Coleus forskohlii


Principal Proposed Uses

Other Proposed Uses

A member of the mint family, Coleus forskohlii grows wild on the mountain slopes of Nepal, India, and Thailand. In traditional Asian systems of medicine, it was used for a variety of purposes, including treating skin rashes, asthma, bronchitis, insomnia, epilepsy, and angina. But modern interest is based almost entirely on the work of a drug company, Hoechst Pharmaceuticals.

Like other drug manufacturers, Hoechst regularly screens medicinal plants in hopes of discovering new medications. In 1974, work performed in collaboration with the Indian Central Drug Research Institute found that the rootstock of Coleus forskohlii could lower blood pressure and decrease muscle spasms. Intensive study identified a substance named forskolin that appeared to be responsible for much of this effect.

Like certain drugs used for asthma, forskolin increases the levels of a fundamental natural compound known as cyclic AMP. 1,2 Cyclic AMP plays a major role in many cellular functions, and some drugs that affect it relax the muscles around the bronchial tubes.

What Is Coleus forskohlii Used for Today?

The scientific evidence for the herb Coleus forskohlii as a treatment for any disease is weak. What is known relates to the substance forskolin rather than the whole herb.

Two preliminary controlled studies have found that oral forskolin may be beneficial for treatment of asthma . 10,14 Forskolin may work by stabilizing the cells that release histamine and other inflammatory compounds. 3 , as well as by relaxing smooth muscle tissue. 4,5

Based on these apparent effects, Coleus forskohlii has been suggested as a useful treatment for eczema and other allergic conditions, dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), angina , irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon), crampy bladder pain (as in bladder infections ), and hypertension (high blood pressure). However, there is no direct evidence that it works.

One small double-blind study indicates that a concentrated forskolin extract might increase the rate of "fat burning," thereby potentially enhancing weight loss . 12 In addition, forskolin eyedrops have shown promise in improving glaucoma . 11

Coleus forskohlii has also been proposed as a treatment for psoriasis , because that disease appears to be at least partly related to low levels of cyclic AMP in skin cells.


A common dosage recommendation is 50 mg 2 or 3 times a day of an extract standardized to contain 18% forskolin. However, because such an extract provides significant levels of forskolin, a drug with wide-ranging properties, we recommend that Coleus forskohlii extracts be taken only with a doctor's supervision.

Safety Issues

The safety of Coleus forskohlii and forskolin has not been fully evaluated, although few significant risks have been noted in studies done so far. Caution should be exercised when combining this herb with blood-pressure medications and "blood thinners."

In 2005, several cases of acute poisoning were reported in Italy, apparently caused by accidental contamination of Coleus forskohlii products with similar-appearing plants in the deadly nightshade family. 13 Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.

Interactions You Should Know About

If you are taking:


Please note, not all procedures included in this resource library are available at Henry Ford Allegiance Health or performed by Henry Ford Allegiance Health physicians.

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

Severe chest pain is not always present with a heart attack, especially for older adults, people with diabetes and women. They may experience sudden shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, fatigue or weakness. Don’t take a chance. Call 9-1-1.