Principal Proposed Uses
The herb lobelia was originally used by Native Americans in the New England region. It was subsequently popularized by Samuel Thomson, the founder of an ideosyncratic form of medicine called Thomsonianism. The enduring popularity of lobelia is one of the legacies of this nineteenth century enthusiasm. ( Goldenseal is another herb popularized by Thomson.) The traditional names of the herb capture its traditional uses: wild tobacco, asthma weed, gagroot, and pukeweed. Dried lobelia tastes and smells somewhat like tobacco, and for this reason it was sold as a tobacco substitute. Lobelia was also used to treat asthma and stimulate vomiting.
The Thomsonians additionally claimed that lobelia could relax muscles and nerves. On this basis, they used it for anxiety, epilepsy, kidney stones, insomnia, menstrual cramps, muscle spasms, spastic colon, and tetanus.
What is Lobelia Used for Today?
However, there have not yet been any human studies on these potential benefits of the herb.
Lobelia is generally sold in the form of a vinegar tincture. The typical dose of this tincture is 20 to 60 drops taken three times daily.
American New Dispensatory
In fact, there are no reported cases of death caused by Lobelia inflata in animals or humans. Considering how widely lobelia was used under the Thomsonians and subsequently, the concern that it reliably causes death appears to be a significant overstatement. Lobelia may present health risks, but if so, they have not been documented.
The fact that lobeline restricts dopamine release suggests at least a possibility that lobelia could worsen symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (in which dopamine levels are low) and possibly interfere with the action of drugs used for schizophrenia or attention deficit disorder (which also act on dopamine). These concerns are, however, purely theoretical at this time.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -