Herb: Indian Tobacco

Latin name: Lobelia inflata

Family: Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family)

Medicinal use of Indian Tobacco:

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:


60 cm
(2 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Meadows, fields, roadsides, waste places and open woods. Usually in dry soils.

Other uses of Indian Tobacco:

The plant has been burnt in order to smoke out gnats.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow spring or autumn in situ. The seed usually germinates within 2 weeks.

Cultivation of Indian Tobacco:

Meadows, fields, roadsides, waste places and open woods. Usually in dry soils.

Known hazards of Lobelia inflata:

Some reports say that the plant is poisonous, whilst another says that toxicity has not been established. It contains the alkaloid lobeline which has a similar effect upon the nervous system as nicotine. See also the notes below on medicinal uses.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.