Lobelia, Puke Weed
Campanulaceae (Bellflower family)
Lobelia plants bloom from June to October, with several single bluish-purple flowers growing on a single, hairy stem. They are pollinated primarily by small bees such as sweat bees (Halictidae) and produce tiny seeds in the fall. These seeds are small enough to be dispersed by the wind.
Lobelia grows in most of the Eastern U.S. and parts of the midwest and is specifically found in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In Canada, the species can be found in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec as well as British Columbia in the west.
L. inflata prefers partial sun and can be found in open woods or in fields and roadsides. The plants can survive in poor-quality soil but do best in loamy clay or rocky soil.
Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:
Lobelia is a relatively hardy plant and can handle a good amount of harvest before it becomes a large issue, though being an annual it is best to harvest after it has seeded, so its wild population can have a chance to regrow after a harvest.
Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):
Lobelia inflata does not have any federal or state protections in the U.S.
Lobelia inflata has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.
Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:
L. inflata was used largely as a ceremonial plant in witchcraft or religious ceremonies. It as also used as an emetic and to treat boils, sores, and body aches. Modern herbalists use portions of the plant to try to treat asthma or other lung issues that may hinder breathing. It is also reported to be used by some in an attempt to quit smoking.
It is important to note that Lobelia is highly toxic, and consuming any part of it in large quantities can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and convulsions or leave its consumer comatose.
There is not a large demand for Lobelia as a medicinal substance when compared to other plants; however, its popularity in horticulture has led many nurseries to begin to cultivate this plant.
Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:
Lobelia inflata can easily be found in several nurseries and is a relatively easy plant to grow at home. Please use extreme caution when growing poisonous plants, especially if they’re in a place where pets or small children can gain access to them.
- Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey, 1975, Cherokee Plants and Their Uses — A 400 Year History, Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co., page 40.
- Herrick, James William, 1977, Iroquois Medical Botany, State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis, page 454.
- Hilty, (n.d.), Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), Retrieved September 7, 2019, from https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/indian_tobacco.htm
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2015, December 4). Plant Database: Lobelia inflata. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LOIN
- USDA, (n.d.), Plants Profile for Lobelia inflata (Indian-tobacco), Retrieved September 7, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=LOIN