Labiatae (Lamiaceae) (Mint Family)
Forms and Subspecies
Numerous Coleus blumei hybrids are raised as
indoor plants and ornamentals (Roth et al. 1994,
Buntblatt, buntnessel, coleus, coleus scutellaire,
common coleus, el ahijado ("the godchild"), el
nene ("the child"), la’au fai sei (Samoa), manto de
la virgen (Peru), painted nettle, patharcheer,
Coleus is used primarily as an ornamental. Very
little is known about its ethnobotany. Its psychoactive
use among the Mexican Mazatecs was
discovered in 1962 in connection with Gordon
Wasson’s early research into Salvia divinorum
(Ott 1993,381*) and has been only rudimentarily
investigated. Phytochemical studies of the plant
have increased in recent years, but these have been
focused primarily on enzymatic processes
(Kempin et al. 1993; Petersen 1992, 1993).
Coleus is from Southeast Asia and was not
brought to the Americas until the colonial period
at the earliest (Schultes 1970, 42*). Today, it is a
Propagation occurs primarily through cuttings. A
young shoot some 10 cm long or a young branch is
separated from the mother plant and all leaves
except the last pair at the end of the stem are
carefully removed. The stem is placed in a glass of water. Within two weeks, the first roots will
appear. After three to four weeks, the small plant
can be transplanted into humus-rich soil. It
should be watered well and not allowed to stand in
direct sunlight. Because it does not tolerate any
frost, in cold climates coleus can be kept only as a
This herbaceous or bushy plant can grow to a
height of about 80 cm. The colorful green-red
leaves are decussate and ovate-acuminate; they
have serrated margins and a slightly sinuate upper
surface. The small flowers grow in terminal
racemes or panicles. The plant can bloom
throughout the year in the tropics. As a houseplant,
it usually blooms from June to September.
The plant apparently never or only extremely
rarely develops fruits.
There are a large number of Coleus blumei
hybrids, some of which can be mistaken for other
Coleus species. The popular cultivar Verschaffetii is
especially easy to confuse with Coleus forskohlii
(Poir.) Briq [syn. Coleus barbatus Benth.]. A
species from Borneo, Coleus pumilus Blanco [syn.
Coleus rehneltianus Berger], also has a very similar
Preparation and Dosage
The leaves are dried and smoked alone or mixed
with other herbs (cf. smoking blends).
In the tropics, the leaves dry slowly but do not
grow moldy like those of other plants. Psychoactive
effects can appear when smoking as few as
The Mazatecs include coleus in the same "family" as Salvia divinorum, whereby Salvia is the
"female" and coleus the "male." They also make an
additional distinction: Coleus pumilis Blanco [syn.
Coleus rehneltianus Berger] is el macho, "the male:’
while the two forms of Coleus blumei are el nene,
"the child:’ and el ahijado, "the godson" (Schultes
1970,42*). The fresh leaves are used in exactly the
same manner as those of Salvia divinorum, that is,
they are chewed as quids. Mazatec soothsayers
apparently use coleus only as a substitute for
| Medicinal Use
On Samoa, the herbage is used to treat elephantiasis
(Uhe 1974, 15*). In Southeast Asia, it is used
to treat dysentery and digestive problems (Valdes
et al. 1987, 474), and in Papua New Guinea it is
used to treat headaches (Ott 1993,381*). Coleus is
also used as a medicinal plant in the San Pedro
cult (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi).
The closely related species Coleus atropurpureus
Benth. was once used to prevent conception
(Schneider 1974, 1:349*).
Coleus was recently found to contain salvinorinlike
substances (cf. salvinorin A) of an as yet
undetermined chemical structure (cf. diterpenes).
It is possible that these diterpenes are chemically
modified by drying or burning and transformed
into efficacious substances. However, additional
chemical and pharmaceutical research is needed to
clarify this situation.
Rosmarinic acid has been biosynthesized in
cell cultures of Coleus blumei (Hausler et al. 1992;
Meinhard et al. 1992, 1993).
A diterpene (forskolin = coleonol) that is
potently bioactive has been found in the related
species Coleus forskohlii (Poir.) Briq. [syn. Coleus
barbatus Benth.] (Valdes et al. 1987). It is possible
that Coleus blumei may also contain forskolin or a
similar substance. However, an initial investigation
of Indian plants was unable to detect any forskolin
(Valdes et al. 1987,479).
Forskolin activates the enzyme adenylate
cyclase, an intracellular neurotransmitter that can
bind to various receptors. This means that
forskolin is able to exert strong indirect effects
upon neurotransmission (D. McKenna 1995,
103*). Whether this can result in psychoactive
effects is unknown.
Some 30% of subjects who smoked dried Mexican
Coleus blumei leaves reported effects similar to
those produced by smoking a small dosage of
Salvia divinorum (increase in pulse rate,
sensations of bodily heaviness, rolling sensations,
lights dancing before the eyes). It may be that a
particular bodily chemistry is required to react to
the plant. It is also possible that the effects are
perceived only after repeated attempts (as is the
case with Cannabis and Salvia divinorum).
In the specialized literature, the psychoactivity
of coleus is highly controversial:
Coleus can be found in every specialized book
on inebriating drugs…. I myself, as well as a
larger number of people that I know, [have]
undertaken experiments with this plant, some
of them using very large amounts of leaves.
In no case was there any type of effect. …
A communication from the ethnopharmacologist
Daniel J. Seibert suggests the same. He
was in the area of the Mazatecs, and wrote me
that only one single Indian there maintained
that coleus is psychoactive. All of the other
Indians denied this. (Schuldes 1995, 78*)
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Living coleus plants can be obtained in virtually
every nursery. The plant is not subject to any rules
or legal regulations.
See also the entries for Salvia divinorum, diterpenes,
and salvinorin A.
Dubey, M. P., R. C. Srimal, S. Nityanand, and B. N.
Dhawan. 1981. Pharmacological studies on
coleonol, a hypotensive diterpene from Coleus
forskohlii. Journal ofEthnopharmacology 3 (1):
Garcia,1. 1.,1. 1. Cosme, H. R. Peralta, et al. 1973.
Phytochemical investigation of Coleus blumei. 1.
Preliminary studies of the leaves. Philippine
Journal ofScience 102:1.
Hausler, E., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann. 1992.
Isolation of protoplasts and vacuoles from cell
suspension cultures of Coleus blumei. Planta
Medica 58 suppl. (1): A598.
Karwatzki, B., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann.
1992. Properties of hydroxycinnamate: CoA
ligase from rosmarinic acid-producing cell
cultures of Coleus blumei. Planta Medica 58
suppl. (1): A599.
Kempin, B., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann. 1993.
Partial purification and characterization of
tyrosine aminotransferase from cell suspension
cultures of Coleus blumei. Planta Medica 59
Lamprecht, W. O. Jr., H. Applegate, and R. D. Powell.
1975. Pigments of Coleus blumei. Phyton 33:157.
Meinhard, J., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann.
1992. Purification of hydroxyphenylpyruvate
reductase from cell cultures of Coleus blumei.
Planta Medica 58 suppl.: A598-99.
—.1993. Rosmarinic acid in organ cultures of
Coleus blumei. Planta Medica 59 suppl.: A649.
Petersen, M. 1992. New aspects of rosmarinic acid
biosynthesis in cell cultures of Coleus blumei.
Planta Medica 58 suppl. (1): A578.
—.1993. The hydroxylation reactions in the
biosynthesis of rosmarinic acid in cell cultures of
Coleus blumei. Planta Medica 59 suppl.: A648.
Valdes, 1. J. III, S. G. Mislankar, and A. G. Paul. 1987.
Coleus barbatus (C. forskohlii) (Lamiaceae) and
the potential new drug forskolin (coleono!).
Economic Botany 41 (4): 474-83.