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Gathering Lobelia inflata Seeds

Lobelia inflata flowers in late July. Seeds begin ripening in late August/early September.
Lobelia inflata flowers in late July. Seeds begin ripening in late August/early September.

Looking for Lobelia

Today I donned a surgical mask to go out and gather the seed pods of Lobelia inflata. Why the mask?

Well, it’s the time of year when ragweed tries to assault me when I go outside. I’m hoping the mask helps alleviate tonight’s misery when the pollen launches the sneak attack. It’s a new tactic I haven’t tried yet.

I’ve tried local honey.

I would try goldenrod, which is supposed to make a good homeopathic remedy, but the goldenrod isn’t blooming here yet. This year the ragweed got a big jump on it.

What I really needed was a self-contained breathing-apparatus. Sinuses seemed to feel fine with the mask. But the eyes, oh how my eyes suffered.

Found it!

It wasn’t really going to be hard to find. I’d been noticing them since early summer, noting the locations and pleased at the greater abundance this year.

Last year I scattered seeds from a few plants I’d found on the mountain. I wanted them to grow closer to the house, and they obliged! Next year should be even better.

My nature sketching of Lobelia inflata.
My nature sketching of Lobelia inflata. Click the image to see it at wildozarknaturejournal.com.

Lobelia inflata is one of the ingredients for a tincture I like to keep on hand. It’s a variation on the formulation from Dr. Christopher. This formula has been used in one variation or another by many herbalists through the years and it’s hard to determine who to credit with the original formula. The link above takes you to Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Legacy website and about halfway down the page is the paragraph on the recipe.

I’m not sure who invented it first, but it works works better and faster than anything I’ve ever tried for muscle spasms (including muscle relaxers from the doctor) or stomach cramps, leg cramps, or spasmodic coughing.

I am sometimes bothered by what seems like restless leg syndrome and I want to try it the next time it happens. The last little bottle lasted for years, and now I can’t find it, so I’m making more.

Lobelia inflata plant with seed pods
Lobelia inflata plant with seed pods

I will have to buy all of the rest of the ingredients until I can grow them or find them all myself here on site. We do have black cohosh, but I want to tag it while it’s blooming so I can be certain the plant I dig isn’t doll’s eyes. The two are very similar in appearance, and although I *think* I can tell the difference now, a mistake would be deadly.

About Lobelia inflata

Lobelia inflata is an annual (some sources say biennial) herb that grows to about 1 or 2 feet high. It can be branched or grow only one stalk. Flowers bloom in late July here in the Ozarks, and they are tiny, insignificant little blossoms (see photos above). The resulting seed pods end up larger than the flowers, and are the characteristic identifying feature.

I’ve never found this species of lobelia growing near water, although L. spicata (Great Blue) and L. cardinalis (Red Lobelia) are commonly found near creek edges. L. inflata seems to prefer the higher, drier ground in partial shade, but never in the woods. Most of the time I find them on the edges of paths, trails, and fields.

The identified active ingredient in lobelia is lobeline. However, there are many other alkaloids and oils in the whole plant (or whole seed) and these other constituents are not well known, and hardly researched, if at all.

close up of seed pods of lobelia inflata
close up of seed pods of lobelia inflata

Whole Herb or Standardized Extracts?

I always use whole herb extracts rather than extracts of a particular component. The standardized extracts make sure a certain component has a certain potency, and for that reason some people prefer to use those. The reason I don’t use standardized extracts I’m never sure if it’s “isolated” or “whole” and I believe those other “unknown” parts are important. There is often synergism between the constituents that is not well understood and rarely researched.

Standardized extracts can be “isolated” or not, so if I were going to use standardized, I’d use the one made with the whole plant or plant part, rather than the one that has isolated a certain compound or active ingredient.

The concept of synergism is easier to see in the plant ephedra. Ephedra (Ma Huang) is where the drug ephedrine comes from. You may recognize this ingredient from the older formulations of sinus medications and energy tablets (back when they really worked).  Ephedrine alone is very effective. But the whole plant contains lots of constituents, not just ephedrine.

The most notable “other” constituents are pseudoephedrine, norpseudoephedrine, methylephedrine, and norephedrine. There are lots of alkaloids in this plant, as in lobelia, and the relationship between them and how they interact with each other and other substances such as caffeine, are not well understood.

Ephedrine is responsible for speeding up the heart rate, giving energy, opening nasal passages… all the things the herb was valued for. Norephedrine and pseudoephedrine and the other alkaloids work in some ways to counter-effect or enhance effect with each other.

Some crafty people with misplaced talents and skills figured out that this plant’s constituents were handy in combination with other chemicals to create the street drug known as meth.

Nature has a reason for including all the constituents in a plant that it does, and science doesn’t understand a fraction of how they interact with each other, so I tend to stick with the wisdom of nature when I can. Even if I don’t understand it particularly well.

My way of using plants for remedies is not a tit-for-tat replacement of regular pharmaceuticals, and I rely a lot on intuition and instinct. Other herbalists are very orderly and meticulous in remedy formulas. Usually I’m not, but I do pay close attention to the ratios when preparing the antispasmodic tincture because lobelia is a very potent herb, and this is a very potent formula.

The Recipe

My recipe is a variation on the one you can find at this page: http://www.herballegacy.com/Anti-Spasmotic.html

  • 1 part lobelia seeds (Lobelia inflata)
  • 1/2 part cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
  • 1 part black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, the name was changed from “Cimufugia” racemosa)
  • 1 part skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)
  • 1 part valerian root (Valerian officinalis)
  • 1 part myrrh gum (commiphora myrrha, also mol-mol)

Your *part* should be measured in weight, not volume. Dried leaves weigh a lot less and take up more volume to equal the same weight.

I leave out the skunk cabbage because the plant is rare and hard to find. I usually substitute black haw (viburnum) for the skunk cabbage, but they didn’t have any at the Ozark Natural Foods store this time, so I’m using the valerian instead.

It’s not mentioned in many of the sources, but the lobelia needs an acidic medium for the best extraction, and so I’ll add 1/2 apple cider vinegar and 1/2 180 proof alcohol to fill the jar after adding the herbs.

Why these herbs?

  • lobelia- for spasms, cramping
  • cayenne-synergistic, stimulate blood flow
  • black cohosh-for spasms, cramping, inflammation
  • skullcap-helps ease mental stress/distress
  • valerian-relax muscles, ease nerves
  • viburnum-for spasms, cramping
  • myrrh-antibacterial, increase pain tolerance, inflammation

Use with caution!

Especially if you’ve never used lobelia, do some more research and study. The links below are a good start. The dosage that works of the formula I’m using is as low as 5 DROPS. I take 5 drops every 10-15 minutes until I feel relief. I do not like vomiting, so am particularly cautious about the dosage. If you take too much, you will vomit and with gusto. (I suppose there are times when this would be a desired effect, though.) I would not take more than 15-30 drops even if it wasn’t working. I’d just admit defeat unless I thought my tincture was weak.

Lobelia seeds are very tiny so I put the pods, stems and all, in a plastic bag. I'll leave it open and propped up so the plant doesn't mildew or mold and so the remaining pods can finish drying.
Lobelia seeds are very tiny so I put the pods, stems and all, in a plastic bag. I’ll leave it open and propped up so the plant doesn’t mildew or mold and so the remaining pods can finish drying.
Once all the lobelia seeds are out of the pods I'll take the stems out and tincture up the seeds and whatever leaf and pod material is still in the bag.
Once all the lobelia seeds are out of the pods I’ll take the stems out and tincture up the seeds and whatever leaf and pod material is still in the bag.

A couple of websites about lobelia or with good explanations of how lobelia is/has been used:



About ephedra, black cohosh, myrrh, valerian, scullcap:







Disclaimer: The author and Wild Ozark, LLC makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.

Always do your own research and don’t trust any one source for information.

8 thoughts on “Gathering Lobelia inflata Seeds”

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  1. You’re more than welcome to add my experience to your files!

    If I recall correctly as I have not made that tincture myself, it was an apothecary recipe for “vinegar of lobelia” using slightly macerated seed only — designed to get as much pure lobeline as possible, not the full spectrum of constituents as an alcohol/vinegar combination menstruum would. It had a very specific use in that extraction and form, and the herbalist who made it has a major love for the old apothecary books. I’ve seen a very similar recipe to what I was told it was called that, “vinegar of lobelia”, in an apothecary book online, and I’m very sure the reason it was refrigerated was because there was no alcohol in it. If that helps.

    I have learned the process of making and aging usnea tincture, though. While it is not a replacement for getting to a dentist as abscesses can be fatal, dentists are hard to get appointments with and ER doctors often think a person with bad teeth showing up wants painkillers, not antibiotics, and refuse to treat the uninsured. If you hear sadness or the ring of a familiar story, it’s because I lost a dear friend to an abscessed tooth after the hospital in Clinton determined his abscess “wasn’t an emergency”. (75% ethanol menstruum covering the lichen in the jar, shaken daily for a month, then monthly for a year, diluted if necessary at dosing if gums are too sensitive.)

    Using the liquid as an oral rinse for as long as you can stand it, as often as you can stand it, and in between packing the lichen around the tooth and gum is not a replacement for penicillin and extraction if required, but could save a life if doctors don’t take people seriously enough to see them quickly.

    1. I’ve had to deal with abscessed teeth in the absence of dentists, too. There’s a post somewhere in here that tells what I used, but I remember burdock leaf, violet leaf, maybe goldenseal and some other very bitter things. By the time my appointment finally arrived, the abcess was gone and the dentist said it must have just been a little infected scratch or something. He would not believe me that it was definitely an abcess. It covered a large portion of my upper jaw over a few teeth. And yes, if you go to the emergency room for something like that they just think you’re trying to get pain pills. Oh, the frankincense resin was part of the formula, too, and I use that a lot now for any tooth issues. Thanks for sharing your remedy, because having an arsenal of local plants to turn to at times like that can be life-saving.

  2. Warning on lobelia tincture, especially stuff that’s been aging in your fridge and just getting stronger, especially pure seed tincture — it is medicinal in the true sense of the word in potency.

    I very much want to preserve the work of herbalists, because depending on your location, you might not be able to get to traditional medicine in bad weather. Not sure if you remember the ice storms during the winter of 2000-2001, but when we were iced in for three weeks and I got ill during that series of storms, we used usnea tincture as well as lobelia.

    On the usnea, we all know ideally it shouldn’t be taken internally. Aside from misbranded products claiming to be pure usnic acid having reported toxicity, there are better tested things to treat severe respiratory infections. Breathing is literally life. But because we wanted as much of the principles active against staph and strep to get in me, the dosage limit for the usnea tincture was how much alcoholic mosswater they could give me and me not exceed a certain level of drunkenness. After baseline was established, about every two hours was all I could handle of that much ethanol.

    Pure lobelia seed tincture, left to age with the seeds left in the menstruum, is not something you play with at all in comparison. Knowing the potential potency, they started by just using a finger-daub to moisten my lips, with the goal of expectorant results.

    Believe me, they didn’t misjudge. Licked my lips, grimaced at the taste (but “moss-water” as I call it when remembering usnea wasn’t that great either), and within a minute my coughing was not just the normal, but great gobs of mucous all coming loose at once. Tears would stream from my eyes as I coughed up stuff that they knew HAD to get out. After I’d coughed up everything I could, I’d drink the usnea, and either some soup or food. Then they’d let me go back to sleep, until it was time again. (Checking my fever first before administering the lobelia was also a part, as we’d chosen to try to let my body fight with all it had vs suppressing it, and it provided a guideline for improvement vs someone hiking to someone else’s place with a working landline to get EMS.)

    I gpt better before the ice melted enough to get a vehicle out, but still our first trip was to get me to a physician. Thr chest x-ray showed evidence of pneumonia, but my longs were clear with no crackling/etc. Evidence of pneumonia on CXR can take time to go away, but he wrote and I took a round of prescription antibiotics to make sure it was fully treated just in case. Still, the combination of the usnea in near-excess for systemic antibiotic hope with the cautious use of lobelia for its expectorant action was successful in clearing the main part of the infection.

    Preseving the knowledge of how to use these plants *to* treat severe problems is essential, because there might be a time when we must rely on them again. That particular set of tinctures had been part of this wise woman who I was blessed to know’s “winter kit”, so the purpose of leaving the seeds in the menstruum even after giving it to someone else was to create such a potent medication for that exact purpose, though ideally only for the flu or winter cold, not pneumonia.

    As such, once you have established a potency for your tincture, if you’re using lobelia in any tincture I’d highly recommend straining the herbs out before bottling for long-term storage or gifting. At least if your intention is not to have all your mucus membranes start immediately pumping out as much fluid as they can to allow a nasty infected lung to expel its grossness.

    1. Wildfire, thank you so much for sharing your story! Lobelia is not an herb I gift easily. I have it on hand, and most of the time I use it in a topical for muscle spasms (most often to release a knot in someone’s back). But always, always, I err on the extremely cautious end of dosage with that one, too. Much better to increase by finger dabs or droplets, than to purge unexpectedly. I was here during that ice storm. We were frozen in for several days, maybe a full week and without power for nearly 3 weeks. That is when I really learned to cook on the woodstove. There are so few around who still know how to use most of our native, wildcrafted plants and although there are some big names from the area who really do (like Steven Foster, Elle D’Coda for two), they’re not close enough to call on in a true shut-down the roads kind of emergency. I’m glad you are there for your area. I’m pretty quiet about what I do with plants here and I don’t consult, so it’s mostly for the family. But I’m definitely going to try and interest one of the grandkids or my own grown kids into learning these things so I can pass it down. If you don’t mind, I’d like to add your post comment to my files on lobelia.

  3. What an intriguing recipe. It’s funny that so many pharmaceutical companies rush to make something to ease a condition when nature very often provide a cure.
    Somewhere I have a book of Culpepper’s recipes which showed the uses to which herbs could be put and yet so many man made products are used instead.

    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    1. I think part of the reason less people use nature’s cures is because it’s not always convenient or time efficient. I know when I worked full-time away from home I didn’t have time to use the herbs for some things when it required multiple processes throughout a day (getting rid of a tooth root abscess was a very time involved thing). If herbal approaches were more integrated into our society the way Chinese Traditional Medicine is integrated into theirs, things might be different. I think another reason is that often the way of herbs and nature requires down-time. For rest, nourishment, healing, and focus on the problem at hand without having to deal with keeping the corporate world going around at the same time. Pharmaceuticals are convenient in that we can pop the pills and carry on. I’ve done it before and will likely do it again before I’m gone. But I’m glad I get to take the other route more often nowadays. Thanks for visiting David!

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