The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Plant Profile: Lobelia

Botanical Name:
Lobelia inflata is most common in Western herbalism
Lobelia cardinalis is most common in the Southwest

Lobeliaceae, also known as the Bellflower Family

Common Names:

Indian tobacco, Pukeweed, Cardinal Flower

Part Used for Medicine:
The seeds are considered the strongest medicine.
Flowers and leaves are usually collected along with the seeds

Habitat in Which it is Found:

In general, lobelia prefers damp environments.
In northern Arizona, look for it near seeps and springs. 
It especially likes damp sandstone vertical walls like those found in Zion NP. It will be found growing literally along the face of the cliff.
I have also seen it in extreme desert environments in Grand Canyon NP where a small but steady seep created a micro-environment that supported Lobelia, Maidehair fern, Cottonwood trees and Cattails – all in a space no larger than a living room.

Energetics & Tastes:

A classic acrid tasting herb. This taste frequently signals a relaxant effect of the herb.
Kava is another prime example of an acrid-tasting relaxing herb.

Initially, there is heat and pungency. With a strong diffusive effect, it is more cooling long term.


Lobelia is one of the strongest and most effective relaxant herbs I have ever used. More specifically, it can be directed to organ systems in the body by combining it with the appropriate herbs. It is a:
Muscle Relaxant – both skeletal and smooth
Nervine Relaxant
Relaxing Diaphoretic
Relaxing Expectorant
Diffusive – Lobelia’s combination of relaxing and pungency works to diffuse energy outwards to the skin
Anodyne – it relieves pain caused by excess tension. It is not a magical “pain herb”
Sialogogue – stimulates the salivary glands

Its relaxing quality make it an herb used for the TCM condition of Internal Wind, which means constriction, tightness, tension
Lobelia is also emetic at higher doses though this action is easily avoided and rarely used in modern herbalism

Herbal Combos:

As seen in the Indications above, Lobelia is used for excess tension anywhere in the body. It makes up ~10% of a formula.

Safety Issues & Contraindications:
Lobelia has an undeserved reputation as being dangerous. 
This is partly due to its emetic property but mostly due to a court case in the early 1800s. Samuel Thompson was successful enough with his school of herbal medicine that the medical establishment was threatened. He was falsely accused of killing someone with lobelia, went to jail while awaiting trial and was eventually acquitted of all charges.
The vague idea has persisted ever since – the “they say it’s dangerous” crowd.

When used at the proper amounts – drop dosage – Lobelia is used both effectively and safely on a daily basis by many herbalists.

Being a strong relaxant, high doses of lobelia can relax someone to the point of not being able to walk. This is easily avoided by paying attention to the amount and frequency of use.

A strong herb, do not use when pregnant or breastfeeding

Preferred Method of Preparation and Dosing:

Fresh tincture is best.
The dried herb is available in commerce but is considered much weaker.
Acetic acid – vinegar – is sometimes used as part of the menstruum to better extract the Lobeline alkaloids

I recommened people use this tincture 5 drops at a time, wait 15 minutes and do 5 drops more – repeat until the desired effect is felt.
Some herbal friends take 20-30 drops with no emetic effects, others feel this effect with less than 10 drops. This is an herb that needs to be used mindfully.

Additional Resources
Did lobelia kill someome?
Is lobelia toxic?


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