Coleus forskohlii is a member of the mint or Lamiaceae family, native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Its common names include "Indian coleus," "makandi" and "colforsin." This tropical coleus, which is related to the popular ornamental varieties that have now been rechristened "Solanostemon" by taxonomists, has similar traits: stems that appear square in cross section, aromatic foliage and opposed leaves. Coleus forskohlii grows about 18 inches tall. The roots are thickened and carrot-like in appearance and the flowerheads or racemes, contain scores of light blue-purple or white flowers.
Coleus forskohlii has long been grown as an ornamental, though not as widely as the more colorful hybrid members of the coleus family. It has also been used in India for centuries as a component of traditional Indian ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is a system of integrated and individualized therapies that emphasizes mental and physical balance and harmony. Herbs such as Coleus forskohlii are an important component of ayurvedic treatment.
Much has been written in the contemporary press about the use of Forskolin, a substance derived from the roots of Coleus forskohlii and advertisements touting the benefits of various Coleus forskohlii preparations have proliferated. As the result, a single Internet search on the word "Forskolin" yields 407,000 hits. The substance has been or is being evaluated for use in the treatment of allergies, asthma, cancer, congestive heart failure, glaucoma and weight loss. According to authorities at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, data on the efficacy of Foskolin for the above conditions is limited.
As with other mints and members of the coleus family, propagation of Coleus forskohlii is by seeds or cuttings. According to authors A.A. Farooqi and B.S. Sreeramu, authors of Cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic Crops,", the plants grow readily from cuttings, so this is an efficient way of increasing supplies to create large enough quantities for commercial distribution. It is grown commercially in tropical climates India, Brazil and parts of northern Africa. During the growth process, the flowerheads are systematically nipped off, so the plants' energies go into root growth.
Growing at Home
Though sources, including authors C. Kavitha, et al. (Journal of Medicinal Plants Reasearch), refer to Coleus forskohlii as a "perennial", it is only perennial in its native tropical climates. Like the more familiar ornamental coleus, it will die if exposed to freezing temperatures. If the plants are grown in cold winter areas, they should be brought inside before the first hard frost.
Coleus forskohlii and Forskolin products are widely marketed on the Internet and through retailers of health foods and dietary supplements. In the United States, they are regulated as supplements and not subjected to the same rigorous approval process as substances classified as drugs. They should be used with care and only after consultation with a medical professional.