Latin: Lobelia inflataFamily: Lobeliaceae
Parts Used: Leaves and seeds
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, sharp, cold
Properties: Expectorant, stimulant/relaxant, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, anti-asthmatic, emetic in larger doses
Actions: This is a strong and potent little beast. Originally used extensively by native peoples of the Eastern U.S., Samuel Thomson and his students popularized lobelia in the early 1800’s and often used it in cases of spasm, convulsion and inflammation such as asthma, whooping cough and bronchitis. It can both be highly stimulating and also deeply relaxing and is very potent to the point of emesis if taken in larger doses so many herbalists have stopped using it. Thomson himself was accused of killing a patient with an overdose of this herb. Its contradictory and unpredictable nature make it a challenging herb to work with.
A number of modern herbalists such as Matthew Wood are helping to popularize this plant again through his writings and his entire description should be studied in his “The Book of Herbal Wisdom.” His words: Turning now to our own senses, we observe that Lobelia makes an impression on the tongue and nervous system which is sharp, shocking and highly diffusive. Because it is both a stimulant and a relaxant, the therapeutic potential of the plant is extensive, but contradictory and complex.”
In terms of mental health, in small doses this herb can have a marked relaxing effect, calming and slowing the heart beat, loosening the muscles and relieving cramping. One study with mice showed that lobelia caused the release of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, possibly giving it a slight antidepressant effect. It has also been used as an aid to quit smoking. The theory is that one of the main alkaloid constituents lobeline mimicked nicotine and could replace the desire for smoking but that has never been proven.
Dosage: This is an herb that should generally be taken in small and even minute doses (1-5 drops of a standard tincture) as large doses can cause emesis, confusion, dizziness, convulsions, weakness, respiratory depression and severe distress. Essentially I would support using this as a homeopathic or via “drop dosing”- meaning the use of this herb in tincture form at a minuscule level.
Contraindications: This is strong medicine, and I would avoid any use above the small dosage mentioned above. I am not a fan of old school “puke therapy.” Further I would avoid in pregnancy, for folks with hypertension, those with cardiac issues, those taking other strong sedatives or stimulants.