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Great Blue Lobelia

A drawing of a plant

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
This image of Great Blue Lobelia comes from William Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States. From Similar books available at the John Martin Rare Book Room at Hardin Library.   

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Lobelia siphilitica, found throughout the US and Canada in wetlands and swamps, is a herbaceous perennial in the Bellflower Family. It grows up to three feet tall, with long racemes of blue flowers, a favorite of hummingbirds. Historically, Native Americans used the plant’s roots and leaves to treat coughs, nosebleeds, headaches, colds, and, as its scientific name would suggest, syphilis (Anderson, 2003; Folquitto et al., 2019). Ingesting Great Blue Lobelia leaves can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or, in larger amounts, death. Modern use includes extracting an alkaloid, lobeline, used in over-the-counter smoking cessation aids, although there is little evidence of its effectiveness for smoking cessation (Stead & Hughes, 2012). However, lobeline and related piperidine alkaloids are used in several antidepressant and opioid medications (Brown et al., 2016; Vitaku et al., 2014). 

Historical Use

Historical information on the use of Great Blue Lobelia can be found in William Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States written in 1818. Barton describes the plant as “rank-smelling, particularly the root.” He indicates the root was used by Native Americans to treat syphilis, but also discredits that, noting the lack of evidence for the efficacy of such treatments. Indeed, he reports, Native Americans used the root in combination with many other plants to treat syphilis. 

Latest Research

  • Smokeless in India
    by V Sahni on July 27, 2023 at 10:00 am

    No abstract

  • Lobelia chinensis Lour inhibits the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma via the regulation of the PTEN/AKT signaling pathway in vivo and in vitro
    by Jin Luo on July 10, 2023 at 10:00 am

    CONCLUSION: LCL is a broad-spectrum anticancer agent. These findings reveal potential treatment targets and strategies for preventing the spread of cancer, which could aid in screening potential traditional Chinese medicine for anticancer and clarifying their mechanisms.

  • Lobeline: A multifunctional alkaloid modulates cholinergic and glutamatergic activities
    by Chandran Remya on June 19, 2023 at 10:00 am

    Developing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an extremely challenging task due to its devastating pathology. Previous studies have indicated that natural compounds play a crucial role as lead molecules in the development of drugs. Even though, there are remarkable technological advancements in the isolation and synthesis of natural compounds, the targets for many of them are still unknown. In the present study, lobeline, a piperidine alkaloid has been identified as a cholinesterase inhibitor…

  • Quick nic: novel smokeless nicotine products and pediatric trends
    by Fiona Dubrosa on June 19, 2023 at 10:00 am

    PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The development and marketing of smokeless nicotine products in recent years have become increasingly popular among adolescents. In addition to well known conventional inhaled nicotine products, noninhaled products, such as nicotine toothpicks, orbs, lozenges, strips, and more, have dangerously captivated a new youth audience. Although smokeless nicotine products may seem to be less threatening than conventional inhaled nicotine products, there are significant risks associated…

  • 2,6-Disubstituted Piperidine Alkaloids with Neuroprotective Activity from Hippobroma longiflora
    by Shu-Rong Chen on December 9, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Three new alkaloids, hipporidine A (1: ), hipporidine B (2: ), and (-)-lobeline N-oxide (3: ), were discovered from the whole plant of Hippobroma longiflora together with five known compounds (4: -8: ). Their 2,6-disubstituted piperidine structures were established based on the HRESIMS, NMR (COSY, HMBC, HSQC, NOESY), and UV spectroscopic data. Hipporidines A (1: ) and B (2: ) possess a rare 1,3-oxazinane moiety. Compound 3: is the N-oxide derivative of (-)-lobeline (6: ). Moreover, the absolute…


Anderson, M. K. (2003). Great Blue Lobelia Plant Guide. 

Brown, D. P., Rogers, D. T., Gunjan, S. K., Gerhardt, G. A., & Littleton, J. M. (2016). Target-directed discovery and production of pharmaceuticals in transgenic mutant plant cells. J Biotechnol, 238, 9-14. 

Folquitto, D. G., Swiech, J. N. D., Pereira, C. B., Bobek, V. B., Halila Possagno, G. C., Farago, P. V., Miguel, M. D., Duarte, J. L., & Miguel, O. G. (2019). Biological activity, phytochemistry and traditional uses of genus Lobelia (Campanulaceae): A systematic review. Fitoterapia, 134, 23-38. 

Stead, L. F., & Hughes, J. R. (2012). Lobeline for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2012(2), Cd000124. 

Vitaku, E., Smith, D. T., & Njardarson, J. T. (2014). Analysis of the structural diversity, substitution patterns, and frequency of nitrogen heterocycles among U.S. FDA approved pharmaceuticals. J Med Chem, 57(24), 10257-10274. 

Other Resources

Natural Medicines record: Lobelia.  (Access to UI only)