The healing power of Lobelia inflata or swollen lobelia

Swollen lobelia originally grows on the east coast of Canada and the US. It is an annual or biennial plant that can reach a height of one meter and has violet-colored flowers. The Indians used it as tobacco. It has a medicinal application in Indian folk medicine. It is mainly used for respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and cough. This medicinal plant was also used for muscle disorders. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing lobelia inflata / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Lobelia inflata in Native American medicine
  • pukewort
  • The many side effects of lobelia inflata
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Lobelia for respiratory problems
  • Intracardiac injections
  • Dose and safety

Lobelia inflata in Native American medicine

Lobelia inflata is used by several Indian tribes for its medicinal qualities. The root of the swollen lobelia was used to treat venereal diseases. The skin was rubbed with the torn leaves to combat various ailments. Moreover, in this way one could free oneself from sorcery. Respiratory diseases and muscle disorders were also treated with lobelia inflata. It was also a known laxative. The leaves were also used in religious ceremonies, for example by smoking them.


In the 19th century, Westerners described lobelia inflata as a plant that makes you feel sick. The English-speaking doctors called it ‘pukeweed’, which means puke herb. This way you can quickly remove toxins from your body. If a child has drunk or eaten a poisonous product, his or her life can be saved by taking a strong emetic.

The many side effects of lobelia inflata

Lobelia inflata can be used as a medicine, but in minimal doses. Some doctors talk about a homeopathic dose, because this dose is always very small. There are many side effects of lobelia inflata, here are a few: profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, fast heart rate, confusion, convulsions, hypothermia or rapid drop in temperature, coma and possibly even death.


The Latin name of swollen lobelia is lobelia inflata . In German it is called Indianischer Tabak and in English Indian tobacco. That is why we could call this plant ‘Indian tobacco’ in Dutch. It is called Indian tobacco because the Indians smoked it. Inflata means ‘inflated’. This refers to flowers that have a ball or balloon shape.

Active substances

Lobelia, the above-ground herb, is used in phytotherapy. It contains the following ingredients with medicinal effects: alkaloids with piperidines and piperideines. The main alkaloid is lobeline and it also contains meso-lobelanidine, meso-lobelanidine, isolobinine and chelidonic acid. It also contains resins, gums and fats.

Lobelia for respiratory problems

Lobelia inflata can only be used in minimal quantities. There is a maximum of 300mg per day, spread over three intakes. This dose contains enough lobeline and lobelanine to be effective as a respiratory stimulant herb. This medicinal property means that there are herbal therapists who consider it a suitable remedy to prescribe for the following indications:

Lobelia inflata / Source: H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Asthma,
  • Bronchitis,
  • Dry and irritating cough,
  • Spastic cough,
  • Whooping cough.

Intracardiac injections

Intracardiac injections are injections into the heart tissue. In the past, lobelia was injected directly into the heart muscle tissue to treat people with respiratory problems due to intoxication by alcohol, morphine, barbiturates, carbon monoxide and chloroform. Nowadays that practice has been abandoned because lobelia is considered a poison.

Dose and safety

There are three different ways to take lobelia inflata for therapeutic use.

  • 50 to 100mg powder per time and a maximum of 300mg per day.
  • 1 to 3 mg tincture per day.
  • 15 drops of mother tincture three times a day.

Do not buy lobelia preparations online but only use lobelia preparations from a doctor. Lobelia preparation is available in the Netherlands through (online) smart shops, but this is strictly not recommended. The entire product, the total alkaloids, is better tolerated than pure lobeline. When taken orally, even within the therapeutic dose, several side effects may occur such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea with cramps, anxiety, trembling, profuse sweating, frequent urination. Doses that are far too high can lead to slow heart rate, lowering of blood pressure, convulsions, cardiac arrhythmias, coma and death. Swollen lobeila is incompatible with tannins or tannins, heavy metals and iodine. Lobelia inflata should definitely not be used during pregnancy or lactation.