Common name--Indian Tobacco, Puke-Weed, Eyebright (not to be confused with Euphrasia), etc.
Lobelia Inflata is a common herb, growing plentifully in pastures, stubble fields, by the roadsides, and on the banks of streams, in almost every part of the United States. It is a biennial plant, growing from ten to eighteen inches high, much branched. The flowers are palish blue, succeeded by pods, or seed-vessels, which contain a multitude of brownish and very minute seeds. It blooms about the middle of July, at which time the herb should be gathered for tincture; but the seed should not be gathered until the month of September, or October.
Lobelia, when first taken into the mouth, is nearly insipid, but soon produces a burning, acrid sensation upon the back part of the tongue and palate, attended with a flow of saliva. The Plant Yields readily its medical qualities to water and alcohol, and may be preserved and used in a fluid state.
Lobelia is the most powerful, certain, and harmless relaxant that has ever been discovered; and as relaxation is an important indication in the cure of the majority of the various forms of disease, this article is almost indispensable in the Thomsonian Materia Medica.
"The true therapeutic action of lobelia," says Dr. Curtis, "I think is not generally understood. Most persons are under the impression that it is the principal agent in producing the action which we call vomiting. But this must certainly be incorrect. All practitioners, regular and irregular, who habitually use it, agree that its effect is antispasmodic, as it instantly relieves cramps, spasms, fits, lock-jaw, etc., and relaxes contracted sinews. It is also agreed that vomiting is produced by muscular contraction, either of the chest, abdomen, or stomach, or all combined. If this were the effect of the irritation produced by lobelia, that article should not be, as it certainly is, a sovereign remedy for spasms. Where there is no disease, that is, debility of the organs, the lobelia has not the power to relax the system much, and hence there is no room for any remarkable degree of reaction, and of course there is little or no vomiting. 'But,' says one, ' are you sure that lobelia possesses no other control over the living body, than simply to relax its several organs ?' I answer, not quite sure; but am perfectly convinced that, if it have fifty other influences, this one of relaxation so far predominates over them all, as to throw them entirely into the shade. 'But is not lobelia a sudorific ?' Yes; but its mode of producing this effect is by relaxing, through nervous action, the contracted mouths of the emunctories or pores of the skin, and letting off the portion of the blood called perspiration. It also promotes the secretion of the bile and urine, by relaxing vessels whose unnatural constriction is the cause of the retention of these fluids." "Lobelia is to be considered,, at all times, and under all circumstances, and wherever applied, not only a pure relaxant, but the most powerful and innocent yet known. This fact puts to flight from obstetrics the use of instruments, and even manual force, in every case except perhaps the few patients whose pelves are known to be remarkably deformed by rickets or some other unfortunate circumstance."
Some have been led to suppose, in consequence of what appeared to them the alarming effects of lobelia, in cases where there is but little vitality, or it is improperly administered, that it is a poison, the administration of which is very dangerous. But nothing can be farther from the truth.
In proof that lobelia is not a poison, we shall adduce the testimony of some of the most enlightened professors and practitioners of medicine of the present age.
Says Prof. Tully, of Yale College, New Haven, in a letter to Dr. Lee, "I have been in the habit of employing lobelia inflata for twenty-seven years, and of witnessing its employment by others for the same length of time, and in large quantities, and for a long period, without the least trace of any narcotic effect. I have used the very best officinal tincture in the quantity of three fluid ounces in twenty-four hours, and for seven days in succession; and I have likewise given three large table-spoonfuls of it within half an hour, without the least indication of any narcotic operation. I have likewise given it in substance, and in other forms, and still without any degree of this operation.
I am confident (the old women's stories to the contrary notwithstanding,) that lobelia inflata is a valuable, a safe, and a sufficiently gentle article of medicine."
Here is the testimony of a celebrated professor of Yale College, who had ample opportunity of judging, from experience and observation, whether lobelia was a poison or not.
Says Prof Waterhouse, of Harvard University, Cambridge, "The efficacy and safety of lobelia inflata, I have had ample and repeated proofs of, in a number of cases, and on my own person, and have reason to value it equal with any article in our Materia Medica."
Says Dr. Thomas Hersey, surgeon in the United States army in the last war, practicing physician and surgeon at Columbus, Ohio, "The lobelia inflata has been denounced as a deadly poison. The imposition intended to be practiced by such an assertion, is too notorious to merit a serious reply. I have administered lobelia successfully to the child of thirty minutes, and to the hoary adult of eighty years of age, and never knew any danger result from its use."
We could bring forward the testimony of thousands of others, who have used lobelia for five, ten, twenty, and some forty years, in proof that it is perfectly innocent, acting in harmony with the laws of life and motion. Those who have asserted that lobelia is poison, have, in nine cases out of ten, without any doubt, been such persons as never used it, or saw it used, and therefore their testimony is not to be depended on.
"But lobelia," says Dr. Peckham, "is sometimes given when the vitality of the system is so nearly extinguished by disease, that little or no effect is obtained from it. Nature is exhausted, though the spark of life be not quite extinct. Death will take place, and the lobelia may be retained, and a like result would have followed if so much warm water had been taken. If nature be wanting, the best remedial process will be exhibited in vain. She may be assisted to a certain extent to save life; but she has her bounds, and she declares that thus far shalt thou come, and no farther, and here shall thy remedial waves be stayed. But because lobelia cannot go beyond these bounds, and save life where nature, in her omnipotence, has declared that life should no longer be, such deaths are laid at the door of this herb, and it is made answerable for a wrongly imputed sin."
The different modes of preparing and administering lobelia, will be given under the head of compounds and course of medicine.