Lobelia – Is it Safe or is it a Poison

There is a controversy to how safe Lobelia is.  Of the several beautiful varieties of this plant, Lobelia Inflata is the one which has the medicinal values I will talk about today.  Other common names for this herb are pukeweed and Indian tobacco.  There are good reasons for this, which will be discussed here.

This article will also discuss the plant itself, why it is considered safe, why others feel it is a poison and famous herbalist’s experiences with Lobelia.

Lobelia Inflata – The Plant

Lobelia inflata is an annual or biennial meaning it reseeds every year or two.  it grows from 6-39 inches tall with stem that have tiny little hairs at the bottom and becomes smoother at the top with light blue or violet flowers which are asymmetrical and bisexual.

It was named after Mattias de Lobel, a botanist who lived in the 17th century

The stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are what is used.  The main alkaloid is Lobeline which is in the seed, but other alkaloids include lobelacrin, lobelianin, 14 pyridine alkaloids (with a total of 52 alkaloids), acid, fats and gum.

Is Lobelia safe? Or is it a Poison?

This has been the controversy for over 200 years.

In Joseph Meyer’s book The Herbalist states that “lobelia is too dangerous for internal use by the unskilled.”

In Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 14, No. 13, June 26, 1850, is an article written: “Supposed Death from Lobelia Inflata.”  In it, it does not say that lobelia killed a women, but it does write about her husband administering lobelia to her but eventually dies from other complications.

CBSNews.com/pictures classified it as one of 12 dangerous supplements along with chaparral, comfrey, yarrow and colloidal silver.

Dr. Herbert Nowell talks about this misclassification:  “So successfully did (Dr. Thomson) use it, that the regulars of his day classed it a poison, as some writers said only a poison could bring about the speedy results that Dr. Thomson obtained by its use.”

Herbalist’s Experiences

There have been many herbalists who have used Lobelia with great success; with the herb having miraculous and life saving benefits.

Professor William Tully of Yale College, wrote to Dr. H. Lee of Middletown, Connecticut in 1838 about how safe lobelia was and it did not have any narcotic powers whatsoever.

Dr. Samuel Thomson,

considered as the father of American Herbalism, said, “there is no vegetable which the earth produces more harmless in its effect on the human system, and none more powerful in removing disease and promoting health than lobelia.”

He first learned of this plant when he was searching for cows in the fields.  He was about four years old when he came upon this singular stemmed plant with pods he had never seen before.  His curiosity overcame him when he picked the seed pods and ate them.  After vomiting profusely, he felt better and then decided he would use this plant for sport for the next 20 years, not knowing the medicinal value. One day when he gave it to one of his coworkers and after he was done vomiting, he said that he felt better than he had in years.  After he learned of its value, he used it in ever disease, “to great advantage.”

Felter and Lloyd state that the emetic action is so prompt and decided, that the contained alkaloid could not, under ordinary circumstances, produce fatal results.”

Dr. Herbert Nowell, who started Dominion Herbal College in Canada, used Lobelia for thirty years without any incident, but only favorable results.

Dr. John R. Christopher, (whom I had the pleasure to know, and is my reason for being an herbalist today), used lobelia in his practice for many years with many “miraculous healings”, on the old and young alike.  He was very unsettled about how allopaths would promote lobelia as a poison.  Dr. Christopher knows from personal experience that this is not true.  One day, he reached for an unlabeled bottle thinking it was apple cider vinegar and honey.  He took four tablespoons at one time!  After “retching and vomiting profusely,” he felt better.  Nothing else happened except a good cleaning out!

What is the application of Lobelia?

Dr. Christopher calls this herb a “thinking herb” because of its selective qualities.  I will give a couple of examples to help explain this further.

The first example would be with a pregnant mother in trouble of miscarriage.  If the baby is too weak or has died, the Lobelia will cause the baby to abort.  If the baby is well and strong, but the mother weak, then the Lobelia will strengthen and heal the mother so she can carry the baby to term.

The next example is in the case of very large boil on the side of the neck.  If the person is fragile and sickly, then the lobelia will cause the boil to burst open so the pus can drain externally.  If the person is strong and robust, then the lobelia will cause the boil to be drained internally and go through the eliminatory channels like the kidneys and colon.

What else can Lobelia do?

The alkaloid, lobeline is an effective expectorant.  It has been long used for asthma, because the action can involve stimulating the release of epinephrine by the adrenal glands, binding to beta-2 receptors, so helping to relax the airways.

Dr. Christopher has a story of an old man who had severe asthma for over 20 years and he could not sleep laying down and could not work.  So, Dr. Christopher gave him peppermint tea, waited 15 minutes and then gave him a teaspoonful of tincture of lobelia, waited ten minutes and then gave him the second teaspoonful of the tincture.  After the second teaspoonful, the man started throwing up mucous and other materials of various colors, from light to dark, which ended up to be a cup or so.  It took about two hours for this process and afterward he went home, laid down in his bed and slept a good 12 hours.  He never slept in his recliner again and was able to go back to work as a gardener, never to have another asthma attack.

Using Lobelia with Prudence and Wisdom

Dr. Christopher, Dr. Thomson and other skilled herbalists all agree that Lobelia is one of the greatest herbs ever given to the world.  Lobelia is a general corrector of the whole system.  It is a proficient relaxant and antispasmodic, thereby relaxing airways, relieving  the respiratory, muscular and nervous systems, especially the sympathetic nervous systems.

Lobelia is a very powerful herb, however, and like other powerful herbs, must be used wisely.  Just as Joseph Meyer had written in his book, it is too dangerous for the unskilled.

Overdose of Lobelia may cause many side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, dizziness, sweating, convulsion, fast heartbeat, and low blood pressure.

I use lobelia in several of my formulas because, as Dr. Christopher said, it is a “thinking herb” and tells the other herbs “what to do”.  I have never had any problems using this herb and feel it is safe and one of the best herbs God has created for the benefit of man.

Please let me know what you think about what you have learned in this article. Do you have any questions?  Let me know in the comments below if you think, after reading this article, if Lobelia inflata is safe, or is it a poison.  Do you have any experiences using Lobelia? Let us know below!

Good Health to You



6 Comments Add yours
  1. I learned a ton from this post! I have always loved lobelia, simply because my mom did and had it planted around the house. It was interesting to learn about helping a pregnant mom and also helping with a still born baby, which under any circumstances is very sad. But, very interesting information!

  2. Crystal I have to congratulate you on this article
    I have learned so much about lobelia, a plant I really love having in my garden and you have given so much knowledge I didn’t know before I found this website
    Thank you and I have bookmarked for future visits

  3. Thanks for sharing and clarifying Crystal! I had never heard about Lobelia before reading this but I will definitely experiment with it in the future. Always prefer herbs over chemicals and other medicines.

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