"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

by Rosanna King
This site brought to you by The School of Natural Healing & Christopher Publications

Lobelia’s generic name was given it in honor of Matthiast de Lobel, a distinguished botanist of the sixteenth century. The species name inflata is in reference to the peculiar inflated seed pods.[1] Where exactly does lobelia fit into in the world of plants? Lobelia’s classification is as follows below.

Kingdom                           Plantae – Plants

  Subkingdom                   Tracheobionta – Vascular plants

     Superdivision              Spermatophyta – Seed plants

         Division                   Magnoliophyta –Flowering Plants

            Class                     Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons

                Subclass           Asteridae –

                   Order             Campanulales –

                      Family        Campanulaceae – Bellflower family

                         Genus       Lobelia L. –lobelia

                            Species Lobelia inflata L. – Indian Tobacco[2]



We’ve talked a lot about lobelia’s history but you probably don’t have a clue what the subject of our discussion looks like. Lobelia makes no bold statements, it is a modest yellowish green annual or biennial hairy plant up to 1 meter high with branched stems. The pale green ovate-oblong leaves alternate on the stem, are sessile or subsessile and toothed with a hairy underside. The tiny irregular two lipped white to pale blue flowers tinted pale yellow within are found blooming from June to October. The numerous inconspicuous flowers are positioned on long, loose racemes terminating the branches. The flowers mature into inflated, two celled oval capsules containing a number of small ovate-oblong, light brown seeds. The tiny seeds only 1/33 of an inch in length and 1/85 of an inch wide viewed under the microscope reveal an interesting design somewhat resembling basket-work. If you want to make sure whether you have found lobelia or not, the smell and taste test can be used. The odor is described as slight and irritating and the taste as strongly acrid, resembling tobacco.[3]


You have a good chance of finding it if you look in moist or wet locations in cool temperate regions and dry to moist areas in warm temperate regions of North America with an average rainfall of 7-13 inches. Lobelia grows in dry open places, fields, waste places and open woods over much of the United States and up into Canada. Its range is from Nova Scotia to Georgia; Louisiana, Arkansas, Eastern Kansas to Saskatchewan but most common in the north eastern states especially Massachusetts, New York and Michigan.[4]

[1] King, King’s American Dispensatory, www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/lobelia.html;

[2] USDA, NRCS, NPDA, Plant Guide, http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LOIN

[3] Christopher, School of Natural Healing, ch. 10, p. 394; USDA, NRCS, NPDA, Plant Guide, http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LOIN; Foster and Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, p. 207.

[4] Duke, Economic Plants and Their Ecological Distribution; Foster and Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, p. 207; Kadans, Modern Encyclopedia of Herbs, p.146.

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