Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been used to treat many conditions for thousands of years in India, China, and Indonesia. Centella asiatica has been used as a medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition of India (for thousands of years) and is listed in the historic ‘Sushruta Samhita’, an ancient Indian medical text. In China, known as gotu kola, it is one of the reported “miracle elixirs of life” known over 2000 years ago. Its Chinese name means “fountain of youth.” Gotu kola activates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that acts like fertilizer for your brain encouraging new brain cell formation. It takes a few weeks for gotu kola’s effects to kick in and it seems to work by encouraging dendrite branching, increasing brain plasticity and communication between brain cells. Gotu kola also increases nerve growth factor (NGF) which stimulates the growth of new nerve cells and safeguards existing ones. It is very easy to grow and tastes quite good. For more info on gotu kola see articles down below.
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Gotu kola is a relaxant herb with a long history as a natural remedy for conditions affecting body and brain. Learn how it can help anxiety, stress and more.
Gotu kola is a popular herbal remedy in Asia that most of us in the West have gotten all wrong.
The word “kola” makes most people think it contains caffeine, but, in fact, gotu kola is a relaxant that contains no caffeine whatsoever.
Plus, it’s sometimes confused with another herbal remedy that shares the same common name.
In a large part of the world, gotu kola is both an important traditional herbal remedy and a versatile cooking ingredient.
In this article, I review some of the many claims of gotu kola as a healing herb — focusing on brain and emotional health — that are now backed by science.
The Historical Benefits of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a perennial groundcover that’s a member of the same plant family as parsley and carrots.
It grows abundantly in the wetlands of Asia, South Africa, and Australia. (1)
Gotu kola is an important natural remedy in Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian Ayurvedic medicine — its health benefits are legendary.
In traditional Chinese medicine, gotu kola is believed to promote longevity and, in fact, its Chinese name means “fountain of youth.”
Legend has it that herbalist and martial arts master Li Ching-Yuen lived to be 200 years old (more or less) in part due to the longevity-promoting benefits of gotu kola.
A Sri Lankan legend says that elephants live exceptionally long lives because they eat gotu kola.
Gotu kola has a particularly long list of traditional uses.
It has been used to treat disorders of the mind including mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, memory loss, and insomnia.
For the physical body, it’s been used for asthma, colds, diarrhea, fever, hepatitis, stomach ulcers, and syphilis.
It has even been used as an antidote for snake bites, toxic mushrooms, and arsenic poisoning. (3)
Gotu Kola in the Kitchen
Few herbal remedies are used as food mainly because, frankly, they don’t taste very good!
But that’s not the case with gotu kola.
This mild-tasting plant has the texture and appearance of watercress and a taste similar to parsley.
It’s a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines where it’s added to salads, rice, and curry dishes.
It’s also blended into cold smoothie-like drinks and made into tea.
Gotu Kola — Don’t Confuse It With …
For many, gotu kola is confused with kola nut (Cola nitida), a caffeine-containing member of the cocoa family used to flavor cola soft drinks.
It’s often assumed that gotu kola is related to kola nut, but it’s not.
To further add to the confusion, gotu kola is sometimes added to energy drinks.
This reinforces the erroneous belief that gotu kola is a source of caffeine and an energy booster when in fact it’s a caffeine-free relaxant. (4)
Two popular common names for gotu kola are Asian pennywort and Indian pennywort.
But there are many plants called pennywort that are totally unrelated to gotu kola, including an invasive North American lawn weed.
Another common name for gotu kola is brahmi — a name shared by Bacopa monnieri, another Ayurvedic remedy.
Not only do they share a common name, they share similar properties — both are safe and effective cognitive enhancers.
These herbs are so similar that they are sometimes used interchangeably. (5)
Evidence-Based Brain Benefits of Gotu Kola
Today in the West gotu kola is most often used to treat varicose veins.
Gotu kola is anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, insecticidal, and antifungal — all beneficial properties for the health of your skin. (7)
But the proven benefits of gotu kola are more than skin deep.
Gotu kola is used as a brain tonic in Ayurvedic medicine and offers many neuroprotective and mental health benefits.
Gotu Kola Stimulates Growth of New Brain Cells
Gotu kola activates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that acts like fertilizer for your brain encouraging new brain cell formation.
In this way it works similarly to the “other brahmi” — Bacopa monnieri.
It takes a few weeks for gotu kola’s effects to kick in and it seems to work by encouraging dendrite branching, increasing brain plasticity and communication between brain cells.
Gotu kola also increases nerve growth factor (NGF) which stimulates the growth of new nerve cells and safeguards existing ones.
Gotu Kola Protects the Brain from Toxins and Oxidative Stress
Gotu kola protects your brain from damage incurred by the assaults of everyday life.
So far, studies show it protects the brain from neurotoxins like lead, arsenic, aluminum and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a ubiquitous food additive that causes brain fog, migraines and mood swings. (10, 11, 12)
Another way gotu kola protects the brain is by reducing the effects of free radicals. (13)
Free radical damage, also known as oxidative stress, occurs when unattached oxygen molecules attack cells much in the same way they attack metal causing it to rust.
Antioxidants neutralize damaging free radicals rendering them harmless.
Most plants have some antioxidant capacity, but gotu kola excels as an neuroprotective antioxidant.
Gotu Kola Can Improve Your Mood
If you are one of the millions of people coping with stress, anxiety, or depression, gotu kola can help.
Gotu kola has an anti-anxiety effect in chronically and acutely stressed animals. (14)
In human studies, gotu kola has increased calmness, contentedness and alertness by 100% and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression by 50%. (15)
It has been shown to lower symptoms of anxiety and stress in persons with generalized anxiety disorder.
It significantly reduces the startle response caused by sudden noises within 30-60 minutes after ingestion. (16)
Since the acoustic startle response is a reliable way to tell if someone is anxious, this is another indicator that this herbal remedy could be useful for treating anxiety.
Gotu Kola Will Help You Sleep
Getting adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your brain.
Even one bad night of sleep can leave you unable to concentrate and in a brain fog the following day.
Insomnia is a common modern malady but the usual solution, sleeping pills, is a terrible idea since they rob you of restorative sleep and can cause significant memory loss. (17)
The popular sleep drug Ambien has been called “the amnesia drug” and sends thousands of people to the emergency room every year. (18)
Gotu kola has safely been used as a natural sleep aid for thousands of years. (19)
Traditionally, gotu kola tea is sweetened with a little honey as an Ayurvedic remedy for insomnia. (20)
Gotu Kola Enhances the Brain Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is known mostly as a heart-healthy vitamin, but it’s equally important for your brain.
This fat soluble vitamin slows down age-related mental decline, particularly when paired with vitamin C. (21)
When taken together, “E + C” is linked to improving memory, slowing memory loss, and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 60%. (22)
Gotu kola shows similar synergistic effects with vitamin E making “E + gotu kola” another powerful brain enhancing duo. (23)
Gotu Kola Improves Memory and May Help with Alzheimer’s
Gotu kola can enhance mood and cognition in both healthy seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease. (24)
Alzheimer’s drugs like Aricept work by blocking the breakdown of acetylcholine.
Triterpenes are steroid precursors found in gotu kola that are beneficial for Alzheimer’s in two ways.
Similarly to Aricept, these compounds inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine. (26)
How to Use Gotu Kola
While you certainly can eat gotu kola, it’s unlikely you’ll find it at your local grocery store, at least here in the US.
But you can buy seeds or plants and grow your own.
If you live in a warm, moist climate you can grow it as a perennial groundcover.
If not, you can grow it in a pot as you’d grow any herb.
You can also find an assortment of gotu kola teas, as either a single ingredient tea or in combination with other herbs.
Some brain-boosting teas contain gotu kola with ginkgo biloba, an important memory-enhancing herb.
Gotu kola supplements are sold in the form of capsules, tablets, and tinctures.
It can also be found as an ingredient in topical ointments and creams.
Gotu Kola Side Effects and Warnings
Gotu kola is extremely safe.
It’s been eaten as a food and drunk as a tea by millions of people for thousands of years.
Most side effects are very minor, usually an upset stomach or headache.
However, there are a few precautions to take with gotu kola supplements.
They should not be mixed with central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
This group includes sleeping pills like Ambien or anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium. (31)
When taken together, the combination can make you too drowsy.
Gotu kola should be used with caution by anyone with a history of liver problems or skin cancer, and should not be taken by women who are pregnant. (32)
Gotu Kola Benefits: The Bottom Line
Gotu kola has a long history of safe use as both an herbal remedy and a food throughout much of Asia.
Although it’s a relaxant herb, it unfortunately gets confused with kola nut, a caffeine-containing plant that’s similar in name only.
Gotu kola is mainly used in the West for healing varicose veins and skin conditions but one of its main traditional uses — as a brain tonic — is often overlooked.
Gotu kola can improve your mood and memory, protect your brain from toxins and free radical damage, and help keep you mentally sharp for life.
Consider gotu kola supplements or tea if you are looking for a cognitive enhancer that smooths away the edges of stress, anxiety, or insomnia.
Gotu Kola Benefits
Gotu kola is regarded as perhaps the most spiritual of all herbs in India. Growing in some areas of the Himalayas, gotu kola is used by yogis to improve meditation. It is said to develop the crown chakra, 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 Ayurvedic Medicine. 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. 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. 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.
Boosts central nervous system
Gotu Kola is a rejuvenative nervine recommended for nervous disorders, including epilepsy, senility and premature aging. As a brain tonic, it is said to aid intelligence and memory. It strengthens the adrenal glands while cleansing the blood to treat skin impurities. It is said to combat stress and depression, energize flagging mental powers, increase libido, ward off a nervous breakdown and improve reflexes. It energizes the central nervous system and rebuilds energy reserves.
Combats high blood pressure
Gotu Kola can relieve high blood pressure and helps the body defend against various toxins. It is used to treat rheumatism, blood diseases, congestive heart failure, urinary tract infections, venereal diseases, hepatitis and high blood pressure. It is a mild diuretic that can help shrink swollen membranes and aid in the elimination of excess fluids. It hastens the healing of wounds.
Improves circulatory system
Gotu kola has a positive effect on the circulatory system. It improves the flow of blood while strengthening the veins and capillaries. It has been used successfully to treat phlebitis, leg cramps, and abnormal tingling of the extremities. It soothes and minimizes varicose veins and helps to minimize scarring.
Gotu kola reduces scarring when applied during inflammatory period of the wound. It was found effective when applied on patients with third degree burns, when the treatment commenced immediately after the accident. Daily local application to the affected area along with intramuscular injections, limited the shrinking of the skin as it healed. It is known to prevent infection and inhibit scar formation. It is also useful in repairing skin and connective tissues and smoothing out cellulite.
The primary active constituent is triterpenoid compounds. Saponins (also called triterpenoids) known as asiaticoside, madecassoside, and madasiatic acid are the primary active constituents. These saponins beneficially affect collagen (the material that makes up connective tissue), for example, inhibiting its production in hyperactive scar tissue.
Protects veins and blood vessels
Due mostly to the actions of asiaticoside and madecassoside that it contains, gotu kola may prevent, delay and treat a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency. This occurs when valves in the veins that carry blood back to the heart are weak or damaged and blood collects in the veins of the legs. This collection of blood can lead to varicose veins, spider veins, or sores on the legs. More serious results can include blood clots in the legs. Asiaticoside and madecassoside may help keep veins and other blood vessels from leaking. Because it strengthens the walls of blood vessels, gotu kola may also be effective for slowing retinopathy, the gradual break down of the retina in the eyes. It may also help to relieve hemorrhoids. These same effects are thought to strengthen the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, making gotu kola potentially useful for treating ulcers.
Gotu kola has long been used in topical, oral, and injected forms to treat leprosy. In addition to its ability to heal the sores associated with leprosy, gotu kola may also have anti-bacterial properties. Evidence from studies shows that asiaticoside may damage the cell walls of the bacteria that cause leprosy. The weakened bacteria are easier for the body’s immune system to eliminate.
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 3 to 60 times better than that in control animals.
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).