Yesterday my good lady and I visited a garden centre. We wanted to brighten up our patio and so we decided to buy some flowers to put into our pots. So, what did we go for? Well, we opted for some bright red geraniums and salvia and some blue and white lobelia.
Lobelia is a beautiful plant which comes in over 400 varieties. Its flowers (which are very small but very numerous) can be seen from the beginning of summer right through until the first frosts of autumn. They come in a whole host of colours, from the blues and whites we chose, to red, pink, purple and yellow.
Lobelia name comes from the 16th Century Belgian botanist, Matthias de Lobel, but it has many other ‘folk’ names as well, including Indian tobacco and pukeweed! These names probably give away the fact that lobelia has been used for other reasons than to brighten up our gardens!
Native Americans used to smoke lobelia, but not for the same reasons they smoked tobacco. Instead, it was smoked as a cure for lung diseases such as asthma – though inhaling smoke is never going to do anyone’s lungs any good! Some herbalists recommend those who want to stop smoking should smoke lobelia rather than cigarettes but they are probably just as harmful.
The name pukeweed comes from the fact that lobelia is an emetic. That means that it induces vomiting – handy if you’ve eaten something which disagrees with you! The plant has had other medicinal uses too, being employed to treat heart disease, angina, intestinal worms, arthritis, bruising and fungal infections.
Before you go rushing off to eat (or smoke!) any lobelia, here’s a word of caution: it can cause nausea, sweating, increased heartbeat, diarrhoea and vomiting. The Australian Government has classed it as ‘unfit for human consumption’, so be warned. If you do want to use it as a medicine then make sure you see a reputable herbalist rather than trying to self-medicate.
My advice – enjoy lobelia for its beautiful flowers! It’s easy to care for, needs very little maintenance and makes a fine addition to any garden.
If you like flowers, then take a look at our free gardening quizzes. We have sections on flowers, bulbs, fruits, vegetables, herbs, houseplants, perennials, annuals and even weeds. See if you can find lobelia in amongst the plethora of plants!