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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About the voice behind this blog, Madison Woods
I'm a creative old soul living way off the beaten path with my husband in the wild Ozark Mountains. Besides homesteading, growing plants & making crafty things and newsletters, I write books and stories. My rural fantasy fiction, written under the pen name, Ima Erthwitch, usually takes place in a much altered Ozarks.
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