Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

Lobelia inflata by hzell sm
By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Historical Background

Lobelia is a beautiful name for a beautiful plant with a notorious reputation and a rich historical past. There are more than 350 species of lobelia found worldwide. As a beautiful native plant, lobelia has work to do outside the realm of human herbal medicine. Its teachings are many and varied, and we have probably only begun to understand its role in healing. Like so many of the plants demonized by colonizing cultures, lobelia embodies a harmony of light and dark. With proper attention to the details of ethical wildcrafting, lobelia will be able to thrive in the margins of our developed lands and in the few remaining wild spaces we leave. We of United Plant Savers heartfully hope that wild lobelia will continue to flourish and fascinate the generations to come.

My grower contacts have primarily cultivated Lobelia inflata in the Pacific North west, where summers are typically warm and dry. Lobelia fares well in a variety of soil conditions and can thrive even in part shade in a loamy, rich soil. Seeds may be sown in late fall, the way the plant does it, or in spring, Because the seeds are so tiny, finely sifted soil will work best for germination and early growth. Top-sow the seeds and keep them moist. Irrigate twice weekly if summers are dry. Keep patches well weeded. Pest problems have not been noted by western growers. one acre could produce from 1,000 to 1,700 pounds of the dried herb.

Lobelia inflata is adaptable by nature and thus able to grow in the “waste” places created by humans and natural occurrences such as flooding. This species normally acts as an annual and self-sows from its multitude of minuscule seeds, so it should fare well in our culture if common sense wildcrafting procedures are followed. If harvested before the lower seedpods have been able to mature and drop their seeds, populations my be at rick. Wildcrafters should leave some healthy individuals to resow; if seeds have matured, scattering some in the area should ensure new plants for the next season.

UpS Recommendations:
Very limited wild harvest is permissible when no other alternative will do. Thyme, cultivated violet, and hyssop are possible alternatives.
~Cascade Anderson Geller, Planting the Future, pg. 151, 155-7


Lobelia Podcast – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre