COMMON NAMES: Buntblatt, Buntnessel, Coleus Scutellaires, El Ahijado, El Nene, Flame Nettle, Manto de la Virgen, Painted Nettle, Patharcheer.
This annual plant is well known amongst horticulturists and amateur gardeners alike, as it is a prized as an easy-to-grow houseplant and hardy outdoor ornamental. C. blumei produces many tiny beautiful flowers and has colorful kaleidoscopic leaves. In the wild, Coleus blumei can grow up 3 feet (1 meter) tall, and about 1 foot (1/3 meter) around. The leaves are oval shaped with rounded tooth edges and brightly colored, with green edges and blood-red veins in the center as well as many splotches of dark red, maroon, and brown. The flowers are very small, grow along a central stem, and range from light mauve to violet in color. Coleus blumei first originated in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, but was transplanted in the tropical regions of Mexico and has since become well known amongst the Mazatec Indians for its psychoactive properties (Ratsch 198, 181).
TRADITIONAL USES: El Ahijado was first studied by Gordon Wasson while he was searching Southern Mexico for the mythical psychoactive plant used by the Aztecs known as Pipiltzintzintli. During Wasson’s expedition through the Sierra Madre Mazateca region, not only did he discover the ritual use of Salvia divinorum as a hallucinogen, but he also learned of the use of Coleus blumei as a potent substitute for Salvia. When Salvia divinorum, La Hembra (the Woman) was unavailable, the shaman would use the leaves and flowers of C. blumei, El Ahijado (the Godson) in its place (Schultes 1970).
For centuries, the Mazatec Indians of southwestern Mexico have known and used El Ahijado in their religious healing ceremonies. In traditional Mazatec communities, Coleus blumei is considered ‘the male’ (El Ahijado) and Salvia divinorum is considered ‘the female’ (La Hembra). However, shamans and healers tend to use Coleus blumei only when they are unable to procure Salvia divinorum.
C. blumei is also reportedly smoked as a substitute for Cannabis by the Macumba of Brazil in order to create a trance state and to open themselves up to the god force (Voogelbreinder 2009, 135).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The Mazatec natives tend to consume El Ahijado in two ways, either as a fresh chewable quid of leaves or smoked as a dried leaf. Traditionally, eight to twelve small leaves are freshly picked from the plant, rolled into a quid and chewed, the juices are swallowed, and after 15 – 20 minutes the used quid is discarded and exchanged for fresh leaves (Hofmann et al. 1992). In other Mazatec communities the leaves and flowers are gathers and dried and the resulting herbs are crushed and mixed with tobacco or Tagetes lucida (Mexican Tarragon) to be smoked.
MEDICINAL USES: Traditionally, Coleus blumei has been used to treat many common ailments. Most commonly, the Mazatec used this magical herb to treat stomach pains, digestive problems, dysentery, and even elephantiasis. In other parts of the world the plant is used to treat headaches and ulcers and as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy (Voogelbreinder 2009, 135).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Very little is currently known about the active principle alkaloids in Coleus blumei, and much more research still must be done on this plant and its role as an entheogen. Fortunately, there has been a strong increase in interest in the plant and there are more scientific studies underway. What is known is that the plant contains Diterpene alkaloids. It is currently hypothesized that when Diterpenes are dried and exposed to high temperatures the structure changes to resemble the active alkaloids present in Salvia divinorum. This is still just a supposition, however (Ratsch 1998, 182).
Many people report that small doses of El Ahijado are very similar to small doses of Salvia divinorum. These effects include increased pulse, a feeling of bodily heaviness, lights appearing before the eyes, and so forth. This is certainly a powerful shamanic traveling plant and must be studied with care. Similar to many other plants, like Salvia divinorum and Cannabis sativa, the effects of Coleus blumei are not usually felt after the first trial. Rather, it take several attempts and great knowledge of the plant to fully feel its inebriating effects (Ratsch 1998, 182).
There is still much debate as to the efficacy and potentiality of Coleus blumei. There are many reports from reputable ethnobotanists and ethnopharmacologists suggesting that they have experienced little to no effects when working with this plant. As is often the case, the journey is always viewed through the lense of previous experiences (Schuldes 1995 cited in Ratsch 1998, 182).
Faucon, Philippe. 2005. Coleus, Flame Nettle, Painted Nettle. Desert-Tropicals.com
Lemke, Cal. 2004. Coleus Blumei Hybrid Lamiaceae. plantoftheweek.org
Ratsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.
Schultes, R.E. “The New World Indians and Their Hallucinogenic Plants.” Bulletin of the Morris Arboretum 21 (1970): 3–14.
Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.