Lobelia is a large annual or biennial herb, with a green and violet stem, green and yellow leaves, and sparse violet blue and pale yellow flowers. Lobelia has earned two fascinating nicknames: “Indian Tobacco” and “puke weed.” Lobelia seeds and leaves have a history of medicinal and recreational usage, some relating to the previously mentioned nicknames.
Smoking is not usually recommended as a treatment for asthma. However, Native Americans were known to smoke the lobelia plant as an herbal remedy for asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and coughing.
Lobelia’s connection to smoking persists to this day, though in a slightly different fashion. Scientists believe that lobeline, an active ingredient in the lobelia plant, acts in a similar way to nicotine.
Can Lobelia Help You Quit Smoking?
Lobeline was used as a “nicotine substitute” in anti-smoking products until 1993, when the FDA reported that “such products were not effective in helping people quit or reduce smoking.”
Researchers now believe that lobeline may, in fact, block the release of dopamine in the body, which reduces the effect of nicotine. Scientific studies have not yet looked at this question.
Although scientific studies show that lobelia does not significantly contribute to programs dedicated to helping people quit smoking, herbalists have used the lobelia plant to support smokers trying to quit for years. This is because a chemical in lobelia acts in a way similar to nicotine, earning it the nickname “Indian Tobacco.”
“Indian Tobacco” isn’t lobelia’s only nickname. It’s also known as “puke weed.” So beware if you incorporate a lobelia supplement into your smoking cessation program, it may cause side effects including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
Lobelia and Respiratory Support
Lobelia is still considered “important as an alternative treatment for patients with asthma to reduce or eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals commonly associated with adverse effects.” However, it also can function as an expectorant and a respiratory stimulant.
While Lobelia may support respiratory health, it should not be used instead of drug therapy during an asthma attack. While it does not have any known adverse drug reactions, its use should be avoided during pregnancy.
While Lobelia seeds and leaves are the part of the lobelia plant used most frequently in herbal medicine, health support is not the only use for lobelia seeds. By scattering lobelia seeds, the lobelia flower can grow as a ground cover plant. Lobelia seeds are very small, almost like dust, making them easy to scatter. Lobelia seeds can also be planted in window boxes or planters, but given the space, the plant can provide a stunning purple and white ground cover.
To plant Lobelia seeds, spread the seeds on compost, but do not cover the seeds with anything. Lobelia seeds take about 14-20 days to germinate, and once they grow, they will last throughout the summer and into the first frost.
Most lobelia varieties grow best “in full sun and moist, rich soil where summers are cool, [but] Lobelia plants will grow surprisingly well in hot areas if given partial shade.” Lobelia plants require little maintenance. During hot periods, they should frequently be watered, but fertilizer is only necessary once every month or month and a half.
If you want to achieve ground cover with your Lobelia plants, several companies provide shaker bottles with lobelia seed (some along with soil, gardening sand, water absorbing crystals, and starter fertilizer) to make it easier to spread them around the area of your garden.
Do you plant lobelia, or do you use it as a supplement? Have you tried Soloray’s vegetable capsules or Herb Pharm’s Lobella Extract? Tell us your favorite way that you interact with this interesting plant!