Lobelia:  The Herb that Taught me How to Relax and Breathe

Lobelia is native to the US.
It grows in disturbed soil areas.
It is rather unassuming.
It’s also called: Indian tobacco, emetic weed, puke weed, asthma weed, wild tobacco, and gagroot.
It was once an oft-used herb, and considered a panacea by many Eclectic herbalists.
Caution must be used when taking lobelia: this is a LOW dose herb. Taken in large enough doses, this herb will cause vomiting. (I do not, and will not, use this herb for this purpose, nor do I condone its use for such a purpose.)

Energy and Flavor
Neutral, bitter

Herbal Actions
Expectorant, diaphoretic, anti-asthmatic, relaxant, antispasmodic, stimulant, emetic, alterative, diuretic, nervine, sedative, calms Liver Wind, transforms Phlegm

Organ System Affinities
Liver, Lung, Heart, Small Intestine

Chemical Constitutents
Lobeline, lobelidine, lobelanine, norlobelaine, lobelanidine, nor-lobelanidine, lobinine and more, including 14 different piperidine alkaloids. The alkaloid content ranges from 0.13%-.63%, up to half of which is lobeline.

Slow/sluggish pulse with a doughy sensation; tongue that is swollen with a heavy coating at the root

This is a low dose herb.  No more than 1-5 drops of a standard tincture or vinegar preparation unless you are guided by a trained herbalist. I have not used this herb as a tea, nor do I recommend taking the herb raw for the previously mentioned reasons.

As this is very strong medicine, do not use larger doses as it will cause emesis, tachycardia, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors, hypertension.  As with any herbal preparation, avoid in pregnancy, and avoid with concomitant cardiac/circulatory issues, and also with prescription medications.  Always consult a practitioner and medical practitioner for guidance when beginning a new lifestyle change.

Lobelia has a lovely effect with chronic Lung[2] imbalances as related to recovering from an External Wind-Invasion.  Every blend I have made contains lobelia, in small amounts, to help settle lingering issues relating to External Wind.

Lobelia is an antispasmodic and relaxant.  As such, it works wonders with spasmodic conditions relating to the Lungs. Recently a colleague was battling with such an issue, and lobelia was one of two herbs that I recommended they add to their blend.  In the end, Lobelia offered the missing piece to their spasmodic Lung puzzle.

Scudder, who discusses lobelia in great length and uses it many imbalances and patterned conditions, states that doses that are too high for the individual result in extreme nausea, great anxiety and distress; headache will accompany if the herb is carelessly chewed.  My theory is that because I took a micro dose of this herb, it acted energetically similar to homeopathics or in the “like treats like” sense.  I had a lot of distress and anxiety over my headache, and nausea as well.  Scudder does indeed state that “in minute doses, [lobelia] has proved effectual in quieting the stomach”, which explains why my nausea was dissipated with the teeny tiny flowers of lobelia.

Lobelia has a marked effect on the nervous system, and particularly the vagus nerve[3].  In my mind, lobelia helps to regulate the nervous system insofar as balancing the engagement and processes of the the entire nervous system (central and peripheral nervous systems, and all the sub-systems within).

When there is tension in the body, as a result of nervous system activation of whatever kind for example, there can be nausea (because your digestive system has shut down, and all that fire-y digestive energy is moving upward vs downward), muscle spasms, muscle tension, difficulty breathing, and sweating[4].

With this, lobelia has the potential to mediate a patterned nervous system – one that swings easily into fight/flight mode.

Ideas for Use

I have used lobelia for years with my asthmatic cat, Saul.  I put a small amount (3 drops) in a spray bottle with an ounce of water, then spritz in his mouth mid-asthma attack.  It appears to stop the attack, and reduces the number of them overall.

I’ve taken lobelia in tincture to help with unresponsive and recalcitrant menstrual cramps.  I put a few drops in some hot tea, then drink.

You can apply lobelia externally to spasmed muscles.  I tend to veer away from doing this, as lobelia is not an herb that I can harvest a lot of, but I will if no other herbs or therapies help the situation.  Simply mix the lobelia tincture with a carrier (such as oil, or another herbal tincture that assists with muscle spasms) then massage onto the affected area.

I simply adore lobelia, and hope that you have fallen for this tiny but mighty medicine.

A Story about Lobelia

I’ve heard a lot of stories about how herbs show up for folks when they need assistance.

I haven’t really had this happen to me until a recent event.

This event was also a good lesson in “more is more, not better” as well as “we are not our own best assessors” – especially when in a crisis of sorts.

The other week, I suffered from a three-day long headache.  I woke up with it, went to sleep with it, woke up with, etc. for three whole days.

At first, I thought it was a sinus or seasonal headache based on my symptoms, but my sinus remedies did not help.  So, I moved to the next remedy that I take for migraines, as I was nauseous and yawning (two big signs I have a migraine), yet all that did was make me sleepy.  I tried working with the headache as a “violin headache” (the result of various small muscles in the neck and scalp which get spasmed).  I tried symptomatic relief via cupping and ear-seeding.  The cupping of yielded the nastiest marks I have ever seen in terms of coloring but didn’t help the headache.  I tried a bunch of other things along the way too – depending on where I was in my protocol – nothing helped.

Sometimes I mistake sinus headaches for migraines, and migraines for “violin headaches”, and so on and so forth in varying combinations, because, simply: when I am in a state of headache my reasoning and logic faculties are not quite what they usually are. Can you relate to circumstances in your life when this has happened?

Eventually, I gave up, took some OTC pain medication (we’re on the morning of day three at this point) and went on with my day.  (In case you are wondering, the OTC pain medication did absolutely nothing for the headache.)

Lucky for me and my unresponsive headache, day three involved going to my sister’s place north of the city.
I happen to look down in her yard, whilst talking about my headache no less, and there was lobelia looking right at me.  I smiled and kept walking.  But then I saw lobelia everywhere I set foot on that walk and took it as a sign that I should take some.  Naturally, I ate a flower of it.  The flowers taste and provide a strongly peppery irritating sensation in the throat and bronchioles, and really not something I recommend anyone do because it is rather unpleasant because if one takes too much, Lobelia is known to be an emetic!


Within seconds, I could feel the muscles that resisted massage, baths, magnesium oil, herbal tinctures taken internally and externally, an herbal infusion, OTC pain relievers, yoga nidra, a hypnotherapy track I have on chronic pain, ear seeds, cupping and gua sha, and a prescription migraine medication … relax[1].

When I felt the tension start to return again, I went and picked another flower, chewed it well and welcomed the sensation in my throat and bronchioles.  I could feel the tension releasing from my upper body.  It felt glorious.

Two very small flowers did more in 15 minutes than a gauntlet of other holistic strategies, providing relief for the first time in days.

Upon my return home, I took 8 drops of lobelia tincture, a large dose, and crawled into bed.  Once in bed, I felt a lovely gooey relaxing sensation in my body, fell asleep, woke up and my headache was naught but a memory.

What is more amazing to me is that I keep lobelia in my “commonly used” tinctures special spot.  I looked at it when getting another remedy out but didn’t think much of it other than moving it to find my blue vervain – my go-to remedy for violin headaches.

What power in such a small plant, in such a small dose!

What a privilege it is to know how to use these beautiful gifts.

[1] It is important to note that any other time I had eaten a lobelia flower I either got the hiccups, a lumpy sensation in my throat (also called plum pit qi) or very nauseous.  Imagine my surprise that this was the perfect medicine for the moment, when every other moment I tried this medicine I had a radically different experience!
[2] I am referencing the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms for the organs and Organ Systems here, as I am not a medical doctor and the FDA restricts folks from making claims or statements about herb’s actions on the physiological body.
[3] Matthew Wood, The Earthwise Herbal: New World Medicinal Plants
[4] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-to-your-body-during-the-fight-or-flight-response/

Works Referenced
Matthew Wood, The Earthwise Herbal: New World Medicinal Plants
John M. Scudder, The American Eclectic Materia Medica Therapeutics
M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Michael and Lesley Tierra, East West Herb Course materials