Common name: Gotu Kola
Other names: Indian pennywort, marsh penny, water pennywort, hydrocotyle
Latin name: Centella asiatica, hydrocotyle asiatica
Affinity: Nervous system, immune system, circulatory system
Actions: Anxiolytic, Indian tonic, nervine tonic, anti-spasmodic, sedative, anti-bacterial, immunomodulator, medhya rasayana, nootropic
Diseases: Cognitive and circulatory problems(3), rheumatoid arthritis(3), psoriatic arthritis(3), scleroderma(3), psoriasis(3), eczema(3), anxiety(1), neuralgia(nerve pain)(2), Alzheimer’s and dementia(3), seizures(2), epilepsy(2), ADD(3), ADHD(3), interstitial cystitis(3)
Parts used: Leaves
Characteristics: Gotu kola is a weedy creeping herb native to tropical areas of India, Sri Lanka, and southeast Asia (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). It is a member of the parsley family and has small pink flowers and round-lobed leaves. Found throughout India it grows up to an altitude of 1800m (Gohil et al., 2010). It also is found growing in other tropical and subtropical countries, often in swampy regions, including parts of Pakistan, Madagascar, South Africa, and South pacific and Eastern Europe.
History: It is said long ago, the native Sinhalese of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) observed that elephants, renowned for their longevity, loved eating the round-lobed leaves of gotu kola (Castleman, 2001). Thus, the herb gained a reputation as a longevity promoter, a Sinhalese proverb said, ‘Two leaves a day keeps old age away’. Gotu kola features in the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Ayruvedic text (Gohil et al., 2010). The herb is also used by the people of Java and other Indonesian islands. Ayruvedic herbalists initially used gotu kola in a similar way to the Chinese who used it to promote longevity, mental agility, and to treat age associated decline (Castleman, 2001). Later they used it as an external and internal treatment for leprosy and other skin conditions. Philippine herbalists used it to treat wounds and gonorrhoea, while the Chinese used it to treat fever and colds. The Eclectics in America were aware of gotu kola in the 19th century as a treatment for leprosy, as in one report they stated, ‘In 1852, Dr. Boileau of India, experimented with (gota kolu)…. and recovered’. The Eclectics saw gotu kola as safe when used externally, but considered it a poison internally. However, after World War II, it was sold in America as an herbal tea called Fo-Ti-Tieng which was promoted to boost longevity as the ancient Sinhalese believed. Legend has it a man named Li Ching Yun, an ancient Chinese herbalist, used gotu kola regularly and lived for 256 years.
Current applications: Gotu kola can be used for cognitive problems, recovering from head trauma, anxiety, and mental fatigue (Winston, 2007). It also has a role in treating inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis in people whose skin and connective tissue is red, sore, and inflamed. Maria Groves describes the activity of gotu kola as subtle, and it can be combined with other adaptogens like holy basil for faster results (Groves, 2014). She also lists it is a herb that can play a role in reducing nerve pain alongside other nervines like bacopa, ginkgo, ashwagandha, and holy basil. Gotu kola may have a role in treating interstitial cystitis. It is a versatile tonic herb and often subtle in it’s action that is easily overlooked in importance. Intake of gotu kola long term as a tonic may enhance memory, protect the brain, and likely has many other health benefits.
Science: Gotu kola is known to be rich in various alkaloids, glycosides, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and saponins (Chippada et al., 2011). There has been a lot of preliminary studies using various cellular and animal models of this herb. These studies have shown gotu kola to have neuroprotective and anti-oxidant properties, supporting its role in treating human cognitive disorders (Kumar and Gupta, 2003). It also displays anti-inflammatory properties in some conditions (George et al., 2009; Punturee et al., 2005), while immune stimulating activity in other conditions (Mali et al., 2008; Jayathirtha et al., 2004). Additionally, using both ex vivo and in vivo models it has been shown ethanolic extracts of gotu kola have neuroregerative abilities and increased the repair of damaged axons (Soumyanath et al. 2005). One study found gotu kola could normalise the levels of acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase in the brains of rats with epilepsy (Visweswari et al., 2010).
There is only one double blind placebo controlled study in humans that I know of, this found a decrease in anxiety shortly after gotu kola ingestion (Bradwejn et al., 2000). Therefore, we only have support in humans for its use in anxiety.
Safety: It is safe, except avoid use in pregnant or breast-feeding women due to lack of data.
Dosage: Doses start at 2 capsules of the dried extract per day.
Brands: In the U.K. and U.S., I recommend Nature’s way for a dried extract. For a tincture in the U.K. Neal’s yard is a suitable supplier.
Research on models
Anti-oxidant and neuroprotective activities: In one study using an experimental model the authors found gotu kola had both cognitive enhancing and anti-oxidant properties (Kumar and Gupta, 2003). They linked the reduction in oxidative stress in their experiment to the neuroprotective abilities of the herb.
Anti-seizure activity: A study found that gotu kola had anti-seizure activity in rat models (Visweswari et al., 2010). The authors also found that gotu kola causes changes in the cholinergic system, this is likely related to the anti-seizure activity.
Immunomodulatory activity: A preliminary study using an in vivo model found significant increases in phagocytic index and total WBC count after gotu kola treatment (Jayathirtha et al., 2004).
Immunomodulatory activity(II): Another study examined gotu kola extracts effects on human PBMCs and found it inhibited IL-2 and TNF-alpha production (Punturee et al., 2005). Additionally, treatment of in vivo models with gotu kola extracts caused higher responses to primary and secondary antibodies against BSA compared with the non-treated group.
Immunomodulatory activity(III): A study found gotu kola extract found that it stimulated the activity of human neurophils ex vivo (Mali et al., 2008). Therefore, suggesting gotu kola can enhance immunity.
Immunomodulatory activity(IV): Another study, in contrast, found gotu kola extract could decrease inflammation in an in vivo model of acute inflammation (George et al., 2009).
Neuroregenerative activity: One study found that ethanolic extracts of gotu kola were capable of stimulating neutrite elongation in an ex vivo model (Soumyanath et al. 2005). Remarkably, the authors also found when using an in vivo model of sciatic nerve damage, the axons grew at a faster rate when gotu kola was fed into the animals drinking water.
Research on humans
Anxiety: One study (n = 40, double blind placebo controlled) found a reduction in an anxiety parameter (audio sensitivity) after taking gotu kola, just 30-60 minutes after taking an extract (Bradwejn et al., 2000). However, the authors also found it had no effect on self-rated mood, heart rate, or blood pressure.
Bradwejn, Jacques, et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on acoustic startle response in healthy subjects.” Journal of clinical psychopharmacology 20.6 (2000): 680-684.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Chippada, Seema Chaitanya, and Meena Vangalapati. “Antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic activity of Centella asiatica extracts.” Journal of Chemical, Biological and Physical Sciences (JCBPS) 1.2 (2011): 260.
George, Mathew, and Lincy Joseph. “Anti-allergic, anti-pruritic, and anti-inflammatory activities of Centella asiatica extracts.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 6.4 (2009).
Gohil, Kashmira, Jagruti Patel, and Anuradha Gajjar. “Pharmacological review on Centella asiatica: a potential herbal cure-all.” Indian journal of pharmaceutical sciences 72.5 (2010): 546.
Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Jayathirtha, M. G., and S. H. Mishra. “Preliminary immunomodulatory activities of methanol extracts of Eclipta alba and Centella asiatica.” Phytomedicine 11.4 (2004): 361-365.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Mali, Ravindra G., and Basavraj C. Hatapakki. “An in vitro study of effect of Centella asiatica on phagocytosis by human neutrophils.” International journal of pharmaceutical sciences and nanotechnology 1.3 (2008): 297-302.
Punturee, Khanittha, et al. “Immunomodulatory activities of Centella asiatica and Rhinacanthus nasutus extracts.” Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention 6.3 (2005): 396.
Soumyanath, Amala, et al. “Centella asiatica accelerates nerve regeneration upon oral administration and contains multiple active fractions increasing neurite elongation in‐vitro.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 57.9 (2005): 1221-1229.
Veerendra Kumar, M. H., and Y. K. Gupta. “Effect of Centella asiatica on cognition and oxidative stress in an intracerebroventricular streptozotocin model of Alzheimer’s disease in rats.” Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology 30.5‐6 (2003): 336-342.
Visweswari, Gopalreddygari, et al. “Evaluation of the anticonvulsant effect of Centella asiatica (gotu kola) in pentylenetetrazol-induced seizures with respect to cholinergic neurotransmission.” Epilepsy & Behavior 17.3 (2010): 332-335.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.