Allegedly lobelia herb, also known as Ban Bian Lian in Pinyin, is the half lotus throne dropped by Avalokitesvara. According to the Buddhism religious folklore, having mercy on the common people’s suffering from snakes and scorpions, Avalokitesvara broke off half of his lotus-flower seat down to the world for the sake of protecting the universal life.
In his masterpiece of Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica), Li Shizhen said it blossoms in autumn, with tiny delicate flowers, which looks so similar to the half of a lotus that it got that name. This herb has great vitality and often grows in clusters. In addition, in light of possessing kind of mysterious gift to deter poisonous insects, it has long been used as a fabulous remedy for venomous snake bite in China. Just like the old saying goes, a family having lobelia will be alright even though sleeping beside venomous snakes.
What is lobelia herb (Ban Bian Lian)?
There are a few different species in the world like creeping ground cover lobelia used as ornamental plant only. But other are also used as medicinals. Now we are going to focus on its medicinal properties.
Grown mainly in eastern North America, it is also known as a few different names like Indian tobacco, Asthma weed, Pukeweed, Bladderpod, Vomitroot, and Gagroot, etc. Typically this herb, annual or biennial, grows 3 feet high, with upright, hairy, and angular stem, yellowish or pale green leaves, apical branches, and a few small isolated flowers in yellow inside but pale violet outside. And it smells irritating and tastes bitter.
Native to east, south, southwest, and south-central China, it is also known as Chinese Lobelia Herb and Herba Lobellae Chinensis, which refers to the whole plant from Lobelia chinensis Lour. in family Campanulaceae. It is a small perennial herb, 15 to 35cm in length, often snarled up. Rhizome is cylindrical, 1 to 2mm in diameter, with lateral fine fibril, faint yellow to yellowish brown, and tiny longitudinal grain on the surface. Stem is long and thin, branching, grayish-green, and with conspicuous nodes. Leaves are alternate, sessile, mostly crumpled, green brown, narrowly lanceolate to linear after flattened, and solitary in leaf axils. Corolla is connate at base, and 5-lobed on the top swaying to one side. It is with little odor and slightly sweet and pungent in taste. Medicinally the one with greener stem and leaves and yellow root is preferred.
What is it used for?
Since the two species mentioned grow in different places and are used by different people, their medical applications vary too. Modern scientific tests confirmed that the whole herb contains alkaloid, mainly L-olbeline, olebelanine, lobelanidine, isolobelanine, flavonoid glycosides, saponins, inu-lin, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, fumaric acid, succinic acid and lobeli-nin in tuber.
Lobelia inflata benefits and side effects
It has been widely used by herbalist to stop smoking (FDA banned the sale of lobeline-containing smoking products in 1993), treat asthma, cough, and bronchitis, induce vomiting, remove mucus, and relax muscles and sooth nerves, lungs, throat, and bronchial tubes.
Deemed as one of potentially toxic herbs, it could result in stomachache, nausea, dryness of the mouth, heartburn feeling, and vertigo, or excessive perspiration, shaking hands, accelerating heartbeats, eclampsia, and slow response in large doses.
Chinese lobelia herb benefits and contraindications
As one of Chinese herbal medicine, it is considered neutral and sweet in nature and covers meridians of heart, lung, and small intestine. Main functions are to clear heat-toxicity and induce diuresis for removing edema. Main uses and indications are venomous snake bite, furuncle and carbuncle, tonsillitis, eczema, athlete’s foot, traumatic injury, dampness-heat jaundice, appendicitis, enteritis, nephritis, ascites due to cirrhosis, and many types of cancer. Usual dosage is 9 to 15 grams in decoction.
It can be used alone or combined with other herbs to cope with complicated conditions as follows:
- Huang Qin (Baical Skullcap Root, Scutellaria), Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome), and Tian Ji Huang (Herba Hyperici) added to reinforce the ability of clearing heat-toxicity;
- Fu Ling (Poria), Zhu Ling (Polyporus Sclerotium), and Bai Mao Gen (Japanese Blood Grass) added to treat edema;
- Jin Qian Cao (Lysimachia, Whole Plant), Da Huang (Rhubarb), and Zhi Shi (Immature Bitter Orange) added to cure abdominal distension;
- Bai Hua She She Cao (Heydyotis, Oldenlandia), Ban Zhi Lian (Barbat Skullcap, Scutellaria), and Shi Jian Chuan (Salvia chinensis herb) to treat gastric cancer and rectal cancer.
According to JiangXi Min Jian Cao Yao Yan Fang (Proven Folk Herbal Prescriptions In JiangXi), it shouldn’t be used in deficient pattern. And oral intake might lead to adverse reaction of vomiting, which leads to rare death cases in poison victims.
By the way, now lobelia herb is consumed in many different convenient forms like tea packs, extract, supplements in capsules, tinctures, and herbal brews. You can choose any kind accordingly and don’t need to make it all by yourself.