Ever since I first began to work with the herbs many years ago, lobelia has drawn my attention. It's hard to ignore a plant that is also know as pukeweed. But it was not until the past few years that I have really come to appreciate the value of lobelia.
At one time, say about 100 years ago, lobelia was greatly valued and relied upon. Jethro Kloss devoted 28 pages to it in Back to Eden. He wrote, "Lobelia is the most powerful relaxant known among herbs that have no harmful effects." Back then, emetics were greatly valued and lobelia, used in a large enough dosage, will certainly expel the stomach's contents. Today, few people see the value of inducing puking in order to initiate the healing process. But, as herbalist Matthew Wood writes, "this being a less heroic age...it is possible that the full healing powers of Lobelia are thus lost for the time being."
What we are more likely to use this plant for, however, are it's incredible anti-spasmodic properties as well as it's ability to enhance the powers of other herbs in a formula. Hiccoughs, spasmodic asthma, whooping cough, muscular spasms, hysteria, and epilepsy are some examples of conditions where lobelia's powers shine. Used in small dosages, there is little chance of it acting as an emetic, and one still get's the relaxant and anti-spasmodic benefits. I have twice seen it, in combination with california poppy, stop hiccoughs instantly.
As a catalyst, lobelia acts as the brains of an herbal formulation. Gail Faith Edwards says "it tends to heighten the effects of other medicines and substances." This is a plant that seems to like to boss other plants around. I tend to add a small amount of lobelia to respiratory and cough formulas. Not only does it enhance the other herbs in the formula, but the lobelia itself tends to have a beneficial effect of the respiratory system. It is one of those mysterious and intelligent herbs that seem to know what is needed and act differently depending on the situation. It may open pores, or close them. It contains both relaxing and stimulating constituents. It can both relax an excited heartbeat and stimulate the expulsion of obstructions.
I'll never forget the first time I met wild lobelia growing in the woods. I had not yet learned to identify it, so it was a friend who pointed it out. It was just a small insignificant looking plant just off the trail, who would suspect to healing power it contained. After greeting lobelia, I broke off one leaf. White sap emerged from it and I touched it to my tongue. A few minutes later I had to sit down, not because I was tired or light headed. It simply seemed as though the plant was asking me to slow down, inviting me to alter my perception and take everything in in a less hurried, more aware state. Perhaps this is the gift of lobelia, to invite us to relax, to slow us down, to expel what is unneccessary, and become aware of our being.
As I gathered lobelia from my own garden this year, I felt so grateful for my acquaintance with this little plant with so much power. Making my own tincture, I feel connected to the herbalists of America's past who knew the benefits of this plant and were often persecuted for doing so by the medical establishment. I am glad they took the time to write about plants like lobelia, that we may continue to benefit from them. This is my health insurance, the knowledge of the healing plants of the earth.