Herb: Water Lobelia

Latin name: Lobelia dortmanna

Family: Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family)

Medicinal use of Water Lobelia:

A tincture of the fresh plant can cure headaches and noises in the ears. The following notes are for L. inflata - this species is said to have similar actions. Indian Tobacco was a traditional North American Indian remedy for a wide range of conditions. Nowadays it is used mainly as a powerful antispasmodic herb in the treatment of respiratory and muscle disorders. Acting also as a respiratory stimulant, Indian Tobacco is a valuable remedy for conditions such as bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis. The dried flowering herb and the seed are antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and nervine. The plant is taken internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough and pleurisy. This remedy should be used with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Excess doses cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and respiratory failure. See also the notes above on toxicity. The plant contains the alkaline "lobeline" which has proved to be of value in helping people to give up smoking tobacco. It is contained in many proprietary anti-smoking mixtures where it mimics the effects of nicotine. The alkaloids present in the leaves are used to stimulate the removal of phlegm from the respiratory tract. When chewed, the leaves induce vomiting, headache and nausea - in larger doses it has caused death. The alkaloids first act as a stimulant and then as a depressive to the autonomic nervous system and in high doses paralyses muscular action in the same way as curare. Externally, the plant is used in treating pleurisy, rheumatism, tennis elbow, whiplash injuries, boils and ulcers. The whole plant is harvested when the lower fruits are ripe and it is used fresh or dried.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Stony lakes and tarns with acid water.

Propagation of Water Lobelia:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division in spring. Basal cuttings in spring. Harvest the shoots when they are about 10cm long with plenty of underground stem. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer. Layering in moist sand, it forms roots at the nodes.

Cultivation of the herb:

Stony lakes and tarns with acid water.

Known hazards of Lobelia dortmanna:

Although no specific reports have been seen for this species, most members of this genus contain the alkaloid lobeline which has a similar effect upon the nervous system as nicotine

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.