Lobelia is a genus of flowering plants that includes more than 400 unique species. Many of these plants have found a place in our gardens. With their thick bunches of cascading blooms, they’re a welcome sight in the flowerbed.
Lobelia is also right at home on the medicine shelf. Traditional medicine has identified many lobelia uses, and these early prescriptions still exhibit great potential today. We’ll cover the history of lobelia uses in folk and traditional medicine, as well as how these reported effects are being corroborated by modern medicine and science.
What is Lobelia?
Lobelias grow all around the world. Where each species grows depends on the species, with most preferring warm climates; though others can thrive in colder environments. Depending on the species and the region, a lobelia may be an annual or a perennial.
Some lobelia grows upright in bunches, like many of the simple flower bed annuals we’re accustomed to. Others trail in flamboyant heaps, over the top of container beds, down hills, or trailing from suspended pots.
There are lobelia species that bloom in just about any color you could name. The flowers are small, but sprout in bunches that creates a vivid blanket of color when in full bloom. The flowers are comprised of five petals – three large and low hanging petals and two small and upright.
Medicinal Uses of Lobelia
While there are many kinds of lobelia, traditional medicine is primarily interested in one: Lobelia inflata. Small studies seem to confirm that traditional lobelia uses for breathing difficulties and nervous system issues were and are potentially effective.
Historically, lobelia has been used for helping to address breathing difficulties. It is unknown what specific property of lobelia produces these potential benefits, but most research has centered around the alkaloid lobeline. This chemical has been researched for its ability to help regulate an unwanted or over-sensitive immune response to non-threatening external stimuli. For people who suffer from these effects, lobelia extracts of various kinds have been prescribed across many cultures.
It is also thought that lobeline may have similar properties to nicotine, another warm weather plant alkaloid. For this reason, lobelia was and is sometimes used for dependency for chronic chemical inhalant habits, and as a mild stimulant. Ironically perhaps, a traditional cure for breathing troubles, among certain American Indian tribes, was to smoke lobelia. For this reason, lobelia inflata is sometimes referred to as “Indian tobacco.”
In large doses, lobelia extracts are known to cause upset stomach and nausea, and in fact, the plant was used as a purgative aid in 19th century medicine (hence the nickname, puke weed). People who try lobelia for the first time would be wise to note this effect, as to avoid high doses of the drug. Fortunately, there are better ways to achieve the same effect in the modern world, so lobelia’s role as a nauseating drug is largely relegated to history.
If you wish to try lobelia yourself, for the potential benefits above or for any other purpose, high quality extracts are available through Natural Healthy Concepts and other trusted sources. Lobelia uses are practical and relevant to many people, of all age groups.
Whether you use it as a medicine or as a lovely garden addition (or both), lobelia has its place in the modern world. It’s popularity around the world, during all eras in recorded history, speaks to its beauty and utility. We hope you’ll find something to love with lobelia inflata, or any of the other lobelia species!