The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Coleus blumei Bentham






Labiatae (Lamiaceae) (Mint Family)

Forms and Subspecies


Numerous Coleus blumei hybrids are raised as indoor plants and ornamentals (Roth et al. 1994, 256f.*).




Folk Names


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, patharchur



Coleus is used primarily as an ornamental. Very little is known about its ethnobotany. Its psycho-active 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 pantropic ornamental.



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 houseplant.



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 house-plant, 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 barbatusBenth.]. A species from Borneo, Coleus pumilus Blanco [syn. Coleus rehneltianus Berger], also has a very similar appearance.

Psychoactive Material



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 three leaves.

Ritual Use


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 Salvia divinorum.




“Having magico-religious significance, Coleus is used as a divinatory plant. The leaves are chewed fresh or the plants are ground, then diluted with water for drinking.”






(1992, 69*)



In German, Coleus blumei is known as buntblatt, “colorful leaf.” As this photograph demonstrates, the name is very appropriate. (Photographed in Palenque, Mexico)



Coleus pumilis, a close relative of Coleus blumei, is also said to induce psychoactive effects. (Photographed in Palenque, Mexico)


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 (Valdés 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 salvinorin-like 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 (Häusler 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.] (Valdés 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 (Valdés 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.


Coleus forskohlii in bloom. (Photographed on the Seychelles)




See also the entries for Salvia divinorumditerpenes, 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 forskohliiJournal of Ethnopharmacology 3 (1): 1–13.


Garcia, L. L., L. L. Cosme, H. R. Peralta, et al. 1973. Phytochemical investigation of Coleus blumei. I. Preliminary studies of the leaves. Philippine Journal of Science 102:1.


Häusler, E., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann. 1992. Isolation of protoplasts and vacuoles from cell suspension cultures of Coleus blumeiPlanta 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 blumeiPlanta 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 blumeiPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A648.


Lamprecht, W. O. Jr., H. Applegate, and R. D. Powell. 1975. Pigments of Coleus blumeiPhyton 33:157.


Meinhard, J., M. Petersen, and A. W. Alfermann. 1992. Purification of hydroxyphenylpyruvate reductase from cell cultures of Coleus blumeiPlanta Medica 58 suppl.: A598–99.


———. 1993. Rosmarinic acid in organ cultures of Coleus blumeiPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A649.


Petersen, M. 1992. New aspects of rosmarinic acid biosynthesis in cell cultures of Coleus blumeiPlanta Medica 58 suppl. (l): A578.


———. 1993. The hydroxylation reactions in the biosynthesis of rosmarinic acid in cell cultures of Coleus blumeiPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A648.


Valdés, L. J. III, S. G. Mislankar, and A. G. Paul. 1987. Coleus barbatus (C. forskohlii) (Lamiaceae) and the potential new drug forskolin (coleonol). Economic Botany 41 (4): 474–83.