Indian borage -- Effective cough remedy from your herb garden

Indian borage (Plectranthus barbatus)
Indian borage (Plectranthus barbatus)

The Indian borage first came to my notice when I was suffering from a bad cough, and a friend suggested chewing the leaves of this plant she had growing in her garden.

Apparently, even her son, a doctor, found it helpful when conventional medicines did not help. And she was right. The leaves provided almost immediate relief. So of course I had to go plant one of my own, which led to me checking out sites and books to find out more about the plant, the Indian borage.

In the process, I discovered that it makes a wonderful addition to a herb garden, with its many culinary and medicinal uses (more than I would ever have imagined). And, if you are like me, a beginner gardener, it is encouraging to grow a plant which thrives without much care.

Indian borage: Botanical facts

Botanical name Plectranthus barbatus

Botanical family Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

Other names

  • Country borage
  • Puerto Rican oregano brujo / Cuban oregano
  • French thyme / Spanish thyme / Broad-leaf thyme (West Indies)
  • Mexican mint / Soup mint / Indian mint
  • Sak dam ray (Cambodia)
  • Ajeran, daun jinten, daun kucing (Indonesia)
  • Daun bangun-bangun (Malaysia)
  • Latai, suganda, oregano (Philippines)
  • Po-hor (Singapore)
  • Hom duan huu suea, niam huu suea (Thailand)
  • Can day la (Vietnam)
  • Pashan Bhedi, Karpooravalli, Patharchur (India)
  • Da shou xiang (in Chinese)

Active ingredients Major components of its essential oil are 3-carene, g-terpinene, camphor and carvacrol (Source: Wee Yeow Chin, A Guide to Herbs and Spices),

Main constituent is forskolin (Source: Joseph Samy et al., Herbs of Malaysia: An Introduction to the Medicinal, Culinary, Aromatic and Cosmetic Use of Herbs).

About the Indian borage

The Indian borage (Plectranthus barbatus) has heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges, and the typical four-cornered stem of the Lamiaceae family. The thick, succulent leaves are entirely covered with short, fine hairs. Try lightly brushing the hairs, and you will get a pungent aroma. The plant typically grows to about 50 cm in height.

Although there is no definitive answer on where this plant originated from, most botanists say that the Indian borage possibly came from Africa. Today, they are found growing wild or cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions, where they are used in cooking and for healing purposes. They are also pretty as ornamental plants.

There is a version with variegated white-edged leaves -- Plectranthus amboinicus 'Variegata' -- which looks particularly attractive as an ornamental plant, especially when planted in hanging baskets or grown as a garden border.

In terms of flavour and aroma, the Indian borage has similarities to herbs such oregano, sage, thyme, mint; hence the many, often confusing, names given to it in various parts of the world (see box on right).

It is also apparently used as a substitute for oregano in the food trade; food labelled "oregano-flavoured" may well contain this herb.

Plectranthus amboinicus 'Variegata', which makes a very attractive ornamental plant.
Plectranthus amboinicus 'Variegata', which makes a very attractive ornamental plant.

Herbal and medicinal uses

  • Coughs and sore throats. The leaves are commonly used in India and Southeast Asia to treat coughs. It is known to be an effective expectorant. The simplest method is to chew a leaf. You can also make a tea by boiling the leaves in water (in the Caribbean, they add honey to the tea). Or you can pound the leaves and mix with a little water.
  • Blocked nose. Rub the leaves, and inhale the vapour.
  • Burns, sores, insect bites and stings, and skin conditions such as eczema. Pound the leaves to a pulp, and then apply as a poultice.
  • Dandruff. Wash hair with an infusion of the leaves (incidentally, the infusion can also be used to rinse your clothes).

The tea made from the leaves of the Indian borage is also used in many parts of the world, from the Caribbean to India, for treating:

  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Colds, flus, other viral conditions
  • Indigestion, flatulence, stomach cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Pain (Headaches, menstrual pain, rheumatoid pain)

In some parts of Indonesia, the herb is used in a soup given to new mothers to help increase milk flow.

Culinary uses

The strong flavour and aroma of the Indian borage leaves make them ideal for flavouring certain meats and fish, helping to mask their strong smell. The leaves may be used as a potherb, or to make stuffing and marinade. Of course, the herb has to be used sparingly so as not to overpower the flavour of the meat/fish.

It is used in many places around the world to add a punch to dishes:

  • Flavouring for meat and fish dishes, as mentioned earlier (Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean)
  • Seasoning for fish and mutton curries (Southeast Asia)
  • Condiment for sour soup (Vietnam)
  • Eaten raw with bread and butter, fried in batter, flavouring for beer and wine (India)
  • Salads (the Caribbean)
  • Principal flavouring used in the Cuban black bean soup, Frijoles Negros.

Growing the Indian borage at home

The easiest way to propagate the Indian borage is to use stem cuttings (Seeds can also be used, where available).

Cut a length of the central stem. Each segment should be approximately 5-8 inches and have several nodes. Remove the leaves from the bottom two to three nodes and insert into the soil.

It's important to make sure your pot has good drainage. Ideally, the soil should be moist. Take care not to overwater as this plant does not like wet conditions.

If you live in the tropical or subtropical areas, place the plant in semi-shade. If the amount of sun is right, the leaves should be a nice jade-green. If it is getting too much sun, the leaves turn yellow and start curling; not enough sun, and the leaves turn a dark shade of green.

In cooler regions, the plant can be placed in full sun. As it is susceptible to frost, you may want to grow it in a pot which can be moved indoors or to more sheltered areas during winter.

Comments 13 comments

Eyeknee 7 years ago

Interesting! I am definitely going to plant one.

Marlene_OnTheWall profile image

Marlene_OnTheWall 7 years ago from Singapore Author

Eyeknee, it's fascinating, isn't it, what many of the plants that we don't notice can do. And I'm gratified to hear that my info was of some use.

THAIS SOSA 6 years ago

Very helpful.- I want to add that I use the leaves to make a tea and in 2 days i get rid of a kidnney stone. That was recommended by a friend from Venezuela and it really work.

I always have this plant at home.

Marlene_OnTheWall profile image

Marlene_OnTheWall 6 years ago from Singapore Author

I had heard that as well, that drinking tea made from Indian Borage can help get rid of kidney stones. Thanks for sharing your experience of using this herb!

akrasi emelia 6 years ago

i wants to know about the good and the bad effect of the wee termed as the Indian herb.

Debbie 6 years ago

I'm so excited that I finally know what this plant is. My mother started one from a friend's plant and we have each enjoyed its interesting smell. Great to know it has so many uses. I'm going to try the tea for asthma.

nilda flores 6 years ago

I use to have a nice size indian borage back in new york now I live in Alabama,where could I send for another? 6 years ago

this is a question,I would like to know how to make the tea from the broad leaf thymeI have a lot off it growing do not know how to use it would you please tell me what Ineen to know 6 years ago

this is a question,I would like to know how to make the tea from the broad leaf thymeI have a lot off it growing do not know how to use it would you please tell me what Ineen to know

rose ellis 5 years ago

very helpful.....thank you

Nimfa Tabije 5 years ago

I have a pot of this so called Indian borage herb plant.At first my husband and I were so amazed how this plant was growing so fast after all it was given to us, just like a hopeless plant, but because of my love of plants, i took care of it not knowing what kind of plant it was. My husband asked me to research the name of this plant,all i have noticed was it's smell like mint.But we are not sure coz we know what a mint look like,and we have a lot of them in the backyard. So, wanting to know what it was...i got this site to learn more about it. Thanks a lot.

Malaysian 4 years ago

I don't even know that in Malaysia it is called 'daun bangun-bangun' until only last year though I am a Malaysian! In the part of Malaysia where I come from (Kedah), we call it 'daun kapur barus', some people call it 'daun mayat' (corpse leaf) because it is often used to cleansing ritual of a dead body for Muslims..

Paul Ngan 15 months ago

Good herbal knowledge

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