The lobelia plant is an attractive annual herb with many varieties. Some of these even include biennial species. Lobelia is an easy-to-grow, carefree plant that enjoys cool weather. This summertime bloomer will continue to produce flowers on up through the first frost. Growing lobelia is an asset to the garden.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), also called Indian tobacco, has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cough. Historically, Native Americans smoked lobelia as a treatment for asthma. In the 19th century, American physicians prescribed lobelia to cause vomiting in order remove toxins from the body. Because of this, it earned the name \"puke weed.\" Today, lobelia is sometimes suggested to help clear mucus from the respiratory tract, including the throat, lungs, and bronchial tubes. Although few studies have evaluated the safety and effectiveness of lobelia, some herbalists today use lobelia as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for asthma.

An active ingredient in the lobelia plant, lobeline, was thought to be similar to nicotine in its effect on the body. For this reason, lobeline was once used as a nicotine substitute in many anti-smoking products and preparations designed to break the smoking habit. In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited the sale of lobeline-containing smoking products. The FDA reported that such products were not effective in helping people quit or reduce smoking.

Researchers now think that lobeline may actually reduce the effects of nicotine in the body, particularly the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a number of important roles in the brain. It is also involved in drug addiction, so researchers think that lobeline may have some potential in treating addiction. So far, however, there have been no studies to determine whether lobeline is effective.

Lobelia is a potentially toxic herb. It can be safely used in small doses (particularly homeopathic doses), but moderate-to-large doses may cause side effects ranging from dry mouth and nausea to convulsions and even coma (see \"Precautions\" section). You should use lobelia only under the supervision of your doctor.

Types & Uses of Lobelia Plants

While there are numerous varieties of lobelia plants, only a few are commonly seen in the home garden—L. inflata (Indian Tobacco), L. cardinalis, and L. siphilitica. Interesting enough, the name of Indian Tobacco derived from the fact that Native Americans once smoked lobelia plant to treat asthma. Also known as Pukeweed, doctors once prescribed the plant to induce vomiting.

Although most varieties are compact, growing only 3-5 inches tall, others will grow up to 3 feet. Colors are also variable, with white, pink, red, and blue species available. However, violet-blue is probably one of the most commonly seen. These plants make great additions in borders, along creeks or ponds, as groundcovers, or in containers—especially hanging baskets.

Growing Lobelia Plant

Annual lobelia will grow nearly anywhere. Lobelia seeds can be sown directly in the garden or indoors for later transplanting. These plants typically require an area with full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They also prefer moist, rich soil. Start indoors about 10-12 weeks prior to the last frost in your region. Spread the tiny seeds just on top of the soil and water thoroughly. Place them in a warm, well-lit area.

The seedlings should pop up within a week or two, at which time you can begin thinning them out. After all danger of frost is gone and the plants are at least 2-3 inches tall, transplant them to the garden—spacing about 4-6 inches apart.

Care of Lobelia Plants

Once established, the lobelia plant requires little maintenance. During hot, dry periods, care of lobelia requires that the plant should receive frequent watering, however, especially those in containers. A general-purpose liquid fertilizer can be given once a month or every 4-6 weeks, if desired.

Lobelia should delight your garden with beautiful blooms about mid-summer, continuing on up to the first frost. Although not necessary, you can deadhead lobelia plants to maintain a neat appearance.

Medicinal Uses and Indications:

Very few studies have looked at the effect of lobelia in either animals or people. It is sometimes suggested (usually in combination with other herbs) for the treatment of the following respiratory problems:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cough

In homeopathy, lobelia is also used alone or with other products for smoking cessation, muscle relaxation, nausea, vomiting, and various respiratory illnesses.

Available Forms:

Lobelia is available in liquid extracts, tinctures, and as a dried herb in capsules and for teas.

How to Take It:

Begin with lower dosages and increase gradually, depending upon response.


There are no studies evaluating whether it is safe to give lobelia to a child. Avoid use in children unless under the supervision of your doctor.


The following are recommended adult doses:

  • Dried herb (infusion or decoction): ¼ - ½ tsp herb in 8 oz of water, preferably mixed with other herbs. Steep 30 - 40 minutes and take 2 oz (60 mL), 4 times daily. (This method is not preferred because of lobelia\'s acrid taste.)
  • Liquid extract (1:1 in 50 % alcohol): 0.2 - 0.6 mL (4 - 18 drops), 3 times daily
  • Tincture of lobelia: 0.6 - 2.0 mL (18 - 60 drops) daily
  • Vinegar tincture of lobelia (1:5 in dilute acetic acid): 1 - 4 mL (20 - 120 drops), 3 times daily


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision a health care provider.

Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb. It can cause serious side effects, such as profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma, and possibly even death. Check with your doctor to determine the right dose for you, and do not exceed your doctor\'s recommended dose.

People with high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, seizure disorder, and shortness of breath, and those recovering from shock should not take lobelia.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid this herb.

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