The beautiful flowering plant lobelia has been used in homeopathic medicine for centuries. There are many species in existence, but the most commonly used herb is Lobelia inflata, which was valued by Native Americans for its many therapeutic properties.
There aren’t many human studies conducted on the herb’s efficacy, but many years of anecdotal reports suggest that it’s useful for several conditions when taken in small amounts.
The major issue concerning lobelia is its potential side effects. In fact, it was called “puke weed” because Native Americans used it to induce detoxification through vomiting. So what dose is safe and effective, and does the herb actually work?
What Is Lobelia?
Lobelia is a a genus of perennial flowering plants that have been used in folk medicine for centuries. Although there are over 300 species of lobelia, the most commonly used herb is Lobelia inflata, which is native to the Northeastern United States.
Lobelia inflata has pale colored flowers, compared to its cousin species, and it belongs to the Lobeliaceae plant family.
Native Americans understood the potential medicinal value of this powerful herb and tribes used the herb for a wide variety of purposes. This is why the herb is sometimes called “Indian tabacco.”
The most important compound in the plant is lobeline, which has been studied for its ability to improve neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, as well as ADHD and neuropsychiatric disease.
In addition to the lobeline present in lobelia, the herb also contains:
- vitamin C
This medicinal herb is used for its ability to support respiratory health, reduce inflammation and possibly help people to quit smoking.
1. Reduces Inflammation
Several animal and lab studies show that lobelia has anti-inflammatory effects and is able to decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines.
The overproduction of cytokines can result in disease, especially inflammatory conditions, immune-related conditions and cancer.
2. Improves Asthma Symptoms
Lobelia is commonly used to improve asthma symptoms because of its ability to ease coughing and improve breathing. Research demonstrates that the herb is an antispasmodic that relaxes the bronchial tubes. It also works as an expectorant that loosens phlegm and makes it easier to breathe.
In addition to improving asthma symptoms, the herb is also used to alleviate symptoms related to allergies, bronchitis and other conditions affecting the respiratory system.
Although this is a well-known lobelia benefit, there are no human studies examining its efficacy for asthma and respiratory health.
3. May Promote Cognitive Health
Research indicates that lobeline, a piperidine alkaloid that’s often isolated from lobelia, exhibits neuroprotective effects.
A study published in Journal of Attentive Disorders found that lobeline could be used to improve working memory in adults with ADHD.
When participants took lobeline at doses of 7.5, 15 or 30 milligrams and then underwent cognitive tasks and self-report measures, the findings indicate that the compound did improve working memory, but no significant improvement in attention was observed.
4. Used for Smoking Cessation
Lobeline acts as a partial nicotine agonist, which means that it can mimic the actions of nicotine stimulation. For this reason, the herb is commonly used to support smoking cessation.
There’s very limited evidence on the efficacy of lobelia or lobeline on smoking cessation. However, clinical trials and many years of use suggest that the herb may have effects similar to nicotine on cognition and, therefore, supports people trying to quit smoking.
5. May Improve Depression
Lobelia has become known as an antidepressant, relaxant and euphoriant agent.
A 1993 study published in Life Sciences displays that a compound in lobelia called beta-amyrin palmitate may have antidepressant activity.
Like most research on lobelia, there isn’t enough human evidence on its efficacy for depression. Animal studies seem promising, but more research needs to be done before recommending the use of this herb alone for depression treatment.
Lobelia is available in many forms. The seeds and leaves of the plant are used to make tea, capsules, tablets and liquid extracts. Topical solutions containing the herb are also used for their antispasmodic properties.
There is no standard lobelia dosage, but research suggests that lower doses are certainly safer. According to research published in A Materia Medica for Chinese Medicine, 0.6-1 gram of the herb may be toxic and 4 grams or more can be deadly.
To determine what dose is right for your health needs, consult a healthcare professional who’s familiar with herbal medicine.
The most common lobelia side effect is nausea. High doses of the herb can be poisonous and cause serious adverse effects, including:
- changes in heart rate
- oral numbness
- body twitching
- abdominal pain
- respiratory distress
- death due to respiratory paralysis
Many studies point out that the potential health benefits of lobelia are limited because of the herb’s adverse effects when use medicinally.
Lobelia should not be used by women who are pregnant and nursing, or children. People with high blood pressure and heart disease should not use the herb. It’s also important to note that lobeline, an active ingredient in the herb, has the same effect as nicotine on the body, so people who are sensitive to nicotine should avoid using this herb.
People who are on meditations should also avoid using lobelia unless advised otherwise by their healthcare professionals.
The herb is also poisonous to pets and animals, so keep that in mind if you are planning to plant lobelia in your garden.
- Lobelia inflata is a flowering herb that was used by Native Americans for a number of health conditions, including asthma and respiratory conditions.
- Although human studies are lacking, there’s some evidence that the herb can improve asthma, depression, ADHD and inflammatory conditions.
- Lobelia can be toxic when taken in high doses, so it’s important to use the herb under the guidance of a healthcare professional. The most common side effects is nausea.
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