Herbs for Labor VII: Lobelia

Susun Weed is an internationally renowned medicine woman and herbalist who is known for her work, the Wise Woman Way. In this edition of the series called “Herbs for Labor” written for Birth Institute, she shares her knowledge on Lobelia, an herb that can be astoundingly effective at opening a “stuck” cervix or moving a stalled labor into high gear.

Welcome, welcome. We are so pleased that you have returned. Are you ready for more plant stories from Grandmother Growth? She and I are in a giggling mood today, and we hope you will join us in laughing out loud. But don’t worry, our joy won’t get in the way of telling you about another herb that can assist women in labor.

You have already met and spent time with some of our favorite labor herbs: blue cohosh, black cohosh, catnip, skullcap, motherwort, liferoot, wild ginger, and passionflower. What next?

Let us tell you about a shy plant that grows in sunny spots on the edges of gardens, and out in the woods, too. She isn’t much to look at, but she packs a big punch. That’s one of the reasons why she’s a favorite herb in the Heroic tradition. Also known as Indian tobacco, asthma weed, and puke weed, lobelia (Lobelia inflata), is an interesting addition to the midwife’s bag. A little of this remedy goes a long way, and you probably won’t need to use it all that often, but when you do, there is nothing that surpasses its ability to open a “stuck” cervix and move a stalled labor into high gear.

King’s American Dispensatory says: “[Lobelia] powerfully subdues muscular rigidity. It is the remedy to overcome a rigid os uteri during parturition, and at the same time it relaxes the perineal tissues. This it does when there is fullness of tissue – a thick, doughy, yet unyielding, os uteri. . . .”

The classic preparation is a vinegar of the seed pods. And this vinegar can be used straight, taken by the spoonful. Be warned, the name “puke weed” is apt, especially when it comes to the seed pods. But making women vomit is also a classic way to get labor going or to get a woman past a stuck spot in labor, so perhaps this is just what they had in mind when recommending lobelia to laboring women.

To reduce the emetic properties of lobelia, use preparations made from the fresh plant. To reduce the emetic properties even further, use the flowering top instead of the seed pods. Aviva Romm MD says lobelia is parasympathomimetic when fresh and primarily emetic when dried. (A parasympathomimetic agent is similar to a parasympatholytic agent. Both reduce the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing heart rate and opening up the airways.)

If using lobelia during labor, be aware that it is a cardiac stimulant and may increase the heart rate of both mother and babe briefly. I find the effects of lobelia fleeting, so do not hesitate to use it in an acute situation, especially if the laboring woman is having trouble breathing or is asthmatic, allergic, tense, or anxious.

Lobelia seems to play both sides of the nervous system, leaving the recipient feeling calm and focused. Lobelia tincture may be just the ticket for the woman in labor who is feeling sluggish, detached, and out of synch with her body. Small doses (2-5 drops) of the vodka tincture of the flowering tops, harvested before the seed pods form, can be used to wake a woman mentally while relaxing her physically.

The noted herbalist Dr. Christopher includes lobelia in his formulae for asthma, memory loss, prolapsed organs, prenatal tonic, toothpowder, nerve food, sinus and allergies, bone building, incontinence, cough syrup, burn paste, epilepsy, hysteria, constipation, and many more. Lobelia is thought to be an adjuvant herb, one that makes the other herbs in the formula herb more potent, more effective, and better able to work together. For instance, it would be combined with herbs like raspberry leaf, blue cohosh root, and wild ginger root in a formula for stalled labor; not used, as I am suggesting, and as I prefer, by itself.

Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (Weed) and Herbal Healing for Women (Gladstar) at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.

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