Lobelia inflata

Be aware that Lobelia Inflata is toxic and must be consumed carefully under the care of a medical practitioner.


Lobelia inflata | lobelia inflata vintage art
Indian tobacco vintage representation

The lobelia inflata is a tall, fuzzy-stemmed plant that grows native through the southeastern portion of Canada, down the east coast, and all the way into Alabama.

Native Americans and 19th century doctors used the leaves medicinally due to the pyridine alkaloid, lobeline, they contain. Other well-known examples of alkaloids would be caffeine, morphine, and nicotine. It has violet, tubular flowers that bloom in the summer. It is frequently called Indian tobacco because it is also smoked in addition to being used for its medicinal properties.

This annual will grow in almost any place it’s planted, whether its meadows or parking lots, the lobelia inflata will definitely dig in its roots.


The history of use of the lobelia isn’t concrete, however, the use of tobacco in Native American rituals is well known.

For centuries, they have used it to promote overall wellness and also as a means to communicate to the spirit realm. It is held in high regard, and stories about the harvest and cultivation of tobacco still circulate within the tribes and families to this day.

The use of the lobelia inflata plant specifically appeared to be most often smoked by the Native tribes in the Northeastern portion of the United States, and it isn’t all that surprising given the plant’s growing pattern.

Lobelia was burned ceremoniously, in addition to or in place of traditional tobacco, and used for the treatment of breathing disorders such as, asthma, wheezing, and general respiratory distress. Its uses weren’t wiped out even after colonization, as practicing doctors at the time would also use the herb as an emetic for their patients, hence its other, not-so-flattering nickname, “puke weed.”

Lobelia inflata
Lobelia is genus of flowering plants comprising 415 species


Nowadays, you don’t have to venture out to a field of lobelia inflata to prepare it for use, and it is available in several different forms aside from whole.

If you would like to go the traditional route, you can certainly get the entire plant, but it is not recommended to eat the seeds without supervision of a medical professional as they hold a potent amount of the compound, lobeline, in them.

The leaves, also holding some lobeline, can be burned and inhaled instead for the treatment of the aforementioned health problems.

There are also tinctures, capsules, and teas made with the dried plant that would be just as effective and easier to use as well. Taking it in small doses to start is imperative to see how your body will respond to it, and it can be increased gradually for the desired therapeutic effects.

Effects and Potential Health Benefits

After smoking the lobelia inflata or ingesting it orally you will begin to feel its effects quite quickly; this is especially true if you are smoking or inhaling it.

Lobelia for smoking cessation

The second biggest use of lobelia inflata is actually for smoking cessation. The plant itself, while nicknamed Indian tobacco, is actually not tobacco at all, and it contains no nicotine. Some believe that it can be used in substitute for store-bought tobacco products and has been instrumental in helping them kick the habit for good.

There is some science to back this up too: smoking lobalia inflata increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, similar to the way that smoking cigarettes does. It is possible that this may work for some individuals since the lobeline compound was formerly used over-the-counter to help alleviate the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Studies to back up the effectiveness of its ability to help people quit smoking are limited, but could be worth trying if it means cutting out cigarettes from your life.

Lobelia & respiratory issues

It has been noted that lobelia inflata aids with respiratory distress, for one, but how is that?
The plant is said to be a powerful expectorant, or something that promotes mucus production in your body, which in turn can help you expel impurities from your airways.

When you cough it will be more productive with the excess mucus buildup and therefore, can help you breathe easier. By coughing out the mucus buildup, whatever else was stuck in there with it will also come out, hence, the prescription for lobelia for troubled breathing.

Lobelia for ADHD

Additionally, there are some studies that support the use of lobelia for the treatment of ADHD. It has been noted of lobelia’s use in the development of dopamine in the brain, but it also improves the reuptake of it too.

This means that it helps the brain use that dopamine more effectively than without – and for someone with ADHD, this can be helpful because it can assist with your focus and your hyperactivity levels.

There was even a minor study conducted that showed memory improvement after a week of dosing lobelia inflata, but more research is needed to concretely prove that this is a benefit to taking it.

Side Effects

First and foremost, it should be taken only under medical supervision and under the guidance of a medical professional. Talk to your doctor first before experimenting with any new herbal remedies, especially this one, so you can be sure that this is the right course of treatment for you.

Some common and less serious side-effects of lobelia include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating or salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

This is a non-exhaustive list, however, they are the most commonly reported symptoms associated with using the herb outside of its therapeutic side effects.

When taken at a high dose it can become deadly. A toxic application of lobelia would be anywhere from 0.6 – 1 gram of the plant, while a fatal dosage would be up to 4 grams total. Side-effects outside of the therapeutic level and closing in on potentially fatal include the following:

  • Convulsions
  • Tremors
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma
  • Death

Individuals with epilepsy, hypertension, heart problems, kidney, or liver diseases should take extreme caution before taking lobelia, and children and pregnant women should never take lobelia under any circumstances.

If you believe you are under a poison emergency, call  1-800-222-1222 or visit POISONHELP.ORG



How much lobelia can you smoke?

While the exact therapeutic dosage of lobelia inflata has not been accurately determined, it is recommended to not exceed 0.5 grams of the product at one time. Because there is a difference in how the body processes inhaled vapors versus ingestion by mouth, it is hard to determine exactly how much is “safe” to smoke. It is generally advised to start with the smallest amount possible, and gradually increase until the desired effect is reached. That gradual increase should still never exceed 0.5 gram, whatever route you decide to take.

Is Lobelia poisonous to cats and dogs?

Lobeline is considered toxic to most animals, and it is highly recommended that this plant, in any form, is kept away from any household pets. It has caused fatalities in animals when ingested and should not be used to treat any of their ailments.

If you suspect your pet may have ingested a potentially toxic substance, call the APCC at (888) 426-4435 or contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible.

ASPCA Source

Are lobelia flowers toxic?

Like the leaves of the plant, the buds and flowers also contain trace amounts of the alkaloid lobeline. As mentioned previously, high amounts of this compound can cause death. This means that the flowers would also be considered toxic, however, they are not as potent as the seeds, where the highest concentration of lobeline lies. Take caution should you choose to eat the flowers so you do not ingest too much of them.

Does lobelia make you sleepy?

While not its primary use, lobelia inflata is said to have some sedative effects. That being said, there are plenty of other herbs that are non-toxic such as chamomile or valerian root which are better used and more well-studied as natural sedatives.

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