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A great healer of the body and mind

Gotu Kola

Centella asiatica Umbelliferae

Gotu kola is one of the most powerful wound healing remedies in Ayurvedic medicine, also used to improve brain and other mental functions, especially when suffering from stress. As well as a medicine it is eaten as a vegetable.

  • How does it feel?

    Fresh gotu kola has an aromatic odour, slightly reminiscent of tobacco. If you can find a sample to taste you will first notice a strong bitter hit quickly complemented by a gentle sweetness and aromatic taste. The bitterness rolls away leaving the sweet to dominate and you are left with sweet and aromatic aftertaste.

    The sweetness of gotu kola is due to the high levels of triterpene saponins that are the most significant health-giving constituents.

  • What can I use it for?

    Gotu kola is revered as a great herb for use within meditative practices because of its ability to ‘open the mind’. It is a rejuvenative tonic, with particular effect upon the brain, helping to restore cerebral functioning that may have been compromised due to excess stress, trauma or illness. It will also improve cognitive functions such as memory, learning and recall.

    Gotu kola is also one of the most prominent healers in traditional medicine, used in the past to mend some of the most demanding wounds and skin problems (skin ulcers, weeping eczema and even leprosy). Unusually its benefits were as much from oral consumption as topical applications. Its systemic impact upon collagen synthesis and blood vessel repair mechanisms have made it very valuable where there has been any deep tissue damage, but also where the surface of the skin has been damaged through injury or chronic skin conditions. It was also used to reduce inflammatory damage in rheumatic and other inflammatory joint problems.

    These combined properties make got kola an obvious remedy when stress and inflammatory problems coincide, for example in skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and inflammatory gut problems.

  • Into the heart of Gotu Kola

    Gotu kola starts as a most impressive healing agent. Laboratory studies indicate that it promotes collagen synthesis, the tissue required to heal wounds and damaged tissue, yet also switching effect to reduce excessive fibrosis or scarring. There are similar data to show that constituents in gotu kola can significantly reduce local inflammation.

    Extending out from this are indications that gotu kola improves the integrity of blood vessel walls, the endothelium, and thereby improves circulation to key tissues. There is also evidence that it can enhance inherent cellular antioxidant performance to reduce tissue damage resulting from various stresses and trauma.

    These properties seem particularly important in the central nervous system and brain. Gotu kola can be seen to protect the nervous system. This combined action makes it effective where there has been any head trauma or injury and also where there may be signs of cognitive degeneration or mental fatigue.

    Gotu kola has sometimes been coupled with Bacopa monnieri under the generic heading of ‘brahmi’, and both are classified in Ayurveda as medhya rasayanas, remedies that boost memory, restore cognitive deficits and improve mental function.

  • Traditional uses

    Gotu kola has been one of the most popular remedies in Ayurvedic medicine as a powerful healer.

    It balances all three doshas and benefits the skin and bhrajaka pitta through its ability to hasten wound healing and reduce scars. For mental and nervous conditions it is used where there is pitta/vata aggravation. As it protects the brain by nourishing majjadhatu and also benefits sadhaka pitta it is used for a wide range of neurological applications.

  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: Gotu kola improves concentration, intelligence, memory and alertness. It is relaxing can be applied in conditions of stress, insomnia and emotional turbulence. Beyond that it can be useful in managing behavioural and developmental imbalances such as spectrum disorders and ADHD. It combines these with its healing effects, with apparent benefits in reducing neuroinflammatory activity, and is an important remedy to be used in dementia, chronic fatigue syndromes and the after-effects of stroke.

    Skin: Gotu kola is a specific herb for inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, urticaria and acne.

    Joints: Gotu Kola is traditionally used for arthritis, gout and joint inflammation.

  • Research

    Much of the clinical trial evidence relates to a standardised extract of gotu kola known as ‘total triterpenic fraction’ (TTF), made up of 40% asiaticoside, 30% asiatic acid and 30% madecassic acid with doses at 60 to 180 mg/day. At up to 8% in the plant these levels of triterpenes are likely to be met with the recommended daily doses of whole herb.

    Various studies have shown that gotu kola extracts have a protective effect against various neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, learning and memory enhancement, neurotoxicity and other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and epilepsy.

    Preliminary clinical studies have shown an effect in reducing anxious responses in healthy subjects.

    There have also been an uncontrolled clinical trial showing benefit in generalised anxiety disorder and improving cognitive performance.

    A systematic review has concluded that gotu kola tripenoids have potential therapeutic effects in cardiovascular problems, and to have anti-atherosclerotic, antihypertensive, antihyperlipidemic, antidiabetic and anti-inflammatory activities. An Italian research group had in earlier additional studies demonstrated benefits of gotu kola triterpenoids on the microcirculatory consequences of long-distance flights, of diabetes, and venous hypertension (linked to deep-vein thrombosis and associated chronic venous congestion eg. in the legs). A systematic review of this evidence showed that Centella asiatica significantly improved microcirculatory parameters such as transcutaneous partial pressure of CO2 and O2, rate of ankle swelling and venoarteriolar response. and that patients treated showed significant improvement in CVI signs such as leg heaviness, pain and oedema.

    One intriguing clue to the action of gotu kola was provided by a placebo-controlled study that demonstrated an effect of the triterpenoid fraction of gotu kola on the stabilisation of potentially thrombotic atheromatous plaques (detectable at the forking of the femoral artery). This suggests that elements within gotu kola could modulate collagen synthesis.

    There is clinical trial evidence of benefit in healing diabetic ulcers when applied topically. Such healing activity may also be systemic: one study has demonstrated that oral doses of gotu kola reduced the amount of loose endothelial (blood vessel wall) cells associated with phlebitis.

  • Did you know?

    The Sanskrit name mandukaparni refers to the shape of gotu kola’s leaves resembling the webbed feet of a frog!

    The gotu kola leaf also looks like the cerebellum in the brain and in the tradition of the ‘doctrine of signatures’ is renowned for promoting intellect, soothing  the nervous system and for general mind-enhancing properties.

    Its other common name Hydrocotyle is derived from the Greek words for ‘water’ and ‘cup’, describing the plants natural habitat and the appearance of its ‘cup-shaped’ leaves..

Additional information

  • Safety

    Gotu kola is widely used as a vegetable in Asia and is safe.

  • Dosage

    From 3g up to 30g of dried leaf per day.

  • Constituents

    • Triterpene saponins (pentacyclic ursane type – ‘centellosides’), mainly asiaticoside and madecassoside and their corresponding sapogenins asiatic and madecassic acids.
    • Essential oil including myrcene, farnesene, germacrene, caryophyllene and pinene
    • Flavonoids
    • Polyacetylenes

    Pentacyclic triterpenoids are widely distributed in many medicinal plants, such as licorice, green tea, hawthorn as well as gotu kola; some have shown apparent effects on glucose absorption, insulin secretion, diabetic vascular dysfunction, retinopathy and nephropathy, all features of diabetes or prediabetic conditions.

    Asiatic acid is anti-inflammatory with antihypertensive, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, antimicrobial, and antitumour activities in preclinical studies.

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Bitter, astringent, sweet.
    • Virya (action) Cooling.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
    • Guna (quality) Dry, light.
    • Dosha effect Balances vata, pitta and kapha, reduces excessive kapha and pitta
    • Dhatu (tissue) Plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve.
    • Srota (channel) Nervous, circulatory, digestive.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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