Have you ever heard of Indian tobacco? It is an old name for lobelia (officially lobelia inflata). The herb was commonly prescribed by early North American doctors for healing respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and coughs. The plant stem has only a few branches. It is smooth on top but rough and hairy down low. The lower leaves are about two inches long. They have stalks, but the upper, smaller ones do not. The pale green or yellowish leaves don’t taste or smell particularly good and the sparse flowers are pale violet-blue.
Lobelia is made up of chelidonic acid, pungent volatile oil (lobelianin), various alkaloids, a bitter glycoside (lobelacrin), a resin, fats, and gum. The alkaloid lobeline is its most important ingredient. Others include lobelanine, lobelidine, lobelanidine, nor-lobelaine, nor-lobelanidine, and isolobenine, and it also contains fourteen pyridine alkaloids.
Lobeline is a main ingredient of most all quit smoking treatments. This is because it works much like nicotine in its effect on the central nervous system without being addictive. The herb is used to treat spastic colon and muscle problems because of its relaxant qualities. Lobeline also dilates the bronchioles which helps breathing.
Lobelia’s target problems deal with the respiratory system, problems like bronchitis and pneumonia. It stimulates the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, causing the airways to relax. Lobelia’s strong relaxant qualities help to clear obstructions. It relaxes the stomach, a common need in asthmatic children. In fact, many use lobelia to stop asthma attacks instead of an inhaler.
Other practical uses of lobelia include these. Swallow it to expel mucus, remove congestion from the stomach, and to encourage the flow of oxygen rich blood. Rub lobelia tincture or extract on the shoulders of a restless child to help him go to sleep or on the gums of a teething baby. A poultice of lobelia gets rid of ringworm, bruises, and insect bites. It works similar to veratrum and aconite as a seditive. Catnip and lobelia enemas are great for treating mumps, especially in males.
Ellingwood recommended lobelia for the following pathologies: “spasmodic asthma, whooping cough, spasmodic croup, membranous croup, infantile convulsions, puerperal eclampsia, epilepsy, tetanus, hysterical paraxysms, hysterical convulsions, diphtheria, tonsillitis, pneumonia,” among others. Add to the list a treatment for laryngitis in children and for treating barking coughs.
Externally, lobelia is available in ointments, lotions, suppositories, and plasters. Internally purchase a dried herb, a liquid extract form, or tinctures. If you can stand the bad taste, you can make a tea by mixing _ to _ teaspoon of the dried herb with eight ounces of water, then letting it steep for 30 to 40 minutes. Two ounces of this four times a day is sufficient. The tincture dose is .6 to 2 ml each day. These figures are based on a 150 pound adult. Decrease the quantity proportionately by weight for a child.
Because of the danger of lobelia poisoning, caution is in order. Signs of this may include weak pulse, difficulty breathing, weakness, heartburn, and collapse. People with tobacco sensitivity, high blood pressure, paralysis, heart disease, and seizure disorder should check with a doctor before taking it. Neither is lobelia recommended by some for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Because lobelia is an aggressive emetic, expect nausea and vomiting if a patient is highly toxic, even if it is given in small doses. Though this isn’t pleasure, it is good for the patient.