Discovering the benefits of gotu kola
A favoured Ayurvedic medicine, today research is showing the wide-ranging therapeutic potential of gotu kola, from supporting memory to reducing risk of blood clots.
Native to the wetlands in Asia, gotu kola (Centella asiatica), also known as Indian or Asiatic pennywort, arthritis plant etc, is a member of the parsley family. In India it is considered the mother of all herbs and the most spiritual of herbs. It is also considered the most rejuvenative herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is used both as a medicine and a vegetable. The name comes from Sri Lanka, where it thrives in the warm humid climate and is in high demand as a green salad vegetable.
Medicinally the whole plant, the leaf and the root, is used. As a food, the leaves are commonly eaten as a raw salad or drunk as fresh juice. It is sweet and bitter in flavour, astringent in taste and energetically cooling.
Gotu kola contains essential oils, tannins, plant sterols, amino acids, flavonoids, oligosaccharides and triterpenoid saponins, including asiaticoside, madecassoside and madasiatic acid. It is rich in vitamins and minerals.
Neurological and adrenal
Gotu kola supports healthy neurotransmitter function and improves cognition and memory. It also enhances brain function and protects the brain from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. It improves circulation to the brain, helping protect it from oxidative damage and reducing the risk of developing the degenerative brain conditions associated with ageing. It also improves cognitive function in stroke patients. As such it is popular to “improve mindfulness, revitalize consciousness and maintain youthful wit.”
Gotu kola increases GABA in the central nervous system, so has a relaxing effect by reducing anxiety, and it supports the body’s ability to acclimatise to temporary stress, lowering cortisol levels and assisting with stress management.
Gotu kola improves the health of the skin, nails and hair, improving the integrity of the skin and connective tissue, including blood vessel wall strength and blood circulation. The asiaticosides encourage collagen production, wound repair mechanisms (including surgical wounds) and skin ulceration repair, and have an overall strengthening effect on connective and nervous system tissues throughout the body. The saponins and oligosaccharides also act as softening and moisturising agents for the skin. It has been effective in healing burns if applied immediately. By stimulating the circulation to the skin, gotu kola improves the rate of keratinisation and helps reduce scarring.
These properties also indicate gotu kola’s usefulness in the treatment of photoageing skin, cellulite and striae. Research shows its effectiveness in treating psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, boils and varicose ulcers. It toughens skin, hair and nails.
Gotu kola stimulates circulation, increasing collagen production and synthesis. It has positive effects on strengthening blood vessel walls, thus assisting in reducing varicose veins. It improves poor blood circulation, reducing leg cramps and ankle swelling. Studies have shown it reduces ankle swelling on long-haul flights, which would be beneficial for travellers, reducing their risk for blood clots due to circulatory stasis in the legs.
Overall, it is an excellent herb for healing inflammation of connective tissue associated with chronic skin conditions, as well as for vascular and musculoskeletal damage.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Gotu kola has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to provide relief for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. Rat studies have shown that the active ingredients in gotu kola reduced the inflammatory triggers for rheumatoid arthritis and slowed the physiological remodelling of synovial tissue in the joints that is characteristic of this disease.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of gotu kola have also been shown to improve cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis, lung conditions including pulmonary fibrosis and chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD).
Gotu kola has been shown to have healing effects on gastric ulcers (including those triggered by pharmaceuticals like aspirin), by stimulating gastric mucosa secretion combined with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. It has also been shown to reduce Helicobacter pylori colonisation in the stomach, thus reducing the risk of ulceration and/or stomach cancer.
Research has shown that gotu kola has the potential to prevent obesity and assist in the prevention of the pathogenesis and development of type-2 diabetes through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties, along with improving the microvascular complications.
By reducing osteoclast production, it has also been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporosis linked to diabetes, hormonal and thyroid conditions.
Gotu kola is considered the plant of longevity and improves mitochondrial function, thereby reducing many of the symptoms of ageing when consumed daily.
In India, gotu kola is often known as the “tiger”, herb as wounded tigers are known to roll in these plants. And it has been noted that elephants regularly eat these plants — is this partly a source of their renowned memory?
Using gotu kola
Dosage: Gotu kola leaves can be eaten in salads, juiced or made into a tea (one teaspoon in a cup of boiling water, steeped for 10 minutes) three times a day. The leaves or the tea can be made into a poultice for wounds or skin problems. Tinctures and extracts are also available.
Cautions: Used topically for long periods of time in high doses it may cause a skin rash. Occasionally it can also cause mild headaches or nausea. It is generally considered as safe.
Interactions: Gotu kola should not be mixed with diabetes medication or the statin medications, nor with alcohol or sedatives, unless supervised by a practitioner.