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Lobelia inflate


Lobelia inflate


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Indian tobacco, Asthma weed, Bladderpod, Emetic root, Gagroot, Lobelia, Pukeweed, Vomitroot


The purplish, pubescent stem yields dark green, toothed, ovate leaves which grow to a length of 8cm; the largest of the leaves growing nearer to the base of the plant. Beginning in midsummer and continuing into the fall, Lobelia inflata yields small, sparse flowers with a purple exterior and yellow interior.

Origin / Habitat

L. inflata, or Indian tobacco is an annual, occasional biennial, flowering herb native to the eastern half of the North American continent. Growing to a height of a little over a meter, L. inflata is found growing most commonly in sunlit grasslands across Eastern North America, though it is now heavily cultivated as bedding plants.

Chemical Constituents

L-lobeline, lobelanine, norlobelanine, isolobinine, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, chelidonic acid, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Potassium, Pyridine-alkaloids. (1),(2),(3),(4)

Plant Part Used

Leaves, seeds.(6)

Traditional Use

L. inflata has been commonly used in Native American medicine as a respiratory aid.(5) An infusion of the plant taken internally, or smoking the leaves has been found to be very effective in treating asthma, tuberculosis and other ailments affecting the respiratory system.(6) In addition to being used to treat respiratory disorders, the leaves of L. inflata are also smoked to relieve addiction to tobacco, potentially due to its similarities in smell while burning, as well as its primary chemical constituent, lobeline, being similar in effect to nicotine.(7)

In larger doses, L. inflata has been used as an emetic. Typically, an infusion is administered in order to induce vomiting, which makes L. inflata very useful in cases of poisoning or ingestion of toxic materials.(8) However, dosages that are too large can be fatal.

The poultices and infusions made of L. inflata have been used externally as both an analgesic(8) and a dermatological aide.(6) The external uses of L. inflata range from being applied to abrasions and sores, to being applied to external symptoms of some venereal diseases.(6)


Due to the severity of side effects and the potential for complications with dosages that are too high, any dosage of L. inflata should be determined by a trained professional.



The alkaloid lobeline has been found to affect dopamine metabolism by inhibiting dopamine uptake and promoting its release. Further exploration of this action led researchers to determine that use of lobeline in an animal model reduced the amphetamine induced dopamine release in animals dosed with amphetamine and methamphetamine. No symptoms of addiction were noted.(9) Further examination of this action has been demonstrated with lobelane, a synthetic version of the alkaloid.(2)

The traditional use of L. inflata as a tobacco product has been examined in several studies investigating the potential role of the herb in smoking cessation.(10) Original thought was that the active, Lobeline, was a nicotine agonist. However further investigation has revealed that it is the chemical’s role in dopamine metabolism that is the mechanism that warrants further investigation.(11)

L. inflata has also been studied for its antidepressant activity in several animal models.(12),(4) The active determined to be responsible for this actions is beta-amyrin palmitate, isolated from the leaf of the plant.(11)


No documentation

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

Not to be used in combination with any prescription drug therapy.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

The potential side effects and possible interactions with other drugs are significant with this herb.  Therefore it should only be used under supervision of a trained professional.

L. inflata has been known to cause tachycardia.(13)

Large doses of the pyridine alkaloid, lobeline, can cause vomiting, paralysis, coma and death.(5)

L. inflata is considered to have psychoactive properties(13) and should be avoided without careful guidance by a licensed practitioner.


Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Age limitation

Keep out of reach of children.

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1)  Western Herbs


  1. Duke, James A. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, F: CRC Press; 1992.
  2. Neugebauer NM. Lobelane decreases methamphetamine self-administration in rats. Eur J Pharmacol. 24 Sep 2007;571(1):33-38.
  3. Felpin FX. History, chemistry and biology of alkaloids from Lobelia inflate. Tetrahedron. Jan 2004;60(45):10127-10153.
  4. Subarnas A. An antidepressant principle of Lobelia inflata L. (Campanulaceae). J Pharm Sci. Jul 1992;81(7):620-621.
  5. Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MPF. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man’s Health. NY: Wiley-Interscience; 1977.
  6. Moerman DE.  Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2009.
  7. University of Maryland Medical Center. Lobelia. University of Maryland. Available from: [Accessed on 5th July 2009].
  8. Hutchens, A.  Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, MA:  Shambala; 1991.
  9. Dwoskin LP. A novel mechanism of action and potential use for lobeline as a treatment for psychostimulant abuse. Biochem Pharmacol. 15 Jan 2002;63(2):89-98.
  10. Lim DY. Influence of lobeline on catecholamine release from the isolated perfused rat adrenal gland. Auton Neurosci. 30 Jan 2004;110(1):27-35.
  11. Subarnas A.Pharmacological properties of beta-amyrin palmitate, a novel centrally acting compound, isolated from Lobelia inflata leaves.J Pharm Pharmacol. Jun 1993;45(6):545-550.
  12. Teng L. Lobeline displaces [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine binding and releases [3H]dopamine from rat striatal synaptic vesicles: comparison with d-amphetamine. J Neurochem. Jul 1998;71(1):258-265.
  13. Miller LG, Murray WJ. Herbal Medicinals: A Clinician’s Guide. NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1998.

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