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Lobelia.

Lobelia, or Indian tobacco, Lobelia inflata, was conspicuously introduced by Samuel Thomson (638) in the beginning of the nineteenth century. It has been, in domestic medication, in the practice of the Thomsonians, and also of the Eclectics, one of the most valued remedial agents of the American flora (388b). Following its empirical use, the first printed record concerning its emetic properties is that by the Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL. D. (178), who in the American Academy of Science, 1785, under the title "Account of Indigenous Vegetables," mentions it under the name Emetic Weed. Following this, Schopf (582), 1787, incorrectly ascribed to it astringent properties, stating erroneously that it was used in ophthalmia, evidently confusing the properties of Lobelia inflata with those of its relative, Lobelia syphilitica. The Indians of North America employed lobelia, when necessity required, as a substitute for tobacco. The statement of Lewis and Clarke (381a), to the effect that the Chippewa Indians used the root of lobelia, refers evidently to the root of Lobelia syphilitica, no record concerning the use of Lobelia inflata by the Indians being found in such publications as the Book of the Indians, 1837, by Drake (198). It was not named in Indian Medicine, by Browne (104), (edited by W. W. Beach, 1877); Long's (393) account of the medicines and practice of the Indians of the West, 1819; Nuttall (477), who informed Dr. Mattson (415) that he had never known the Indians to use Lobelia inflata; Indian Captivities, though prolific as concerns the customs of the Indians; or the American Herbal, by Samuel Steams, M. D. (612), 1772, which ignores Lobelia inflata, though referring to other species of lobelia. Neither Barton (43) nor Rafinesque (535) mention Lobelia inflata, from personal experience, as an Indian remedy. Catlin (131a) in his Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, omits the drug. However, Mattson (415), 1841, in his American Vegetable Practice, states that "there is abundant traditionary evidence that lobelia was used by the Penobscot Indians, long before the time of Dr. Samuel Thomson, its reputed discoverer, but with the exception of that tribe, I have not been able to discover by any researches I have made that the American aborigines had any knowledge of its properties or virtues." Samuel Thomson (638), whose name is so closely linked with that of lobelia as never to be dissociated therefrom, says, "It has never occurred to me that it was of any value in medicine until this time (1793)," and also, "In the fall of 1807, I introduced lobelia, tinctured in spirit, as a remedy in asthma." Mattson (415), however, 1841, insists that its use by the people of New England was long before Thomson's time, reciting that "Mr. Phillip Owen, now eighty years old, relates that when a boy, he was sent into the field by his mother to collect some lobelia for a child, sick with quinsy, and that the herb, administered in the usual manner, afforded speedy and entire relief." The publication in which this occurs, dated 1841, shows that lobelia was a domestic remedy in 1770. Other evidence (see (389) Drugs and Medicines of North America, pp. 83-89) indicates conclusively that lobelia was a domestic remedy with the settlers of North America before the day of the noted empiricist Samuel Thomson, who, however, gave to it the conspicuity it has enjoyed for over a hundred years. It is this writer's opinion that lobelia will yet be shown to be one of the most valuable of all the remedies native to America, and he believes it would now occupy that position in "Regular" medication but for its historical connection with their arch-enemy, Samuel Thomson.


The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.



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