Lovely Little Lobelia: Who Knew?

We’ve all seen lobelia used in hanging baskets or to edge flowerbeds. But did you know what a versatile plant it is?

Native Americans used native lobelia (Indian Tobacco) to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative. Today it is used by herbalists to treat asthma and food poisoning, and is often used as part of smoking cessation programs. It is a physical relaxant, and can serve as a nerve depressant, easing tension and panic. The species used most commonly in modern herbalism is Lobelia inflata (Indian Tobacco).

As used in North America, lobelia’s medicinal properties include the following: emetic (induces vomiting), stimulant, antispasmodic, expectorant, diaphoretic, relaxant, nauseant, sedative, diuretic, and nervine. Because of its similarity to nicotine, the internal use of lobelia may be dangerous to susceptible populations, including children, pregnant women, and individuals with cardiac disease. Excessive use will cause nausea and vomiting. It is not recommended for use by pregnant women and is best administered by a practitioner qualified in its use.

Two species, Lobelia siphilitica and Lobelia cardinalis, were considered a cure for syphilis.

Herbalist Samuel Thompson popularized medicinal use of lobelia in the United States in the early 19th century, as well as other medicinal plants like goldenseal. One species, L. chinensis is used as one of the fifty fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the lobelia symbolizes malevolence and ill will.

[photo © Nancy Bond, most content from Wiki]


Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

16 thoughts on “Lovely Little Lobelia: Who Knew?”

  1. It’s lovely. I really like the color. I have been meaning to come over and post for weeks, but I was rushed I didn’t even get to visit. You are the perfect blogger and I feel like I’m in the garden, but without all the heat and insects! LOL! Have a wonderful day, Nancy.

  2. It is a lovely blue. Who knew it means malevolence, but it makes sense when you consider the medicinal uses emetic, expectorant…very interesting post.

  3. Most interesting. I’ve been trying to photograph ours but can’t seem to get the lighting right to capture the blues. –Curmudgeon

  4. Who knew is true Nancy ! .. I have an electric blue one here this year and now having read about how many things can be accomplished with it .. well, amazing ! it is !

  5. Great information. No, I didn’t know all that. It is one of my favorites. I’m testing a new cultivar for Proven Winners called Heavenly Lilac and it is a mounding heavy bloomer. I wonder what healing properties it has. Thanks for sharing all that–wonderful info.

  6. Nancy, I had no idea. I don’t think either of my herb books mention it.(Yes, I know I need more than two). Great information.



  7. Once again, a beautiful photo Nancy.
    I used to love creating waves through an annual bed with the different shades of Lobilia. The pale blue is my favorite, it reminds me of my oldest daughters eyes.

  8. This has always been one of my favorite flowers. How can it symbolize malevolence and ill will!! That’s just wrong of those Victorians. I’ll stick with the Natives and their tabacco in the peace pipe use and definition. This was interesting and fun to read. Thanks.

  9. I love the blue of lobelia, unfortunately, this can only be grown as a cool season plant this far south. I plant some every year, and it always blends in with any other colors I use. It is so versatale.

    Always Growing

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