Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is one of the most famous herbs used to control tobacco addiction. It is known as a low dose herb as it also has a purgative effect on the body by inducing vomiting when used in larger amounts. Yet, it has a reputation among Western herbalists as being a dangerous, potentially toxic herb. Although no herbalist would argue that lobelia should be used in high doses, there is no evidence to support the idea that it is toxic. This common garden herb has its place in the advanced herbalist’s apothecary. Those that follow Thompsonian (Eclectic) herbalism know it as highly favored herb as a detoxing emetic.

The tincture is often made with alcohol menstruum such as vodka or gin for home use. The acrid flavor can be improved by making it in bourbon or brandy instead. Professional herbalists use dry lobelia with a 50/50% (190 proof grain) alcohol/water menstruum to extract the alkaloids. As a dry plant based tincture, it allows this medicine to be made all year round as needed. The importance of using a food dryer to properly preserve the plant matter can not be overstated. Quality dried lobelia is the key to an effective tincture. Look for dark green leaf matter with some petals and flower buds in the mix if buying the plant from a supplier. As a powder, lobelia is is placed in capsule formulas or in topical plasters for respiratory support. The Eclectic physicians used vinegar as a menstruum rather than alcohol to promote its emetic properties.

Lobelia has been placed in formulas traditionally for respiratory disorders, peripheral vascular disorders, smoking cessation and as an antispasmodic. In homeopathic medicine, it is used primarily for tobacco smoking cessation. You can find lobelia listed as “Indian tobacco” in smoking mixes to ease tobacco cravings. Note that herbal smoking mixes have small amounts of lobelia as, even in dried form, this herb is to be used with respect. It is occasionally added to formulas to help ease insomnia which is accompanied by nightly muscle spasms.  This usage is best coupled with an increase in dietary minerals.

Lobelia is a powerful expectorant. It will clear mucus from the lungs more quickly than most other herbs. It is best paired with licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ivy (Hedera helix), wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina, P. virginiana), and/or sage (Salvia offincialis). The amount used in formulas can vary from 1 drop/4 oz of tea to 5% of tincture formula. If the throat is sore from repeated coughing, a simple cough syrup should be added for relief.

No matter what formula lobelia is found in, the dosage is usually no more than 10 drops of tincture 6 times daily or in a powder (encapsulated) as no more than 0.2-0.6gr three times daily. Some patients report dizziness from either smoking or taking the herb orally. Decreasing dosage to fit the needs of the patient is mandatory. For patients who are concerned about nausea yet are in need of lobelia’s potency, herbalists should consider adding 5% of lobelia tincture to a mouth rinse. The patient should be instructed to rinse their mouth before their usual smoking breaks (rinse, swish and spit) to decrease the urge for tobacco. Even adding 10 drops of lobelia tincture to 1 cup of warm water with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt as a homemade saline mouth rinse is an excellent way to support smoking cessation.

Lobelia is rarely taken as a single ingredient. If it is given as a single plant tincture, it is usually with drop dosage instructions. For use as an antispasmodic herb, most herbalists will suggest placing one drop on the base of the thumb or a spoon to control the amount. The patient then licks off the dose. Be sure to wash your hands before and after using the “thumb” method of controlling your dose.

Counter-indications: Lobelia is counter-indicated for hypertension, gastrointestinal conditions, neurasthenia, or heart disease. It is counter-indicated for use with prescriptions of lithium. Common side effects can include nausea or vomiting. If these side effects occur, discontinue use. As always, do not take lobelia even in small amounts if you are pregnant or breast feeding without first consulting with a qualified healthcare practitioner.


Further Research

Science Direct: Lobelia Inflata

Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Theraputics – Pharmacology of Lobeline, a Nicotinic Receptor Ligand

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: Lobelia

Penn State Hershey: Lobelia

ADA: Mouth Rinse