Lobelia, also known as Indian tobacco, has been used against respiratory ailments for hundreds of years. Nowadays, science is discovering many other applications for this herb.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Lobelia, Indian tobacco, asthma weed
  • Scientific nameLobelia inflata
  • Geographic distributionmost of the world
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Consumed PartLeaves
  • OLD Main Economic UseMedicinal
  • Main Economic ProducerU.S.
  • Native RegionNorth America
  • Growing HabitatTemperate Regions, Warm Climates

Lobelia is an herb native to North America, where it has long been used by Native Americans for coughing and chest pains, as well as for inducing vomiting. In the 18th century, lobelia was brought to Europe, and from there it began spreading throughout the rest of the world. By the 19th century, physicians began recommending lobelia as a way to remove toxins from the body via vomiting. Today, lobelia is still used in herbal remedies; however, most people are unaware of the health benefits that it can provide.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionEmetic, Expectorant
  • Key constituentsresins, lipids, gums, and alkaloids
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Smoked
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafety undetermined

Health Benefits of Lobelia

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 the effects of 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.


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

How to Consume Lobelia

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves
  • Edible usesFlavoring, Beverage
  • TasteMildly 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.


Main preparations: Capsules, infusion, extract, tincture, cream, salve

  • Capsules. In this medicinal form, lobelia capsules can expel phlegm from the respiratory system through its expectorant properties. It also works as an antidepressant.
  • Extract. As an extract, lobelia expels phlegm from the respiratory system thanks to its expectorant properties, clearing airways.
  • 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.
  • Tincture. In this concentrated medicinal form, lobelia tinctures induce vomiting through emetic properties.
  • Cream. When applied topically, lobelia creams ease muscle spasms.
  • Salve. In this form, salves applied topically can ease muscle spasms.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

Dried lobelia is available throughout the year through online suppliers and from some health stores. It is available for smoking and using to brew herbal tea. Fresh lobelia is not as common, but may still be found in some of the more specialized health stores.Lobelia supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores. In addition, there is a wide variety of supplement choices available through online retailers. Each brand may come with a different concentration, so care should be taken in determining dosages. They are overwhelmingly more common in gel capsule form.



Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Harvested partsLeaves

Lobelia, which can be either annual or biennial, is an excellent choice for decorating garden borders, window boxes and hanging baskets. It's a relatively easy plant to grow and thrives in cool, temperate climates. For additional tips on how to grow lobelia, follow the growing guidelines below:

Growing Guidelines

  • Lobelia plants prefer clay-based soil
  • This plant does best 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, 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

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesRepellent

Plant Biology

Scientifically known as Lobelia inflata, lobelia is an annual or a biennial plant that grows anywhere from 6 - 40 inches (15 - 100 cm) tall, with stems covered in tiny hairs. Lobelia's leaves are typically three inches (8 cm) long and are ovate and toothed. It has delicate and elegant flowers, which can be purple, pink, white, and blue.

  • Classification
    Lobelia is a member of the Campanulaceae family, comprised of approximately 2,000 different species spread out over 70 genera. The Campanulaceae family is sometimes referred to as the bellflower family, and it is highly concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere. Lobelia bears pale blue flowers and can grow up to three feet (1 m) tall.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Lobelia
    Lobelia inflata is the most popular species of Lobelia, a genus of flowering plants that includes 360 - 400 distinct species. Lobelia comprises a significant number of large and small annual, perennial and shrubby species that grow in a variety of habitats. While many of the species seem dissimilar to one another, they can all be identified through their simple, alternate leaves and two-lipped tubular flowers, each with five lobes. The lower three lobes are fanned out while the upper two lobes are typically erect. There are numerous Lobelia hybrids, one of the most well-known being Lobelia x speciosa, a hybrid of L. fulgens, L. cardinalis and L. siphilitica, which is identified through numerous names, including: Fan Orchidrosa, Fan Scharlach, Fan Tiefrot, Fan Zinnoberrosa, Kompliment Scharlach, and Pink Elephant.

Historical Information

For the majority of its history, lobelia was used medicinally in many different Native American tribes. The Cherokee tribe mashed up the root and dried the leaves, smoking the mixture in order to relieve coughing and chest pains. The Iroquois tribe used lobelia to treat venereal diseases, ulcers, and leg sores. The Crows used it for religious ceremonies.

During the 1800s, Samuel Thomson, a botanist and a healer, began using lobelia for medicinal purposes, namely for treating fevers, rheumatism, and the common cough. However, he faced great scrutiny over this practice, since lobelia is toxic when taken in excess and he was accused of murdering Ezra Lovette by poisoning, which he was later acquitted for.

“Lobelia is sometimes called 'Indian Tobacco' or pukeweed”

Economic Data

North America remains the largest producer of lobelia. The plant is now commercially cultivated only for medicinal purposes. Britain is the largest market for lobelia, importing over 30 million pounds each year, though it is also popular in other parts of Western Europe.

Other Uses of Lobelia

  • For bug spray. The herb can be burnt in order to act as bug repellent, keeping away insects such as mosquitoes.
  • For decorative purposes. Some North American gardeners also grow it as an ornamental plant.


  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, page 112
  • Medicinal Plants of the World, page 194
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015). Lobelia Retrieved on June 3, 2016 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lobelia
  • Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, An antidepressant principle of Lobelia inflata L. (Campanulaceae), 1994
  • British Broadcasting Corporation, Lobelia
  • The Medicinal Herb Gardens at ONU. (2012). Lobelia Inflata Retrieved on June 3, 2016 from https://webstu.onu.edu/garden/node/449
  • University of Purdue. (1997). Lobelia Retrieved on June 3, 2016 from https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/med-aro/factsheets/LOBELIA.html
  • National Institutes of Health. A possible mechanism of anti-depressant activity of beta-amyrin palmitate isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves in the forced swimming test Retrieved on June 3, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8423710
  • Biochem Pharmacol. (2007). Lobeline effects on tonic and methamphetamine-induced dopamine release Retrieved on June 3, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2435375/