Plectranthus is a large and widespread genus with a diversity of ethnobotanical uses. The genus is plagued with numerous nomenclatural disharmonies that make it difficult to collate accurate data on the uses. The aim of this review is to gather together all ethnobotanical information on
Plectranthus and to map the data onto the most up-to-date phylogenetic classification in order to see if there are similar uses among related species and hence provide a framework for the prediction and exploration of new uses of species. The uses of 62 species of Plectranthus were mapped onto a current phylogeny based on DNA sequence data. The phylogeny reveals two major Clades, 1 and 2. The members of Clade 1 (corresponding to the formally recognized genus Coleus ) were richer in number and diversity of uses than members of Clade 2 (comprising the remaining species of Plectranthus
). The high incidence of synonymy can lead to problems in uncovering a species’ ethnobotanical profile. About 30% of all citations of Plectranthus use a synonym and most of the synonyms are attributed to 10 of the most used species, 9 of which are in Clade 1. Members of the ‘Coleus’ Clade are the most studied group both taxonomically and economically. The higher incidence of study may be as a result of the higher diversity of uses and the fact that species in Clade 1, such as Plectranthus barbatus, Plectranthus amboinicus andPlectranthus mollis, are geographically more widespread than those in Clade 2. Plectranthus species in Clade 1 are frequently used as medicines and are used to treat a range of ailments, particularly digestive, skin, infective and respiratory problems. Plectranthus
used as foods, flavours, fodder and materials are also mostly found in Clade 1. Monoterpenoids, sesquiterpenoids, diterpenoids and phenolics have been reported in species of Plectranthus. The abietane diterpenoids are the most diverse of the diterpenoids isolated from species of Plectranthus. The labdane diterpenoid, forskolin, occurs in Plectranthus barbatus and could explain some of the traditional uses of this species. This review highlights the fact that not enough is known about the chemistry of other species of Plectranthus to explain their traditional uses.
Keywords: Plectranthus; Ethnobotanical uses; Coleus