Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
Modern herbalists often reach for Lobelia inflata to help reduce and control pain, particularly the kind of pain that’s torturous, as if the body is writhing or twisting with the intensity of it. One of Matthew Wood’s indicators for use of L. inflata is an unbalanced tongue pattern, such as patterns or coat on one side but not the other, reddness on one side but not the other, or even an actual twist or torque to the tongue body. With signs like that, it’s no wonder we’ve come to think of this weedy, marginal plant as a powerful painkiller. Lobelia inflata is all about balancing extremes.
Lobelia inflata for Pain
The extremes L. inflata works with are not always of the tortuous pain type, though. The Ecclectics of a century or more ago used L. inflata prominantely in their formulas as an emetic and to direct the formula to the area of the body most in need. Their use of L. inflata as a synergist and director for the formula was grounded in the airy and forceful nature of Lobelia’s character. For them, that air-like quality was not ungrounded, as we often think of airy people being, but more like a tornado or straight-line wind that drives right at the stagnant area, kicking it up and getting the blockage or fluids moving powerfully.
Lobelia inflata for Internal Wind
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Lobelia chinensis is favored for extinguishing internal wind (Tierra). Lobelia inflata, cousin of L. chinensis, carries the same action but perhaps in a more heavy-handed expression. Both are particular for the Lung, Liver, Heart, and Small Intestine meridians. Lobelia inflata is a well-known and potent emetic, or herb that’ll make you vomit, while L. chinensis is much more mild in that particular action. Where L. inflata and L. chinensis agree is in their attraction to the root cause of internal wind and their ability to ground or stop that wind at the source.
Lobelia Inflata for Synergizing and Targeting a Formula
Lobelia inflata is truly a force of nature, one that can be as seemingly unpredictable as a tornado. Although L. inflata synergizes the team and moves them in the direction of the blockage or area that needs help, the direction they go isn’t always where you expect them to go. That unpredictable nature is why some herbalists hesitate to include Lobelia inflata in their formulas even when the indications for L. inflata are there. Lobelia’s intelligence is that it works directly with the body to suss out the area that most needs help, relying on the body’s intelligence rather than the formulator’s to direct the healing energy. From the outside, that can look like a level of unpredictability that’s disconcerting and potentially problematic, much like the Air element itself.
Dr. Christopher and many of his contemporaries called Lobelia inflata a “thinking herb” in recognition of it’s ability to find the blockage or source of the problem with such force that the other herbs in the formula follow. With their strong connection to the Air element, these cousins can move a lot of solid or liquid energy quickly, much like a tornado can tear up a tract of land with seemingly little effort, hence their use as an emetic to move the semi-solid, semi-liquid contents of one’s stomach quickly and powerfully.
In my own practice, I’ve found L. inflata helpful as a synergizer for seasonal allergy formulas. I’ve paired it with anti-inflammatory and relaxant herbs often used for asthma, including mullein, chaparal, yerba sante, and Mormon tea. A single drop in a cup of allergy tea boosts the effectivity of the whole blend exponentially; Lobelia inflata’s ability to find the place that needs fixing and draw the energy and strength of the formula to it is remarkable.
Respiratory Troubles and Lobelia Inflata
Lobelia inflata’s affinity is for the respiratory system and the lungs, including the heart and chest region, making it a primary herb for conditions like asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, spasmodic cough, croup, and diptheria, among others. According to David Hoffman, L. inflata is also a potent nervine, helping the nervous system to relax and release tension, particularly when the tension is connected to extremes, such as extreme stress and excitability or convulsions as in epilepsy. This again speaks to L. inflata’s connection with the Air element, which governs the nervous system, and L. inflata’s ability to bring balance to a lopsided or twisted system.
Lobelia Inflata and Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic practice, L. inflata is considered a heating herb with a pungent taste and post-doshic effect. It helps reduce Kapha and boosts Vata. Here, the diffusive nature of L. inflata is fully expressed; it gets the heavier energies, or Kapha, moving while supporting increased energy or motion in the surrounding tissues and thus increasing Vata. As a respiratory herb, L. inflata helps release tension in the air pathways, allowing the energy to surface and move appropriately, and helps reduce excess mucus or ama to make more space for the air to move. In short, it diffuses the energies, thus allowing the system to return to a state of balance.
Lobelia Inflata Basic Energetics
Energetically speaking, L. inflata is generally classified as slightly warming and slightly drying (Horne and Easley), making it good for conditions that include damp and cold elements, as is often the case with respiratory complaints. Digestive complaints of an extreme cold nature, such as painful blockages like that of the bile ducts that often include severe pain or waves of pain or cramping, are the type L. inflata is often used for in modern practice. In these cases, Lobelia’s action is to warm and dry or clear the problematic area while relaxing the musculature and nervous system to allow the organs to return to a state of homeostasis.
Homeopoathy and Lobelia Inflata
Lobelia inflata is a member of the tobacco family and is often included in smoking cessation blends to help folks kick the nicotine habit. Homeopatic use is most common, although dried Lobelia inflata leaf can be included in smoking blends to help curb the niccotine habit. Here, L. inflata is working under the homeopathic Like-Cures-Like law and should be used in very low doses for best effect.
Lobelia inflata is related to the tobacco family, and causes many of the same intense reactions as does an excess of tobacco: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, tremors, and dizziness. Use L. inflata in low doses and work up very slowly and carefully.
If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription medications, talk to your medical professionals before using Lobelia inflata.
- The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines
- Healing with the Herbs of Life
- The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine
- The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide
- Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine
- “Lobelia Inflata” by Lindsay Wolsey