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The Interesting History and Benefits of Lobelia

Lobelia inflata, a beautiful flowering plant, has an amazing story that intertwines centuries of herbal medicine with today’s modern medical world. The benefits of lobelia have led it to be used medicinally since ancient times, but it was formally named after the botanist Matthias de Lobel from Lille, Belgium, who died in 1616.

Matthias de Lobel may have been Lobelia’s namesake, but it was Samuel Thomson who made the herb’s medicinal properties famous. Samuel was a self-taught American herbalist and botanist, best known as the founder of the alternative medicine system called “Thomsonian Medicine.” He lived from 1769 to 1843, during the time the American Medical Association was still using bloodletting, opioids, cocaine, arsenic, and mercury! The AMA wasn’t a legal entity back then…but thank goodness times have changed! 

Many other botanists, herbalists, and physicians (now known as naturopaths) began to spread the word of lobelia’s medicinal effectiveness throughout Thomson’s lifetime. This led to a patent being issued by Thomson in 1813, covering his discovery of the actions and healing properties of lobelia. It’s through this work that we have our materia medica monographs today! 

How the Benefits of Lobelia Became Known Nationwide

Lobelia’s journey began on the East Coast of the US. So, how did it move West? It followed the path of the Mormon Pioneers, who were forced to migrate away from the east coast due to religious persecution. These members of the Latter-Day Saints Church migrated from New York to Salt Lake City, Utah. They traveled all that way by horse, oxen, wagons, and handcarts. In fact, the final groups to make it were known as the “handcart companies” because they only had these to transport their belongings. 

Their migration was from 1847 to 1860, with around 60-70,000 pioneers traveling to Utah during that time. Coincidentally, lobelia became quite popular in Native American communities during this time. It was ranked high in their tribal “materia medicas,” even becoming a popular article of trade between their nations. This included the Penobscot, Cherokee, Iroquois, Shoshone, and Crow. 

The Cherokee would mash the roots of lobelia and use them as a poultice for body aches. The Iroquois also used the root to treat venereal diseases, ulcers, and leg sores. The Crow honored lobelia in religious ceremonies. 

The Uses and Benefits of Lobelia

Many people consider Lobelia to be the most important of all herbs…and I personally love it too! It has so many uses, especially in its ability to treat bronchitis and asthma. Of course, in the world of “harmaceuticals” we must take care how we use it, and any herb. 

Back in the day, the benefits of lobelia were used regularly and effectively for everything from lung issues to childbirth, food poisoning, lock jaw, seizures, and angina. But now, with our poor diets and use of prescriptions (both OTC and Rx), lobelia is strong enough to overpower these drugs. Therein lies the issue. 

Overall, lobelia is an amazing herb, but don’t go crazy! Start with a tea or an external application and do some research, like talking with a trusted herbalist or ND (book a consultation with me here). 

So, since that’s out of the way, what effects does lobelia have on the body? 

  • Analgesic: Relieves pain
  • Antispasmodic: Prevents or relieves spasms
  • Astringent: An agent that has a constricting or binding effect
  • Decongestant: Breaks up excessive mucus in the respiratory tract
  • Diaphoretic (mild): Causes perspiration and increases elimination through the skin
  • Emetic: A substance that causes vomiting 
  • Expectorant: Encourages the loosening and removal of phlegm from the respiratory tract
  • Nervine: Strengthens functional activity of the nervous system (stimulant or sedative)

Conditions Lobelia May Help With

Because the benefits of lobelia are so diverse, I have used it for a variety of conditions over the years. These include: 

  • Asthmas and allergies
  • Coughs, cold & flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Fevers
  • Lung problems
  • Tobacco addiction 
  • Certain GI issues 
  • Food or blood poisoning
  • Pleurisy (not fun!)
  • Hyperactivity (ADHD)
  • Chicken pox

CAUTION: Lobelia is not recommended during pregnancy, lactation, pneumonia, CHF, Bradycardia, Paralysis, Shock, or Tobacco sensitivity. Also, DO NOT consume too much or you’ll vomit.  

These are some reasons why you don’t want to get crazy with lobelia or any other herb. It’s always good to start by reforming your diet. Think nutrient density, fiber, water, and physical exercise! 

Also, each of us has a different health story and situation. If you have questions, ask your ND, Herbalist, or practitioner about using lobelia or any other herb you are unsure of. They’ll be able to guide you in this. Also, I offer consultations right here

Products to Help You Get the Benefits of Lobelia

Lobelia can help you with so many things, so here are some of my favorite products that feature it!

Breathe Ease Tea: This wonderfully sweet and powerful tea is specific to long-term lung issues. The herbs can calm allergies, tame chronic bronchitis, reduce sinus congestion, and help you handle the world of mucus. Get some here.

Sinus Tonic: This blend of herbs has been known to help provide relief from symptoms commonly associated with sinusitis, rhinitis, and congestion from allergies. Get the tonic here

Allergy Relief Tincture: Sick of allergies and hay fever? This tonic is perfect for you. It’ll provide relief from the nasty allergy-season symptoms. Pick some up here



*For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (Because why would we want to do that?)

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