Lobelia inflata

Lobelia inflata


This plant is native to the eastern united states and parts of Canada.  The common name for Lobelia inflata is Indian tobacco.  The flowers are tubular in shape and blue or white in color, although the parts used medicinally are the leaves, seeds, and seed pods. I have not been acquainted with this plant in its wild form, but the reputation of its medicinal uses precedes it.

I was taught about Lobelia inflata as a necessary addition to any first aid kit.  The tincture of the dried plant is used in emergent situations from anaphylactic shock and asthma attacks to other situations that may require regurgitation.  The tincture may cause vomiting, but this dosage is dependent on age and weight, and varies from two drops to a whole dropper-full.  The recommendation is that if lobelia is needed, then vomiting would be a mere side effect to a state of shock or labored breathing.

The tea of lobelia dried is also a used as a nervine tonic.  It is soothing, and can be mixed with mullein to promote smoking cessation.  Or mixed with chamomile to soothe a headache.  In addition to an alcohol based extract (tincture) and infusion (tea), a fellow herbalist told me that she used a salve (oil extract) with lobelia to soothe muscle spasms.  In soothing the nervous system, organ and muscle functioning is aided and regulated.


This herb is a great example of a plant which has many uses, and different applications for each respective preparation.  I think the way in which the plant chemicals are extracted from the plant lends to various potencies.  I have not been in the situation where I needed to use lobelia as an emergency herb.  But I have experienced its soothing effects from an infusion: I bought dried lobelia from an herb shop where they sell bulk herbs, and prepared tea.  It is without a doubt potent, but I did not vomit!  Rosemary Gladstar recommends that when learning about herbs, it is best to try the herbs, smell them, look at them, and keep a small amount in your apothecary.  In doing this, you will assemble a small index of plants and refer to their uses and preparations time and time again, so that a stranger becomes a new friend.


Successes and Failures

plantain soothes at times

This past week I had an experience that caused a need for first response!  How poignant since this is what I have been thinking about a lot.  As an  herbalist, every situation of need is a learning experience.  But this time, I was challenged to examine my tool kit, my judgement, and my faith in a plant based modality.

The situation in question was a bee sting, poison ivy, and plenty of bug bites to go with it. Nothing life threatening, but of course these conditions may turn into cuts which are then open to things like infection (oh my!).  When I think about ‘first aid’, most of the time I think blood, wounds, breaks and sprains. But ‘first aid’ also refers to little scratches, bug bites, headaches, cramps, and bruises. Believe it or not in living an active and out of doors life style these issue come up more often than not.

Sometime I see plants as companions in the body’s natural function, such as Calendula or Comfrey as helping the body to produce more cells to grow skin or soft tissue. Other times I see natural remedies as supporting natural defense mechanisms.  At the first thought of infection due to a cold or even a small cut, or spider bite, I am reaching for garlic as quick as I can say infection!  This might be a fear mediated response, but I guess better safe than sorry.

Despite having an idea of what plants to help in respective situations, having them in a prepared form (such as powder, salve, tincture, etc.), on hand, and easily accessible are all part of the art form of this plant based lifestyle! It’s not easy to drive to the store as immediately as the need, not to mention the unknown quality and source of the products sold on the shelves.


It is an on going process for me to assemble a kit that I know is trusted, fresh, potent, and versatile. I’ll let you know when I come up with it. Of course, aside from the basics, each family will have a different sub-set of issues, ailments, and situations.  What are your successes (and maybe failures) with herbal first aid?

How To: Facial Steam

This week on The Weekly Apothecary, it is facial steaming time!  With winter sickness behind us, springtime is a dramatic shift that we undergo.  It can be a time for spring cleansing.  Another healthy way to cope with this shift is to nourish, replenish, and support your self!

While facial steams are powerfully healing during times of congestion and discomfort, they are also really great to relax and tone the skin.  The skin is constantly growing new cells, and the last layer of dead cells naturally dissolves.  Since the skin is the largest organ of the body, skin care is just as important as food and tea, which nourish the insides!

The recipe below is a combination of herbs that will soothe, nourish, relax, and tone the skin.  Lavender is great for headaches, healing trauma, and relaxation.  Comfrey is helpful in jumpstarting the growth of new skin.  Calendula is a gentle flower to soothe and to nourish.

A simple combination of herbs:    

1 Tbs calendula flowers    

1 Tbs comfrey leaves    

1 Tbs lavender flowers    

Per 4 cups of fresh, filtered or spring water

In a large pot, bring water to a simmer, add the combination of herbs, turn the heat down, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Then, set the pot in a place where it would be comfortable to sit with a towel like a tent over your head and over the steam of the pot.  Be careful not to burn yourself, but be sure that the infusion is hot enough so that it is steaming.

Enjoy the warmth of the steam on your face.  This will leave your skin feeling silky and fresh.  It is a perfect nighttime activity to unwind.  Also note that the infusion can be stored in a glass jar, refrigerated, and reheated within a 24-hour period.

Happy steaming!