Plant Profile: Mother of Herbs

Also known as:

  • Plectranthus amboinicus
  • Coleus amboinicus
  • Mexican Mint
  • Cuban Oregano
  • Indian Borage
  • Country Borage
  • French Thyme
  • Soup Mint
  • Spanish Thyme
  • Indian Mint

Why so many names? This plant has been cultivated and used for so long that its origins are unclear. It’s believed to originate in Africa, but is now naturalized in many countries around the world. This, combined with the complications of classification for plants in the Lamiaceae family, means that even its scientific name varies. According to my research it’s currently in the Coleus genus. The references to Thyme, Oregano and Mint allude to its ability to substitute for these herbs in various dishes.

This variegated form is enthusiastically filling a “difficult” gap in my rockery.  It is providing me with lots of cuttings as I try to keep it clear of the lavender.

Growing conditions:

  • Full sun/part shade/shade (prefers part shade)
  • Tolerates most soils, prefers well-drained soil
  • Groundcover/small shrub
Somewhere under all that foliage is a 250mm pot that a small cutting was placed in a few years ago.

Last year I took some cuttings of this plant to my workplace to teach high school students how to propagate from cuttings in water. Upon smelling it, one of the Science teachers exclaimed that her mother used to put it in stews when she was young.  I’m not surprised that the smell brought back memories, it’s truly unique and pungent.  I haven’t tried eating it yet, but apparently it can be eaten raw or cooked.

Aesthetically both forms are pleasing, but if I had to choose I would grow this variegated form for its delightful patterns.

It has been used in various ways medicinally for respiratory,  cardiovascular and skin conditions.  In some cultures it is used to add scent to laundry and as a body rub.

The thick green leaves of the green form are offset by maroon stalks as the leaves mature.

I have two varieties in my garden, green and variegated. Both are equally vigorous and easy to propagate from cuttings. Indeed, both of the varieties originally came to my garden from cuttings.  The variegated form was a single leaf in a tiny pot! It is best confined to a pot as it can run rampant in the garden. Having said that it’s easy to clear away, provides habitat and the blue flower spikes are visited by many pollinators.

If you’re looking for a hardy, semi-succulent that will survive drought and flourish, then consider this edible wonder!

Wishing you an abundance of hardy, scented and useful  herbs,


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