Parts used and where grown: Lobelia grows throughout North America. The leaves are primarily used in herbal medicine.
Lobelia has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies): Eclectic physicians, early North American doctors who used herbs as their primary medicine, considered lobelia to be one of the most important medicinal plants.1 It was used by Eclectics to treat coughs and spasms in the lungs from varying causes, as well as spasms elsewhere in the body, including the intestines and ureters (passages from the kidney to the bladder).2 Lobelia was also considered a useful pain reliever and in higher amounts was used to induce vomiting in people who had been poisoned.
Active constituents: The alkaloid lobeline is responsible for most of lobelia’s actions. Since lobeline is similar in structure to nicotine, it has been used as a traditional herbal approach to help people stop smoking. Results of human trials using lobeline for smoking cessation have been mixed and generally negative.3 Preliminary trials suggest lobeline may improve lung function, perhaps by its abilities to reduce bronchial constriction and to thin mucus so that it can be coughed out.4
How much is usually taken? Eclectic physicians generally recommended using a tincture of lobelia made partially or entirely with vinegar instead of alcohol.5 A vinegar extract is known as an acetract. At most, 1 ml was given three times per day. The absolute maximum amount to take should be that which causes no, or minimal, nausea. Lobelia ointment has also been used topically on the chest to relieve asthma and bronchitis. People should apply such ointments liberally several times per day.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Lobelia frequently causes nausea and vomiting when the amount used is too high. Generally, more than 1 ml of tincture or acetract taken at one time will cause nausea and possibly vomiting and should be avoided.6 Although lobelia has a reputation for being toxic, a thorough review of the medical literature was unable to find any well-documented case of serious problems or death due to lobelia.7 This may be because a toxic amount cannot be ingested without first causing vomiting. Signs of lobelia poisoning may include weakness, heartburn, weak pulse, difficulty breathing, and collapse.8 Nevertheless, lobelia should not be used for more than one month consecutively and should be avoided during pregnancy and breast-feeding.9 Due to its emetic (vomit-inducing) actions, lobelia should be used cautiously with children under the age of six years.
Are there any drug interactions? Certain medications may interact with lobelia. Refer to the drug interactions safety check for a list of those medications.
1. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983, 1199–205.
2. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 11th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1919, 1998, 235–42.
3. Davison GC, Rosen RC. Lobeline and reduction of cigarette smoking. Psychol Reports 1972;31:443–56.
4. Pocta J. Therapeutic use of lobeline Spofa. Cas Lek Cesk 1970;109:865 [in Czech].
5. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983, 1199–205.
6. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983, 1199–205.
7. Bergner P. Is lobelia toxic? Medical Herbalism 1998;10:1,15–32 [review].
8. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 11th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1919, 1998, 235–42.
9. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 71.
Copyright © 2002 VitaminLore, Inc. All rights reserved. www.VitaminLore.com
The information presented in VitaminLore Online is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over-the-counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2006.