Coleus forskohlii

Herbs gallery - Coleus Forkolil

Common names

  • Coleus
  • Coleus Forkolil

The plant called the coleus - botanic name Coleus forskohlii - is an aromatic perennial plant about two feet tall when fully mature. Coleus possesses tuber like roots and a straight and erect stem with colorful leaves. The coleus has an aromatic fragrance resembling the scent of the camphor plant.

Remedies made from the coleus were traditionally employed as a digestive remedy in the folk medicine of certain areas in India - this folk medicine is different from the well developed and ancient Ayurvedic tradition in India. Coleus became famous during the 1970's in Western medical circles due to the discovery of the compound forskolin from coleus extracts. The isolated compound forskolin is known to possess many beneficial effects and further research conducted by an Indo-German company suggested that forskolin was indeed a very potent medication and could be employed in treating different disorders such as glaucoma, heart failure, and bronchial asthma.

The coleus belongs to the Lamiaceae family of plants, often called the mint family of herbs. The coleus is indigenous to the plains of India and was traditionally used in folk medicine. These days, the coleus is prized as an ornamental plant around the world and is often grown as an ornamental garden herb. Coleus was traditionally prized for its roots in the folk medicine of India - a remedy prepared from the roots was used as a medicine in treating different disorders. The early historical use of the coleus as a remedy can be confirmed from ancient Sanskrit texts, that state that the coleus was employed as a medical herb in treating insomnia and convulsions, as well as heart and lung diseases, in addition to problems such as intestinal muscular spasms.

The main action of the compound forskolin found in coleus extracts is that it activates the enzyme adenylate cyclase in the cells. The enzyme andenylate cyclase is part and parcel of many regulatory functions at the cellular level in the body, responsible for the initiation of a large number of critical events and bio-chemical processes inside all the cells of the human body. Due to its functioning as a regulatory molecule, adenylate cyclase and the messenger proteins along with the many enzymes it activates are part of the cell signaling mechanism in the cells and thus responsible for many important hormone induced cellular processes. The physiological effects that are said to be induced by forskolin reputedly include dilation in the blood vessels, the suppression of allergic reactions, and possibly the stimulation of the thyroid gland making it release more thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. There are additional physiological effects that are induced in the body by the compound forskolin; reports suggest that the chemical inhibits the actions of the pro-inflammatory compound in the blood called the platelet - activating factor - PAF 6 as well. The compound is also believed to suppress the spread of cancer cells in affected tissues.

Clinical research conducted on human test subjects have indicated that a direct application of a special forskolin solution to the eyes can reduce the fluid pressure within the eye - this can be beneficial in lowering the risk of glaucoma in people with a susceptibility for this condition. This is not to state that directly applying a remedy made from the whole herb on the eyes will have a beneficial effect on the eyes, medical professionals do not recommended it and further studies on the herb still need to be conducted.

One of the other reported beneficial effect of forskolin is that it may aid in dilating the blood vessels, thus boosting the pressure in which blood is pumped from the heart - this effect may be beneficial during some disorders. Further clinical research suggests that elevated blood pressure can be reduced by forskolin leading to a great improvement in the functioning of the heart in cardiomyopathy affected patients. The lack of sufficient research on the herb means that no clear evidence exists for the use of coleus extracts as an oral supplement; only research will confirm if this method of taking the herb is helpful. At the same time, some evidence of the usefulness of this herb was demonstrated in a study, where forskolin remedy was inhaled, it was found that this treatment lowered the regularity of spasms in the lungs of asthma affected people.

Parts used

Root, leaf.


Coleus is also quite popular as an ornamental herb in many parts of the world, mostly due to its large and colorful leaves. Potted coleus plants are often displayed indoors or planted out in the gardens. The coleus plant is eaten as food in many Asian countries, for example, in India the coleus is cultivated in some regions and used in making pickles and eaten as a fresh salad vegetable. The species of the genus, namely the C. edulis and C. parvifloris also give off edible tubers which are eaten in some Asian countries. Leaves of the coleus have also been used as a mild hallucinogenic drug in some places. Coleus herbs are also extensively used in the laboratory tests on the ability of these plants to perceive stress, and the effects of excess fluoride on the growth of the plants has been researched in recent years.

The use of the coleus in traditional Indian folk medicine has a long history. The herb has been used since ancient times to treat all kinds of disorders including digestive problems like abdominal bloating and flatulence, to alleviate all kinds of problems and discomfort in the abdominal area. This herb has also been used in the treatment of vaginal and urinary infections arising as a result of pathogenic infection. The primary chemical compound present in the extracts of the coleus plant is the diterpene compound forskolin - this compound is cardio-tonic and acts to inhibit platelet aggregation in the blood as well. The primary beneficial chemical found in coleus is the compound forskolin; this chemical is used in treating all kinds of respiratory and circulatory problems including bronchial asthma, heart failure and high blood pressure problems. The beneficial compounds present in the coleus are capable of reducing the elevated pressure in the eyeball, this rise in fluid pressure within the eye is one major symptom of the disorder known as glaucoma - which results in blindness if left untreated. Forskolin is naturally obtained from coleus plants; moreover, the coleus herb is the only known natural source for this compound.

In some regions of India, the coleus is the traditional herbal remedy for treating a range of disorders affecting the digestive system. A remedy made from the coleus has been traditionally used to gain relief from excess abdominal gas, to subside bloating in the stomach and to quell abdominal discomfort or pain in these regions.
The coleus is considered by most herbalists to be an effective and important tonic for the heart and circulatory system. An herbal remedy made from the coleus is employed in boosting impaired coronary blood flow as well as in treating congestive heart failure. In addition, the coleus boosts circulation of the blood to the brain and nervous system in general.
The coleus possesses a potent anti-spasmodic effect that is considered very effective in the treatment of different kinds of respiratory disorders, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma - the remedy helps in alleviating the physical symptoms.
Herbal combinations made from the coleus and other herbs like the hawthorn, may be very useful in lowering elevated blood pressure in the body - this judgment is based on the confirmed therapeutic effect of forskolin in laboratory studies.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

The coleus plant is a native to India, and originally grew only there. These days, the coleus is used as an ornamental plant in many gardens and herbaria around the world. Coleus is also cultivated in other Asian countries with a tropical or sub-tropical climate as well as in some eastern African countries with a tropical climate. Coleus grows at an optimal rate in soils that have good drainage. Coleus can grow equally well in sites with direct exposure to sunlight as well as in partially shaded areas.


The compound forskolin is the primary active compound in the coleus; this compound was first isolated in the laboratory in the 1970s from coleus extracts. Forskolin has subsequently been found to possess some very vital therapeutic actions. This compound can lower elevated blood pressure, it works to relax the smooth muscles in the body, and the compound also stimulates the release of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Forskolin actively boosts the secretion of digestive juices in the stomach and intestine. One of the most important effects of this compound is its capacity to reduce the build up of fluid pressure in the eyeball during the disorder known as glaucoma. The activity of forskolin in isolation from other compounds has been the main focus of all the research conducted on the coleus plant. The study of the clinical properties of the various other chemical constituents and the study of the herb as a whole has not been done and will require further studies.


Coleus contains volatile oil, diterpenes (forskolin).


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