Gotu Kola - Centella asiatica

Gotu Kola: The Spiritual Herb


Gotu kola, Centella asiatica, is one of the herbs known in Ayurveda as Brahmi-that which aids knowledge of Supreme Reality. In India it is regarded as perhaps the most spiritual of all herbs. Growing in some areas of the Himalayas, gotu kola is used by yogis to improve meditation. It is said to develop the crown cakra, the energy center at the top of the head, and to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which the leaf is said to resemble. It is regarded as one of the most important rejuvenative herbs in Ayurveda.

Gotu kola is a slender, creeping plant that grows commonly in swampy areas of India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, South Africa and the tropics. Depending on the environment, the form and shape of gotu kola can change dramatically. In shallow water it will form floating leaves; in dry locations the leaves are small and thin with numerous roots. Gotu kola is related to carrot, parsley, dill and fennel, but does not have their feathery leaves or umbrellas of tiny flowers. Instead its creeping stem grows in marshy areas and produces fan shaped leaves about the size of an old British penny-hence its common names Indian pennywort, marsh penny and water pennywort.

Traditional Information

Gotu kola has been widely used for a number of conditions, particularly in traditional Eastern health care. Sri Lankans noticed that elephants, renowned for their longevity, munched on the leaves of the plant. Thus the leaves became known as a promoter of long life. In China its reputation as a longevity herb stems from the report of the Chinese herbalist LiChing Yun, who reportedly lived 256 years. His long life was attributed to his regular use of an herbal mixture composed chiefly of gotu kola. It has traditionally been used as an aid for developing memory and intelligence. By stimulating brain tissues, it is said to expand understanding and comprehension. It has also been used to calm the mind.

In Ayurveda gotu kola is one of the chief herbs for revitalizing the nerves and brain cells. It is said to fortify the immune system, both cleansing and feeding it, and to strengthen the adrenals. It has been used as a pure blood tonic and for skin health. It has also been used to promote restful sleep. According to Ayurveda, gotu kola is a tonic and rejuvenative for pitta (fire) types. It also inhibits vata (air) conditions when balanced with warming herbs, calms the nerves, and helps reduce excessive kapha (earth & water) conditions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is considered a yin tonic. There is an ancient Sinhalese proverb about gotu kola: "Two leaves a day will keep old age away."

Chemical Composition

The primary constituents reported in the literature for gotu kola are known as the triterpenoid compounds. The concentration of triterpenes in gotu kola can vary between 1.1 and 8%, with most samples yielding between 2.2 and 3.4%. The major triterpenoid components are: asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside and madecassoside. Saponin glycosides include brahmoside and brahminoside. The plant is also a source of calcium and sodium.

Gotu kola is often confused with kola nut. Due to this confusion, some people assume the rejuvenating properties of gotu kola are due to the stimulating effects of caffeine contained in kola nut. In fact, gotu kola is not related to kola nut and contains no caffeine.

Modern Research

According to modern studies, gotu kola does offer support for healthy memory function. A study conducted in 1992 by K. Nalini at Kasturba Medical College showed an impressive improvement in memory in rats which were treated with the extract (orally) daily for 14 days before the experiment. The retention of learned behavior in the rats treated with gotu kola was three to 60 times better than that in control animals. Preliminary results in one clinical trial with mentally retarded children was shown to increase scores on intelligence tests (Bagchi, 1989). This does not mean gotu kola will improve intelligence for all special or normal children.

According to pharmacological studies, one outcome of gotu kola's complex actions is a balanced effect on cells and tissues participating in the process of healing, particularly connective tissues. One of its constituents, asiaticoside, works to stimulate skin repair and strengthen skin, hair, nails and connective tissue (Kartnig, 1988).

Scientific studies have also shown that in relatively large doses the alcoholic extract produces a sedative effect, caused by the saponin glycosides.