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Lobelia erinus
Lobelia erinus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Asterales
Family: Campanulaceae
Subfamily: Lobelioideae
Genus: Lobelia

See text.

Lobelia (also known as Indian Tobacco, Asthma Weed, Pukeweed, or Vomitwort) is a genus in the family Campanulaceae, comprising over 400 species, some of which are cultivated in gardens. These include Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower or Indian Pink), Lobelia siphilitica (Blue Lobelia), Lobelia fulgens and Lobelia erinus, as well as some hybrids.

Some botanists place the genus and its relatives in the separate family Lobeliaceae. The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group did not make a firm decision in this, listing the genus under both families.

Lobelia erinus, a South African annual plant is often grown in window boxes and hanging baskets. Many varieties have been cultivated with a wide variety of colours.

Lobelia is probably the base form from which many other lobelioid genera are derived; it is therefore highly paraphyletic and not a good genus. For example, the Hawaiian species are part of a group including other genera that appear very different (see Hawaiian lobelioids). However, the group is not well-enough known to rearrange the classification.

Lobelia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Setaceous Hebrew Character.

The genus is named for the Belgian botanist Matthias de Lobel (1538-1616)

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

Medicinal use

Native Americans used Lobelia to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative. Today it is used 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).[1]

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[2].

Herbalist Samuel Thompson popularized medicinal use of lobelia in the United States in the early 1800s, as well as other medicinal plants like goldenseal.[1]

One species, L. chinensis (called bàn biān lián, in Chinese), is used as one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.

Selected species

  • L. aberdarica
  • L. anatina : Southwestern Blue Lobelia
  • L. anceps
  • L. appendiculata
  • L. assurgens
  • L. berlandieri
  • L. boykinii
  • L. canbyi
  • L. cardinalis : Cardinal Flower, Scarlet Lobelia (Syn.: L. fulgens, S. splendens, L. graminea)
  • L. chinensis
  • L. comosa
  • L. coronopifolia
  • L. deckenii
  • L. dortmanna
  • L. erinus : Edging Lobelia, Annual Lobelia, Trailing Lobelia
  • L. flaccidifolia
  • L. flaccida
  • L. gaudichaudii
  • L. gerardii
  • L. gibberoa
  • L. ilicifolia (Lobelia Purpurascens): Purple Lobelia
  • L. inflata : Indian Tobacco
  • L. kalmii
  • L. keniensis
  • L. laxiflora : Sierra Madre Lobelia
  • L. leschenaultiana
  • L. monostachya
  • L. nicotianifolia
  • L. niihauensis
  • L. oahuensis
  • L. persicifolia
  • L. pinifolia
  • L. puberula
  • L. pyramidalis
  • L. radicans (synonym for L. chinensis)
  • L. rhombifolia
  • L. rosea
  • L. sessilifolia
  • L. siphilitica
  • L. spicata
  • L. telekii
  • L. tenuior
  • L. thapsoidea
  • L. tupa
  • L. urens
  • L. valida
  • L. zeylanica


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Lobelia". EBSCO Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Review Board. January 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  2. Guédon, Marie-Françoise (2000). Sacred Smudging in North America. Walkabout Press.

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