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Table of Contents > Herbs > Lobelia
Lobelia
Botanical Name:  Lobelia inflata
Common Names:  Indian tobacco
 
Overview
Plant Description
Parts Used
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), also called Indian tobacco, has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cough. Native Americans historically smoked lobelia as a treatment for asthma. In the 19th century, American physicians prescribed lobelia to induce vomiting in order remove toxins from the body. Because of this, it earned the name "puke weed." Today, lobelia is considered an effective expectorant, meaning that it helps clear mucus from the respiratory tract. Although few studies have thoroughly evaluated the safety and effectiveness of lobelia, some herbalists today incorporate lobelia into a comprehensive treatment plan for asthma.

An active ingredient in the lobelia plant, lobeline, is similar to nicotine in its effect on the body. Like nicotine, it stimulates nerves in the central nervous system. In fact, lobeline has been used as a nicotine substitute in many anti-smoking products and preparations designed to break the smoking habit. In 1993, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited the sale of lobeline-containing smoking products because, according to the FDA report, they lacked effectiveness in helping people quit or reduce smoking.

It is important to note that lobelia is a potentially toxic herb. Lobelia can be safely used in very small doses (particularly homeopathic doses), but moderate to large doses can cause serious adverse effects ranging from dry mouth and nausea to convulsions and even coma (see Precautions). Under the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner, however, lobelia, in combination with other herbs that affect the respiratory system, is considered relatively safe.


Plant Description

Lobelia is an attractive annual or sometimes biennial (replanted every year or two) herb that grows to a height of three feet. Its erect, hairy stem is angular, branching at the top, usually green with a tinge of violet. The pale green or yellowish leaves have a sharp taste and a slightly irritating odor. The sparse flowers are pale violet-blue outside and pale yellow inside.


Parts Used

The above-ground portion of the lobelia plant (namely the leaves and seeds) are used for medicinal purposes.


Medicinal Uses and Indications

Lobelia has not been extensively studied in animals or in people. However, a qualified healthcare practitioner may recommend this herb (usually in combination with other herbs) for the treatment of the following respiratory tract disorders or symptoms:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cough

Available Forms

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


How to Take It

Therapy should begin with lower dosages and increase gradually, depending upon response.

Pediatric

Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of lobelia for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.

Adult

The following are recommended adult doses:

  • Dried herb (infusion or decoction): to tsp herb in 8 oz of water, preferably mixed with other herbs; steep 30 to 40 minutes. Take 2 oz four times per day. (This method is not preferred because of lobelia's acrid taste.)
  • Liquid extract (1:1 in 50% alcohol): 0.2 to 0.6 mL (4 to 18 drops) three times per day
  • Tincture of lobelia: 0.6 to 2.0 mL (18 to 60 drops) per day
  • Vinegar tincture of lobelia (1:5 in dilute acetic acid): 1 to 4 mL (20 to 120 drops) three times per day

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active 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 of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb. Active substances in lobelia bind to nicotine receptors in the nervous system and can cause serious symptoms such as profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma, and even death. A total of 20 mg lobelia per day should not be exceeded. Doses higher than 500 mg are highly toxic and, again, could be fatal.

People with high blood pressure, heart disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, seizure disorder, and shortness of breath as well as those recovering from shock should not take lobelia. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid this herb.


Possible Interactions

There are no known scientific reports of interactions between lobelia and conventional medications.


Supporting Research

Bradley P, ed. British Herbal Compendium. Vol. I. Dorset (Great Britain): British Herbal Medicine Association; 1992: 149-150.

Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998:93-94.

Davison GC, Rosen RC. Lobeline and reduction of cigarette smoking. Psychol Rep. 1972;31:443-56.

Food and Drug Administration. FDA announces that no over-the-counter smoking deterrent works. June 2, 1993. Accessed at: http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/NEW00408.html on April 16, 2002.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Christof J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000: 479-480.

Karch SB. The Consumer's Guide to Herbal Medicine. Hauppauge, New York: Advanced Research Press; 1999:127-128.

Mazur LJ, De Ybarrondo L, Miller J, Colasurdo G. Use of alternative and complementary therapies for pediatric asthma. Tex Med. 2001;97(6):64-68.

Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996: 187.

Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley & Belfus, Inc; 2002:259-261.

Stead LF, Hughes JR. Lobeline for smoking cessation (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, 1, 2002. Oxford: Update Software.

Subarnas A, Tadano T, Oshima Y, Kisara K, Ohizumi Y. Pharmacological properties of beta-amyrin palmitate, a novel centrally acting compound, isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1993; 45(ISS 6):545-550.

Subarnas A, Oshima Y, Sidik, Ohizumi Y. An antidepressant principle of Lobelia inflata L. (Campanulaceae). J Pharm Sci. 1992; 53(7):620-621.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998:22, 35.


Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist (January 2000), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
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Bronchitis
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