Gotu kola, also called Brahmi, Indian pennywort, spadeleaf, or by its scientific name Centella asiatica, is a medicinal herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Practitioners of these ancient systems of medicine have used gotu kola to support the skin, brain, gut, heart, and much more.
Today, research has identified a number of the natural plant compounds found in gotu kola that may be key to its medicinal properties and potential benefits. While traditional systems of medicine have long spoken about the importance of herbs like gotu kola, western cultures are taking notice in increasing numbers. As a result of growing awareness and demand, the consumer market has seen more personal beauty products and supplements made using gotu kola. Read on to learn about gotu kola's human potential and how it may provide optimal support for health and wellness.
What is Gotu Kola?
Gotu kola belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants that includes more than 3,7000 species, like carrots, celery, and parsley. The plant is native to swampy, low lying, and tropical areas of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and East and South Africa. Gotu kola is an annual, creeping plant that grows as a vine and will wrap around rocks, branches, or cling to structures such as buildings.(1) The vine structure sprouts kidney shaped leaves that are about the size of a large coin and reach a few inches in height. Harvesting of the leaves occurs throughout the year. Some of the sprouts will also produce white or pink flowers. As the plant spreads it will develop new root structures. Overtime, a single seed can produce a plant that stretches across the land.
In Ayurveda, gotu kola is sometimes referred to as a rasayana. This word can mean to preserve, transform, and replenish. (2) According to reports, Li Ching Yeun, the claimed oldest man to have ever lived in recorded history, was said to have used herbs such as gotu kola, ginseng, reishi mushroom, and goji berries to retain his youth and health. (3)(4) Yeun is believed to have been born in either 1677 or 1739, and his recorded death occurred in 1933, so legend says that he lived for up to 256 years. Elephants in Sri Lanka are also thought to be evidence of the plant’s ability to support longevity. Elephants in this region are known to feed extensively on the gotu kola plant and live for 60 to 75 years.
Both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have used gotu kola in a variety of medicinal tonics and elixirs. Ancient texts in both systems of medicine write that all parts of gotu kola can be used for a range of disorders. It has a reputation for supporting the brain and nervous system. It is also used to treat chronic or degenerative diseases that affect the skin, eyes, lungs, reproductive organs, and the cardiovascular system.(5) While scientific communities may not completely agree with all of these claims, research from all around the world is seeking to validate gotu kola’s usefulness as a modern medicinal aid.
Potential Gotu Kola Benefits
Gotu kola is known to provide biologically active chemicals. (6) These chemicals include phytonutrients such as flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins, triterpenoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols. When ingested by humans, phytonutrients are known to support a number of bodily systems and functions.(7) These benefits can include support for “wound-healing, antimicrobial factors, memory, free radical scavenging antioxidants, and neuroprotective activities.” Gotu kola also contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and potassium.(8)
Clinical research has evaluated gotu kola in human and animal studies and found it has the potential to support:
- Skin development, texture, and tone
- The brain
- Mood and behavior
- Free radical scavenging antioxidants
Skin Development, Texture, and Tone
In a study at the J.S.S. College of Pharmacy, Mysore, India, researchers examined the effect of gotu kola aqueous (water) extract in topical form (ointment, cream, and gel) on an open wound. Researchers found “increased cellular proliferation and collagen (the main component of skin) synthesis at the wound site, including a faster rate of wound contraction.”(9) In concluding the study, researchers note that the gel formulation provided the best healing.
In a similar study at the Department of Biochemistry, Central Leather Research Institute Madras, India, researchers studied the effect of oral and topical alcoholic extract of gotu kola on top layer wound healing.(10) When examining the granulation tissue (new tissue on a healing surface of a wound), researchers found an increase in DNA, protein, and collagen content, indicating “better maturation and crosslinking of collagen.” Similar to the previous study mentioned, wound contraction also improved.
The application of gotu kola may also be potentially beneficial to women that have previously developed stretch marks during pregnancy.(11) In a study from the Temple Sowerby Medical Practice, Penrith, England, researchers treated 100 women with a cream containing gotu kola extract, vitamin E, and collagen-elastin hydrolysates. The study found that this cream “appears to help prevent the development of stretch marks in pregnancy.”
Multiple studies have also identified the use of gotu kola for support of disorders that affect veins.(12)(13)(14) These studies evaluated the efficacy of the herb in persons with venous insufficiencies, venous hypertension, and capillary permeability. Each study found that the use of gotu kola, in conjunction with existing treatments, provided support for vein appearance at or below the dermal layer of skin, blood circulation in the ligaments, and skin comfort.
The Brain, Mood, and Behavior
Asiatic acid (AA), a plant chemicals found in gotu kola, is believed to provide support for the brain in several ways.(15) Specifically, research has found that extracts of the herb containing the AA plant chemical played a role in nerve growth factors, which is noted could “be useful for accelerating repair of damaged neurons” in the central nervous system.(16)
In a clinical study on the management of generalized anxiety disorder with Centella asiatica, researchers at the J.B. Roy State Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, India administered gotu kola extract before a series of test that measured cognitive function.(17) Researchers hypothesized that the extract would help to promote learning and memory functions, largely as a result of gotu kola’s antioxidant properties. After administering two dose doses of gotu kola aqueous extract during a 14 day period, researchers found at the end of the study that the herb did have “cognitive enhancing effects due to a significant decrease in the brain levels of malondialdehyde – a biomarker for oxidative stress – with simultaneous significant increase in levels of glutathione – an antioxidant.”
The prior research study points to improvements in antioxidant factors in the brain that may support other research that has found oxidative stress to be a factor in neuronal degeneration.(18) Another study that administered 1,000 mg/day and 750 mg/day of gotu kola extract found it “effective in improving cognitive impairment after stroke infarction (obstruction of the blood supply to an organ or region of tissue, typically by a thrombus or embolus, causing local death of the tissue).”(19)(20)
A study from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi, sought to assess the effects of gotu kola on mood and behavior by administering 500 milligrams of gotu kola to 33 participants twice daily for 60 days.(21) Each participant then completed a questionnaire that assessed their levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The study concluded with researchers writing that the herb did “significantly lessen anxiety related disorders and also reduced stress and its correlated depression.”
Free Radical Scavenging Antioxidants
Oxidative damage that affects the normal function and structure of cells in the body is typically the result of metabolism, environmental toxins that are consumed or inhaled, and stress. The function of antioxidants then is to help protect the cells from oxidative damage. A study from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Minas Gerais, Brazil, showed that gotu kola contains favorable levels of antioxidants.(22)
In the study, researchers write that the phenolic and flavonoid constituents identified in gotu kola extracts could play an important role in limiting the “oxidative stress that can lead to the damage of membrane lipids, DNA, protein, and cellular organelles that contribute to the disruption of normal cellular development, early-aging, cardiovascular diseases, degenerative and neurological diseases, and others. The phenolic constituents, especially the flavonoids, have high antioxidant capacity due to its properties of oxidation-reduction which plays an important role in the adsorption or neutralization of free radicals showing raised biological protection.”
A study at the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India, evaluated the effect of gotu kola juice on physical and chemical factor induced gastric ulceration and secretions.(23) The test measured the potential anti-ulcerogenic activity of gotu kola juice with a dose of 200 and 600 mg/kg twice daily for 5 days. Both doses were effective, but the 600 mg/kg dose showed optimal results. In concluding the study, researcher state that the juice “significantly increased gastric juice mucin secretion and increased the mucosal cell glycoproteins signifying an increase in cellular mucus. It also decreased cell shedding indicating fortification of the mucosal barrier. Thus, the ulcer protective effect of gotu kola juice may be due to the strengthening of the mucosal defensive factors.”
Growing Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is not widely domesticated as it tends to grow in very specific conditions. However, adding gotu kola to a garden or inside the home is possible. (24) Gotu kola grows best in sun or shade, though it prefers tropical temperatures. It will grow indoors if the environment is kept warm and has access to sunlight. If planting from the seed, germination will occur only when conditions are ideal, which can make it challenging to start new growth. As it grows and spreads gotu kola will root itself at the intersections of leafy sprouts. These new sprouts can be cut and replanted elsewhere.
To grow gotu kola from the seeds, fill a container that has plenty of drainage with moist, lightweight potting soil. Keep in the mind that gotu kola grows in high moisture environments so thorough watering is necessary. Continue watering as needed to keep the soil moist. Once each growth has at least one set of full grown leaves, transplant each growth to an individual container. Once these growths have matured, transplant them to the garden when there is no risk of frost damage. Continue to water the plant to match its native, wet environment.
Dosage and Warnings
There is no known safe dosage of gotu kola. Depending on individual sensitivities to supplements and topical products, safe dosing or exposure may vary. (25) If taking gotu kola as an herbal tea, limit consumption to 3 cups daily. In supplement form, follow the manufacturer's dosing recommendation, or consult with a primary care physician. Some people may experience skin irritation when handling fresh gotu kola. There have also been reports of headache, stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, and extreme drowsiness when taking high doses of the herb orally.(26) Additionally, the plant is susceptible to absorbing water contaminants due to often growing in ditches and low lying areas. Consuming the plant with these contaminants may result in unintended health challenges.
There are some concerns that using gotu kola for more than 6 weeks can be potentially harmful to the liver. Talk with a doctor before using the herb, and consider taking 2 week breaks after 6 weeks of continuous use. A chemical component of gotu kola, asiaticoside, has been linked with tumor growth in mice, and therefore not suggested for use with anyone that has a history of “precancerous or cancerous skin lesions, such as squamous cell, basal cell skin cancer, or melanoma.”(27) Children should not use gotu kola, and anyone over the age of 65 should consider a lower initial dose that is steadily increased over time.
Gotu Kola Supplements
Research into the potential of herbs and the medicinal properties they possess is ongoing. Billions of dollars are spent on herbal medicine around the world every year. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of African populations and 70% of Indian populations use some form of traditional herbal medicine.(28) Additionally, it is estimated that around 40% of all health care in China is traditional medicine, and around 38% of adults and 12% of children in the United States are using some form of traditional medicine.(29)
While western countries have not embraced traditional medicine to the same extent as other countries, thousands of supplements in many different forms with an array of herbs are widely available. This includes gotu kola, which is available as the whole herb, in the form of capsules, as a tincture, can be found in tea bags to make tea, or in personal beauty and health products. Experience gotu kola and see if it can make a difference to feelings of health and wellness at every stage of your life.