicotine agonist to aid in smoking cessation.

Safety in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Lobelia's safety profile for pregnancy is still unknown. because of the acrid nature of this herb, and its ability to affect respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure, caution is recommended.

According to a popular historical herbal text, Lobelia acts on the uterus, but not in a way that would contraindicate its use during pregnancy, as a parturifacient. The text notes that Lobelia promotes normal uterine contraction after the cervical os is dilated, and it relaxes perineal muscles.7

A single dose of 0.03 mg/kg α-lobeline was administered to pregnant women. No adverse effects were reported to mother or fetus.8

No studies have been conducted on the safety of Lobelia during breastfeeding. Because of the acrid nature of this herb, and its ability to affect respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure, caution is recommended.

General Safety

Clinical trials of the compound α-lobeline have revealed mostly minor side effects. When taken at doses of 0.5 mg, nausea and a burning sensation were experienced in the mouth and throat.9 Doses higher than 500 µg were associated with nausea, vomiting, vertigo, and increased heart rate (tachycardia).10 One human study showed an increase in blood pressure and variable effects on heart rate.11


Lobelia has potential for toxicity. Use caution if exceeding a 1-g daily dosage; 100–400 mg of leaf is a typical dose for most respiratory ailments.12

As recently as the 1970s, standard pharmacology texts in the United States recommended doses of
up to 20 mg of lobeline hydrochloride as an emergency respiratory stimulant, administered by intramuscular injection. The equivalent amount of lobeline would be found in about 5 g of powdered leaf.

Traditional Uses

Lobelia inflata (also known as Indian tobacco) is a species of Lobelia native to eastern North America. The native range extends from southeastern Canada (Nova Scotia to southeastern Ontario) south through the eastern United States to Alabama and west to Kansas.

Lobelia has a long use as a medicinal plant for respiratory and skin diseases, as an entheogenic and an emetic. It had wide use among Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Penobscot and was used for respiratory and muscle disorders as well as a ceremonial herb. The Cherokee burned the foliage as a natural insecticide.13


Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnology. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins; 1996. Robbers JE, Speedie MK, Tyler VE.

2 Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons; 1996. Leung AY, Foster S.

3 Tetrahedron. 2004;60(45):10127–53. History, chemistry, and biology of alkaloids from Lobelia inflata. Felpin F-X, Lebreton J.

4 Zentralbl VeterinarmedA. 1991;38(2):148–52. Lobeline-induced hyperpnea in equids. Comparison with rebreathing bag and exercise. Art T, Desmecht D, Amory H, Lekeux P.

5 Am J Physiol. 1961;201(1):89. Chemoceptor reflexes in swine. Bredeck HE, Herin RA, Booth NH.

Nagoya Igakkai Zasshi. 1941;54:603–9. Respiratory action of lobeline. Utashiro S.

7 American materia medica, therapeutics, and pharmacognosy. Eclectic Medical Publications; 1919. Sandy OR, Ellingwood F.

Obstet Ginecol Lat Am. 1959;17:442–52. Lobeline in the determination of circulatory rate in the healthy pregnant woman. Klauer D.

9 Curr. Ther. Res. Clin. Exp. 1963;5(4):167. Clinical evaluation of a new lobeline smoking deterrent. London SJ.

10 Lancet. 1962;1(7219):54. Buffered lobeline as a smoking deterrent. Scott GW, Cox AGC, Maclean KS, Price TML, Southwell N.

11 J. Physiol. 2001;534(Pt. 2):583–93. Changes in respiratory sensations induced by lobeline after human bilateral lung transplantation. Butler JE, Anand A, Crawford MR, et al.

12 American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, LLC; 1997. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds.

13 Cherokee Plants and Their Uses A 400 Year History. Sylva, NC:Herald Publishing Co., 1975. p. 40. Hamel PB, Mary UC.


Mother Earth Living

The Health Benefits of Lobelia

Harness the power of whole plants for home medicial needs with “Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare” by Dawn Combs.

In Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-It-Yourself Home Healthcare (New Society Publishers, 2015) author and herbalist Dawn Combs makes herbal healthcare less intimidating and more attainable, helping locally-minded gardeners and non-gardeners a take back food, goods and services from pharmaceutical corporations and sourcing them from small growers, producers, artisans and entrepreneurs. This section on Lobelia comes from the chapter “The Herbs.”

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

Properties: Respiratory stimulant, antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, expectorant, emetic

Harvest notes: Lobelia is an annual that is used for its above ground parts. The harvest period is after the plant has bloomed in early fall. Lobelia is in danger due to overharvesting or loss of habitat so it is important to source it responsibly or grow it yourself.

Lobelia is a very strong antispasmodic with a special affinity for the respiratory system.

It is effective for emergency asthma treatment, congestion, asthma (exercise induced, bronchial and spasmodic), bronchitis, whooping cough, pneumonia and hiccups.

In the digestive system it is effective for food poisoning, hiatal hernia, as an emetic and for heartburn. Lobelia is perfect for severe muscular spasm, epilepsy and any other situation that requires a supreme relaxant.

Lobelia s to be combined with other herbs to mellow its effects. If you are using it alone, use only one to two drops of tincture at a time. You may continue to use these small doses until the desired result is achieved. Stop when salivation or nausea occurs.

Contraindications: Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid lobelia. It is not recommended for those with high blood pressure or heart disease.

Herbal Remedies for Asthma

• Calendula• Chickweed• Garlic• Lemon Balm• Lobelia• Mullein• Parsley

• St. John’s Wort

Asthma is ultimately a constriction of the airways due to irritation and inflammation. As a syndrome or defined disease it has been studied all the way back to ancient Egypt, but still today we don’t really understand why someone is born with this problem.

The person who suffers from asthma will have “triggers” which set off wheezing, chest tightness, panic and feelings of suffocation.

These episodes often occur in response to an allergen so it is, of course, helpful to treat the person as you would if they had basic allergy issues.

Lobelia is usually harvested in early fall, and is most effective in emergency asthma treatments.

The severity of the attacks will dictate how you prepare a home health kit. If the person in your household with asthma tends to have serious attacks that deprive them of oxygen and require emergency treatment, it is important to  have a lobelia tincture within easy reach at all times.

It may be helpful to label that tincture “in case of asthma attack” or something else in plain English rather than “lobelia tincture.”  In the case of a serious situation this, it is important to remember that you don’t know who may reach into your medicine cabinet.

If your child has asthma, you may be away at work and their friends may be at home with them when there is an emergency. Make this type of first aid product really easy to understand by anyone.

Beyond the emergency situation, a wholistic family caregiver is going to want to know what to do to prevent or heal the dysfunction. In the case of asthma, it can be helpful to build the health of the respiratory system internally with herbs such as mullein, calendula and garlic.

Nervines are important in a treatment protocol because some of the triggers for an asthma attack can be emotional or stress related, causing constriction in the muscles around the airways. Lemon balm and St.

John’s wort in teas, pills or tinctures are perfect for this type of work and have been used specifically for asthma related issues successfully. Diuretics and alteratives affect the way that toxins are carried the body and proteins are cleansed from the blood.

This, of course, keeps the allergic trigger down to a minimum; parsley and chickweed are effective when used in this way.

Personally, I think the answer to asthma may lie in adrenal health. Two of the most common medications for asthma are synthetic forms of the norepinephrine and corticosteroids that are produced in the adrenal glands.

It seems that there may be a fight or flight dysfunction that is causing the lungs to react inappropriately to external stimuli.

I haven’t found any research to back up this hunch of mine, but in the meantime, I will continue to recommend that those treating asthma symptoms add adrenal tonics to their treatment programs.

Alternatives for internal application:

• Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
• Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium)
• Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
• Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
• Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
• Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
• Elecampane (Inula helenium)
• Ephedra (Ephedra sinica)
• Wild cherry (Prunus serotina)

Learn more about local, natural remedies in The Uses and Benefits of Boneset.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare, by Dawn Combs, published by New Society Publishers, 2015.

Learn to distinguish elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, s.nigra) from poisonous pokeberry.

Look to motherwort leonurus cardiaca, for herbal care to calm anxiety, fear and high blood pressure.

In this episode, host Joanne Bauman discusses Elder (Sambucus), its history, folklore, and how to use it.

Mother Earth Gardener – Elderberry Benefits Mother Earth Living – Amazing Elderberry Properties Herbal Living – Elderberry vs Pokeberry Identification JoAnne’s Website: Prairie Magic Herbals JoAnne’s : Prairie Magic Herbals Products and Books Elderberry Syrup Kit with honey Elderberry […]



The Health Benefits of Lobelia

Lobelia is an herb native to North America, where it has been used for centuries by Native Americans for coughing and chest pains, as well as for inducing vomiting. Today, lobelia is still used in herbal remedies; however, most people are unaware of its health benefits.

  • Medicinal action Emetic, Expectorant
  • Key constituents resins, lipids, gums, and alkaloids
  • Ways to use Capsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Smoked
  • Medicinal rating (1) Very minor uses
  • Safety ranking Safety undetermined

Lobelia contains resins, lipids, gums, and alkaloids, which, when combined, can help relax the muscles. This led to the traditional usages of lobelia, especially its role as a nicotine substitute. Lobelia medicinal uses include:

  • Inducing vomiting. Its emetic properties can induce vomiting, which can be useful when needing to expel harmful substances from the body.
  • Helping to expel phlegm from the respiratory system. Through its expectorant properties, lobelia promotes the secretion, liquefaction, or expulsion of phlegm from the respiratory system, which clears airways.

In addition, lobelia has numerous traditional medicinal purposes, including:

  • Easing tobacco withdrawal. Lobelia may reduce the impacts of nicotine on the body and increase the release of dopamine, the drug that controls the rewards and pleasure center of the brain. For this reason, lobelia is often used to break the habit of smoking.
  • Treating depression. With its ability to release dopamine to the brain, it has been shown to fight depressive symptoms
  • Halting asthma attacks. Lobelia was traditionally used to treat asthma, and some traditional herbalists still use it for this purpose. However, there is no research that backs up this use.

How It Works

Lobelia contains fourteen different compounds which give it its medicinal properties, the most prevalent being obeline, gums, resins, lipids, essential oil, and lobelic acid. Of the numerous alkaloids found in lobelia, the most pertinent is lobeline, which directly stimulates the stomach, inducing vomiting.

Lobelia's medicinal properties have also proven useful in reducing tobacco consumption by alleviating the negative effects of tobacco withdrawal. It is thought that its active compound, lobeline, binds to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and may inhibit the blood-brain barrier (BBB) amine transporter.

Lobelia also acts as an antidepressant by hindering cell proliferation in the hippocampus and inducing dopamine release in the brain.


Herbs with expectorant properties are eucalyptus, myrtle and coltsfoot.

Lobelia Side Effects

Lobelia should be consumed under medical supervision, since it can be potentially toxic when taken orally. Side effects may include profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, and coma.


  • Individuals who suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, seizure disorder, difficulty breathing, or recovering from shock should not take lobelia.
  • Lobelia can worsen the symptoms of those who suffer from ulcers, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or intestinal infections.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take lobelia.
  • Edible parts Leaves
  • Edible uses Flavoring, Beverage
  • Taste Mildly bitter

The most effective way of obtaining lobelia's health benefits is through medicinal consumption, where quantities can be easily controlled. Lobelia can be taken by mouth or be applied topically.

Natural Forms

  • Infusion. As the main preparation, lobelia hot tea has numerous medicinal benefits, which include reversing water retention due to its emetic properties. It also eases withdrawal symptoms for those who are trying to give up tobacco products.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Extract. As an extract, lobelia expels phlegm from the respiratory system thanks to its expectorant properties, clearing airways.
  • Tincture. In this concentrated medicinal form, lobelia induce vomiting, relieving the symptoms of intoxication and poisoning.
  • Ointment. Lobelia salves are applied topically in order to ease muscle spasms.
  • Capsules. In this medicinal form, lobelia capsules can expel phlegm from the respiratory system through its expectorant properties. It also works as an antidepressant.
  • Where to buy Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Dried lobelia is available throughout the year through online suppliers and from some specialized health stores. Fresh lobelia is not as common, but may still be found in some of the more specialized health stores.

Growing Guidelines

  • Lobelia plants prefer clay-based soil, and thrives in full sun or partial shade.
  • Lobelia seeds can be sown directly in the garden or indoors for later transplanting, since they are vulnerable to the elements.
  • Once they are established, lobelia plants require very little maintenance. They should, however, it should be watered frequently during periods of drought.
  • For optimal growth, give them liquid fertilizer every four to six weeks.
  • Flowers tend to bloom in the middle of summer.
  • Biochemical Pharmacology, Lobeline effects on tonic and methamphetamine-induced dopamine release, 2007
  • British Broadcasting Corporation, Lobelia
  • Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, An antidepressant principle of Lobelia inflata L. (Campanulaceae), 1994
  • Life Sciences, A possible mechanism of antidepressant activity of beta-amyrin palmitate isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves in the forced swimming test, 1993
  • Purdue University, Lobelia
  • The Medicinal Herb Gardens at ONU, Lobelia Inflata
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 112
  • Medicinal Plants of the World, page 194



There are no studies evaluating whether it is safe to give lobelia to a child. Avoid use in children unless under the supervision of your child's health care provider.


Lobelia comes in dried form to be used as a tea, liquid extract, tincture, and even vinegar tincture. Speak to a knowledgeable provider to find the right dose for you.

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb. It can cause serious side effects, such as profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma, and possibly even death. Check with your provider to determine the right dose for you, and do not exceed your provider's recommended dose.

People with high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, seizure disorder, and shortness of breath, and those recovering from shock should not take lobelia.

Lobelia can irritate the GI tract. Lobelia may make symptoms worse for people with ulcers, Chron disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or intestinal infections.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid this herb.

Few studies have looked at the effects of lobelia, so scientists are not clear about which medications might interact with this herb. some of the chemicals contained in lobelia, use caution with the following medications:

Psychiatric medications: Including antidepressants, Lithium, anti-anxiety agents, and stimulants (such as those taken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Nicotine substitutes: Such as nicotine patches or gum.

Chantix (varenicline): Chantix, a stop smoking medication, also affects dopamine levels in the brain.

Tobacco: Including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Auerbach, P. Auerbach: Wilderness Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2007.

Bradley P, ed. British Herbal Compendium. Vol. I. Dorset (Great Britain): British Herbal Medicine Association; 1992:149-150.

Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 3rd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 2001:93-94.

Davison GC, Rosen RC. Lobeline and reduction of cigarette smoking. Psychol Rep. 1972;31:443-56.

Dwoskin LP, Crooks PA. A novel mechanism of action and potential use for lobeline as a treatment for psychostimulant abuse. Biochem Pharmacol. 2002;63(2):89-98.

Han SR, Lv XY, Wang YM, et al. A study on the effect of aqueous extract of Lobelia chinensis on colon precancerous lesions in rats. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2013;10(6):422-5.

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Kuo YC, Lee YC, Leu YL, Tsai WJ, Chang SC. Efficacy of orally administered Lobelia chinensis extracts on herpes simplex virus type 1 infection in BALB/c mice. Antiviral Res. 2008;80(2):206-12.

Lim DY, Kim YS, Miwa S. Influence of lobeline on catecholamine release from the isolated perfused rat adrenal gland. Auton Neurosci. 2004;110(1):27-35.

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Mazur LJ, De Ybarrondo L, Miller J, Colasurdo G. Use of alternative and complementary therapies for pediatric asthma. Tex Med. 2001;97(6):64-68.

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Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley & Belfus, Inc; 2002:259-261.

Stead LF, Hughes JR. Lobeline for smoking cessation (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, 1, 2002. Oxford: Update Software.

Subarnas A, Tadano T, Oshima Y, Kisara K, Ohizumi Y. Pharmacological properties of beta-amyrin palmitate, a novel centrally acting compound, isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1993;45(ISS 6):545-550.

Subarnas A, Tadano T, Nakahata N, et al., A possible mechanism of antidepressant activity of beta-amyrin palmitate isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves in the forced swimming test. Life Sci. 1993;52(3):289-96.

Subarnas A, Oshima Y, Sidik, Ohizumi Y. An antidepressant principle of Lobelia inflata L. (Campanulaceae). J Pharm Sci. 1992;53(7):620-621.

Wilhelm CJ, Johnson RA, Eshleman AJ, Janowsky A. Lobeline effects on tonic and methamphetamine-induced dopamine release. Biochem Pharmacol. Mar 15 2008;75(6):1411-5.

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