Gotu Kola – The Healing Herb

Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica (L.) or Hydrocotyle asiatica is a plant that has been long used in Indian ayurvedic tradition, as well as in folk remedies in other indigenous traditions. Recently gotu kola, has been noticed by western doctors and herbalists as a drug with different medicinal healing properties. Though it is used somewhat differently now then it was in the times of the Rg Veda there are some places where the uses cross over and thus give some substantiality to ancient civilizations knowledge of medicine. Today you can find Gotu kola at most health food stores and it is even being used occasionally in various commercial products.

Gotu Kola’s various names include water pennywort, Indian pennywort, thick-leafed pennywort and gota kola. The original literature written on Gotu Kola comes from India, most discussing gotu kola’s use in medicine. In Indian literature it is used for improving brain function, and creating a sense of alert relaxation. There is some research supporting this in America. Gotu kola hailing from the east and being used little in America was used mostly for healing the urinary tract in western herbalism, until it was picked up by the health food industry more recently. Since then, more western research has been done into the effects of the herb. Some medicinal uses on gotu kola as folk remedies include producing longevity, regenerating the mind, as well as producing a state of calm. In Sri Lanka it was observed that elephants, renowned for long life, fed heavily on the plant. Giving rise to belief in the locals of its effect on longevity.

It is said in India that the leafs of the gotu kola plant look like the two hemisphere of the brain. In Sanskrit, it is called brahmi (Brahma meaning cosmic consciousness). It is believed to help the flow of energy in the brain between the right and left hemispheres. In India it is also used as a decongestant and to alleviate sinus problems. (Lad) Taken before bedtime it is believed to promote a sound sleep and alert awakening. A Sinhalese proverb states “two leaves a day will keep old age away”, suggesting its effects that are being researched today on senility.

Within the last 15 years or so since the interest in herbalism has gained more of a foothold in the commercial market (or has the commercial market gained a foothold in herbalism), there has been modern scientific research into gotu kola and its effects on both the brain and its wound healing qualities. Chemicals associated with its sedative effect are triterpenes, and the saponins bramoside, and brahminoside (Crellin and Phillpot) (the last two seeming to come from the Sanskrit word Brahma). Other chemicals associated with its medicinal qualities include flavonols, amino acids, fatty acids, sterols, saccharides, and certain mineral salts. As well as essential oil, polysaccharides, and in particular the glycoside asiaticoside as a wound-healing agent.

An extract of gotu kola known as TECA is currently being used to treat varicose veins, as certain lab results show an effect on stimulating the synthesis of collagen in the walls of the veins which helps them hold their tone and function better. (Graedon and Graedon). This is a remedy approved by the commission E monograph. Clinical settings also are noticing gotu kola’s effects on healing surgical incisions and skin ulcers. In one trial TECA was administered to patients with parasitic infections that damage the bladder. Three fourths of these patients recovered well, with little or no bladder scarring using gotu kola. Many other reports are hailing gotu kola as a powerful wound-healing drug, it seems to inhibit scab formation and thus help with the overall healing process. Doses of gotu kola inlcude .5 to 1 gram three times a day. Tea is made by pouring water over half a teaspoon of dried leaves and steeping for ten minutes. Most standardized extract should be taken in 60 to 120 mg per day, fluid extract (1:1) 2 to 4 ml a day.

There is research that states various possible side effects of the drug that suggest caution in it being used daily for more then around six weeks. Alleged allergic reactions from gotu kola have been attributed to the presence of propylene glycol. (Crellin and Philpott) And thus should be used cautiously. It is also noted that high doses of the extract have a sedative effect on small animals. Animal research also indicates that some gotu kola constituents can reduce fertility. Few side effects are documented, these include contact rash, others receiving an injection of the drug developed a pain and discoloration of the site. One case involving ingestion the drug included someone getting a rash over the entire body; there is slight concern for photosensitivity as well. Also one component of c. asiatica, asiaticoside, may be a carcinogen. (Graedon and Graedon) . There is also a report that gotu kola should not be used with medications for diabetes or high blood pressure (Castleman).

Today you can find gotu kola on the shelves of almost any health food store, it is gaining popularity as are many other herbs, simply because they work. I have noticed appearing in supplements on the market today that incorporate a mixture of herbs and phytochemicals (polypharmacy), that gotu kola is used in some mixtures used for depression. These also usually incorporate a combination of GABA, L-dopamine, passionflower and St. Johnswort as well. This is possibly due to gotu kola’s calming yet slightly stimulating quality. If I were to market gotu kola perhaps I would make a study pill meant to be taken a couple of weeks before and during finals. This pill would include Ginko to increase blood flow to the brain. Calamus root as an age old remedy on memory and the nervous system. Perhaps some rosemary for reputed effects on nervous system. Gotu kola as well as basil, for its uses in ayurvedic literature for positive effects on the brain. Also I would throw in some vitamin B12 and perhaps riboflavin. This I am almost quite sure would work very well, in making one more mentally alert and capable. This is due to personal experience and research.

I use these supplements during times of test taking and notice slightly less fatigue which I attribute to gotu kola though I do not feel overly stimulated or an increase in heart rate, I also notice more of an ability to concentrate. Another idea for an herbal remedy that I believe would do very well is a tincture marketed for scar and wound healing. Since gotu kola is not advertised as a wound-healing agent I believe this has a lot of potential on the market. I’m sure once people got the results, it would become a huge seller. I myself have given it to different friends who wanted cuts to heal and have found it very helpful. One girl I gave it to that had a horrible accident on a bike cut her face completely. She found it to be a miracle drug, perhaps with vitamin e it would be a better product. Many of the medicinal claims here made in this paper have come from my research as well as my own personal experience. This is why I chose it as a plant to write about as I see much potential to create a sense of alert relaxation, ease of depression, concentration, and wound healing.

Medicinal uses of plants have been gaining more and more popularity, which is why they are gaining more respect and recognition in western culture. Herbalism is also gaining increased attention from governmental organizations seeking to regulate and restrict access to such herbs. Though there would be benefits of this it would drive out the independent herbalist producer, and hand over much authority to the pharmaceutical companies. This can be looked at as a double-edged sword, a curse and a blessing.

Gotu kola in particular is one herb with much medicinal promise that has much to be researched of in the west. Its just a nugget of value waiting to be exploited by western pharmaceutical company’s, supplement industry workers, and entrepreneurs of all sorts! A member of the ubelliiferae family, gotu kola is related to carrot, parsley, dill and fennel. But it has neither the feathery leaves nor the umbel arangment of tiny umbrella like flowers, goto kolas creeping stem grows in marshy areas and produces fan shaped leaves about the size of a brittish penny hence the name pennywort. A cup lke clutch of inconspicuous flowers develops near the ground.

Graedon, Joe, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.

1999 The People’s Pharmacy New York: St Martin’s Paperbacks.

Crellin, John, and Jane Philpott.

1989 Herbal Medicine past and present. London: Duke university press.

Lad, Vasant M.D.

1984 Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. WI: lotus press.

Castleman, Michael.

1989 Blended Medicine. New York: Rodale.

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