Healing with Gotu Kola

Discover the historic healing abilities of this tonic herb, which promotes everything from clarity to longevity.

| March / April 2018

  • Ancient gotu kola is both a natural medicinal plant and a culinary herb.
    Photo by Juliet Blankespoor
  • The fresh leaves of gotu kola are often added to health and energy tonics, which are sold in many tropical Asian countries.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/AEyZRiO
  • In the garden or as a luscious houseplant, gotu kola is surpisingly easy to grow.
    Photo by Juliet Blankespoor
  • 1 to 3 cups of gotu kola tea a day can help promote relaxation while increasing alertness.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Donjiy
  • The adaptogen-like qualities of gotu kola help with the emotional and physiological stresses of physical trauma.
    Photo by Getty Images/bonchan

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been legendary in India and China for more than 2,000 years, where it’s considered one of the best herbs for promoting clarity, focus, and a peaceful, calm nature. This low-growing member of the carrot family is also known as “brahmi” or “Mandukaparni,” and is a tonic remedy for memory loss, stress, worry, and foggy thinking. In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is used to increase memory, concentration, and comprehension. In the Himalayas, yogis use gotu kola as a meditation aid. Contemporary herbalists also use gotu kola as a wound healer, diuretic, antioxidant, nerve tonic, and antibacterial. Folklore tells us that daily ingestion of gotu kola keeps the mind fresh and promotes longevity and vitality. In Southeast Asia, gotu kola has long been credited as the source of elephants’ long life spans and exceptional memories.

Gotu kola is both a medicinal herb and a food plant. I’m especially fond of the botanicals that are culinary herbs — they’re generally the safest remedies, and can be ingested countless ways. You can take gotu kola as a tea, as a tincture, or in capsules, and if you’re a culinary creative, try sneaking the herb into broths, vinegars, smoothies, and vegetable juices. However, avoid gotu kola during pregnancy or when trying to conceive.

Gotu kola is native to the wetlands of Asia and Africa, and it’s grown in southern Asia as a medicinal potherb and salad green. The fresh leaves are often added to green drinks sold as health and energy tonics on the streets of many tropical Asian countries. The parsley-like flavor of juiced gotu kola pairs nicely with vegetable juices containing apple, ginger, lemon, and kale. Substitute concentrated gotu kola tea for the juice if you don’t have it growing fresh. An innovative way to incorporate gotu kola into your diet is to infuse the dried herb into herbal broths. Be sure to check with your health care provider before ingesting any new herb, paying special attention to any possible contraindications with medications.

An Herb to Promote Relaxation and Alertness

Natural healers and researchers debate whether gotu kola is a true adaptogen, which is a class of tonic herbs that help balance the body by supporting its ability to deal with physical and emotional stress learn more about adaptogens in Aviva Romm's article. Tonic herbs are traditionally taken on a daily basis over a long period of time, as opposed to an herb that is only used as needed. In any case, gotu kola has a long history of usage as a tonic herb for promoting longevity, vigor, and equanimity. Folklore tells of a Chinese herbalist who lived to be more than 250 years old; legend says he retained his youthfulness and health, while outliving 23 wives, after ingesting gotu kola every day.

Outside of folklore, I find gotu kola to be one of the most useful herbs to help people feel energized and alert, but relaxed. In one 2008 placebo-controlled study, subjects — each approximately 65 years old — who took daily gotu kola capsules for eight weeks showed an increase in alertness and calmness, which in turn improved attention and working memory. In another placebo-controlled study, subjects who ingested a single 12-gram dose of gotu kola had significantly reduced startle responses in just 30 minutes, proving this herb’s anxiety-reducing activity.

A Traditional Remedy for Wounds and Injuries

Gotu kola has long been used to heal wounds, both internally and topically. Once famous for its use in treating leprosy in India, gotu kola is used today by herbalists to treat burns, minimize scarring, and promote tissue repair after injury or surgery. It appears to promote wound healing through its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial qualities, in addition to stimulating keratinization (an essential process of nail and hair growth) and epidermal repair. One in vitro study isolated a major constituent in gotu kola, asiaticoside, and demonstrated the proliferation of fibroblasts, which are specialized cells responsible for producing and maintaining the structure of connective tissue. Fibroblasts are integral to wound healing.

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