Botanical Name: Plectranthus barbatus, Coleus barbatus.
Other Common Names: Coleous, makandi, Indian coleus, false boldo.
Habitat: Coleus is a hardy plant, growing on the dry slopes of the lower Himalayas and the plains in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India.
However, coleus has long been cultivated in India, Thailand and also in other parts of South East Asia.
Description: Coleus is a member of the Lamiaceae family, more commonly known as the mint family. Plants in this group have a stem that is square in shape and are usually extremely fragrant due to their large content of essential oil.
Coleus is a fleshy, perennial herb, which has an aroma similar to camphor; its spiked flowers are typical of the mint family.
Unlike other plants in the Lamiaceae family, the principal part used medicinally is coleus’ pale fibrous roots.
Plant Parts Used: The root.
Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of Coleus Forskohlii
Coleus is a not a particularly remarkable plant to look at, yet is has a 3000-year history in Ayurvedic medicine and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts as a tonic for a healthy heart and lungs.
Today, coleus is not just a herb for cardiovascular ailments but is increasingly used to assist weight loss by breaking down adipose tissue and preventing production of further fatty tissue.
In addition, coleus mildly stimulates the metabolism by increasing thyroid hormones and increases the secretion of insulin.
These therapeutic indications for coleus are due to its principal active compound, a diterpenoid called forskolin. This is the only plant-derived compound known to directly stimulate the enzyme, adenylate cyclase, and in turn, stimulates cellular cyclic AMP which boosts our metabolism.
Coleus forskohlii preparations used as eye drops are known to reduce eye pressure in glaucoma.
Like all good tonics, coleus directly stimulates digestion and is thought to assist in the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.
Increased cellular cyclic AMP reduces histamine, making coleus beneficial in the treatment of allergies. Coleus is also a bronchodilator with an antihistamine action, making it useful in treating asthma.
It is a popular herb for angina and for the health of the heart.
Coleus increases stroke volume, which is the amount of blood pumped with each heart beat and reduces the risk of blood clots. In addition, the herb lowers high blood pressure by acting to relax the arterial walls.
Indian and Chinese studies in the last two years have isolated a number of diterpenoids in the stem and leaves of coleus forskohlii with a focus on treatment of gastric cancer and preventing metastatic (secondary) cancers. These have been carried out on animal models with considerable success.
Recommended dosage of coleus forskohlii is 50mg two to three times daily.
Potential Side Effects of Coleus Forskohlii
Care should be used when taking coleus with any other medication to control asthma or cardiac disease.
It is essential to consult a health care professional when altering medications and to investigate thoroughly how medications may interact with each other.
For those taking blood pressure and heart medications such as beta-blockers, clonidine, hydralazine, the herb should only be used under the guidance of a physician.
Similarly, blood thinners, including warfarin and heparin require that coleus be taken with caution under a physician’s care.
Foster Steven: Johnson R. Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. National Geographic Society. Washington D.C. 2006.
Mishra LC. Scientific Basis for Ayurvedic Therapies. CRC Press. New York. 2003.
Duke, James A.: The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook: Your Comprehensive Reference to the Best Herbs for Healing. Rodale Books 2000.
Pole S: Ayurvedic Medicine. Elsevier. Philadelphia. 2006.