Indian Tobacco, Bladder Pod, Gagroot, Puke Weed, Asthma Weed

Lobelia inflata syn. Rapuntium inflatum F. Lobeliaceae


A native from Canada and eastern USA, growing with a rosette of soft, green, elliptic leaves to 10cm long. Leaves are covered with very fine hairs, and have soft, wavy margins. Upright flower stems 30-60cm high, with tiny, two-lipped, pale-blue flowers 4-6mm long. The plant is an annual, but if flowers are nipped out, it will extend over more than one season. Seed capsules look like round pouches, and this is reflected in the species name ‘inflata’. As soon as the seed capsule is mature and dry, it releases brown seed, which is as fine as dust.

Medicinal Uses

American Indians have long revered lobelia. The plant has been called Indian tobacco because it was smoked by North American Indians, to relieve asthma and other respiratory conditions. Early settlers to America learned to value it with the same esteem, and it was considered a panacea of many ailments. The plant has had a colourful, and clouded, herbal history. Many herbalists vouched for its efficacy, while allopathic practitioners and authorities hounded the herbalists, declaring it was a poison.

So esteemed was lobelia by Jethro Kloss, author of the long revered herbal, ‘Back to Eden’, he devoted 26 pages to this herb, which he classed as the most powerful relaxant known among herbs, that had no harmful effects. Most other herbs in his book were only given a page or less to explain their uses. The only other herb he elaborated on, in detail, was cayenne (chilli) to which he devoted 13 pages. Often, he combined cayenne with lobelia, which he said was the best stimulant known. Jethro Kloss believed that lobelia was a most powerful herb for removing disease and promoting health. He said lobelia could loosen disease and open the way for its elimination from the body. Lobelia acted on the regulating centres of the body: the circulation, digestion, nervous and hormonal system. He wrote about the herb’s many uses, and the miraculous healing, time after time, with using it. The writings of renown herbal doctor John Christopher, reiterates the herb’s many uses, and he states that lobelia’s wonderful healing effects are due to its ability to remove congestion and obstructions in the body, particularly in the blood vessels. He said that lobelia could be used in many ways to heal and regenerate the body, for young and old, with only positive results, and he believed it was absolutely harmless.

These two men, and other herbalists, used lobelia for conditions of poor circulation, cold extremities, edema, cardiac pain, fevers, asthma, pneumonia, accumulation of mucus in bronchial tubes, spasmodic coughs, laryngitis, allergies, hypersensitivity syndrome, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, tetanus, food poisoning, to arrest spasmodic vomiting, biliousness, blood poisoning, cold sweats, colic, constipation, cramps and muscle spasms, indigestion, nervous conditions, hysteria, convulsions, fainting, fatigue, epilepsy, nervous dyspepsia, deafness, menstrual pain, and to reduce and regulate the violent pains of labour and make the birth easier. For labour pains 1/4-1/2 teasp. of tincture was administered. For respiratory conditions, they believed that there was nothing else, or even half as effective, or as rapid, as lobelia, to clear and clean the air passages. In the smallest dose, the properties of lobelia act to stimulate, dilate and then to relax the bronchial muscles. What is outstanding, is that almost instant relief and benefits are felt, with the standard homeopathic dose.

Despite the many benefits of lobelia, laws were legislated to restrict the sale of lobelia and list it as a poison. In Australia, lobelia is restricted for sale as preparations to the public. It is available as a homeopathic remedy from a qualified practitioner, and medical doctors may prescribe it in some circumstances. For the individual, it is available as seeds and plants to grow, and use. Every person wishing to use the herb should research it before using, or take under the guidance of a herbalist.

James Duke Ph.D. in ‘The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook’ refers to lobelia as having hazardous compounds, with 1g creating toxicity, and 4g causing death. Perhaps it is the way lobelia is administered which can create a purging action, which to the onlooker, appears to be disgustingly obnoxious; and to the authorities this may look like symptoms of poisoning with vomiting, and could have brought restrictions on the herb. But what this purging does, if administered correctly, is yes - a perk - but then relief from pain and suffering, and a feeling of wellbeing. Perhaps the authorities find it too hard to fathom the paradoxical effect, that it can be a powerful stimulant, and a relaxant within the same herb.

Jethro Kloss tells the story of a challenge that was proposed to an allopath. A herbal practitioner said that he would personally take all the lobelia that the allopath would like to give him, if the allopath would then take the same amount of strychnine. Jethro said that this challenge was never accepted!