The Other Native Tobacco

The Other Native Tobacco

The Other Native Tobacco

There are over 200 species of the lobelia family which grow in the tropical to temperate regions of the world.  They are all flashy members of the bellflower family, known for their vibrant white, yellow, red, blue, and violet flowers.  Many varieties have been used to support respiratory function, but none are as potent or sought after as Lobelia Inflata, a blue to violet variety native to North America.  It is also in the Americas where Lobelia earned its infamous reputation.

Native Americans safely used the plant in a variety of ways, for a vast number of reasons, for hundreds of years prior to documented colonial use.  It was often smoked to promote open airways and to help calm inflammation in the respiratory tract, hence the name “Indian Tobacco.”  They also chewed the leaves to soothe inflammation in the throat and calm spastic coughs.  Teas and extracts were used, on rare occasions, to stimulate drastic purgative effects.  They would also make poultices and other topicals which could be applied anywhere to support inflammation response and promote the natural reparative processes of wounds.  They even used lobelia, specifically the root, to stimulate immune response to venereal immune compromises, and to promote the elimination of parasites.

In the 1800’s, an American Herbalist by the name of Samuel Thomson briefly popularized the use of Lobelia Inflata to the extreme.  He would intentionally administer large doses of the herb to his clients to stimulate a purgative effect and promote a response to heat in the body.  This practice earned Lobelia some of its less appealing nicknames, including Gag Weed, Puke Weed, and Vomit Weed.  Tomson’s methods fell out of favor when a client died while in his care.  He and Lobelia were cleared of all charges, but the case has left a lasting impact on the herb’s reputation.  Fortunately, the eclectic physicians of the day saw fit to continue their use and further research of the herb; they found that administering small doses over a period of time had a greater effect rather than the unbalancing actions of an acute purgative response.  Lobelia became a favorite of the late Dr. Christopher, who described it as “being able to think and having a mind of its own.”  

Lobelia Inflata Nutrients, Constituents, and Benefits

  • Lobelia is known to contain: Niacin, Calcium, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Sulfur, and other trace minerals depending on soil composition
  • Active Constituents: Lobeline, Lobelidine, Lobelanine, Isolobelanine, Chelidonic Acid, Lobelic Acid, Bitter Glycosides, Lignin, Piperidine, Volatile Oils, Resins and Gums

Lobelia can help to:

    • Promote physical and emotional relaxation of the body
    • Calm and soothe inflamed, spasming nerves and muscles
    • Calm an excited heart, promote blood oxygenation, and support response to inflammation in capillary tissues
    • Support the breakdown and elimination of mucus and plaque from the cardiovascular system
    • Promote open sinus passages and lungs, and helps to relax the esophagus and vocal cords
    • Support histamine response and promote the breakdown and elimination of mucus throughout the body
    • Stimulate the movement of the intestinal tract, and assist the elimination of mucus from the digestive system
  • Discourage and/or satiate the desire to smoke traditional tobacco products. **In 1993, the FDA prohibited the sale of smoke blends containing lobelia which were formulated to discourage smoking, claiming that the products lacked effectiveness.  Other countries still allow the sale of these kinds of products for this purpose.**

  • Cautions:

    Because Lobelia can be so relaxing to the tissues, it is not recommended during pregnancy.  However, it may be used to ease difficult labor, promote a speedy afterbirth, and assist with postpartum discomfort and recovery.  Generally, Lobelia is not recommended in large doses as mentioned above, as it could trigger an unbalancing purgative response.  This is especially recommended to be avoided for those who have a weak heart.  Many books and research materials today may label Lobelia as a poison, but there is no evidence to support this claim.  It is simply a powerful herb which commands respect and prudence.