Gotu Kola

The Health Benefits of Gotu Kola

Asian herb may improve circulation, mood, and wound healing

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a type of leafy plant traditionally used in Asian cuisines that also has a long history of use in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. It is a perennial plant indigenous to the tropical wetlands of Southeast Asia, where it is a commonly used as a juice, tea, or green leafy vegetable.

Gotu kola is believed by alternative practitioners to have antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and memory-enhancing properties. It is widely sold as a dietary supplement in capsule, powder, tincture, and topical formulations.

Health Benefits

Among alternative practitioners, gotu kola is believed to havemany health benefits, ranging from the treatment of infections, such as shingles, to the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, blood clots, and even pregnancy. Others assert that gotu kola can treat or prevent anxiety, asthma, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, fatigue, indigestion, and stomach ulcers. When used topically, gotu kola is believed by some to help speed the healing of wounds and reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scars.

Here is what some of the current clinical evidence says:

Mood and Memory

Gotu kola has long been used as an herbal tonic to treat mood disorders and enhance memory. Although research results are mixed, there is evidence of some direct and indirect benefits.

It is possible that gotu kola may indirectly affect cognition and memory. Being more alert and less fatigued will invariably improve a person working memory (i.e., short-term memory). Moreover, reduced anxiety and feeling of calmness will often translate to better concentration, memory retention, and information processing speed.

Gotu kola appears to reduce anxiety by regulating the activity of neurotransmitters known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Asiatic acid is the compound in gotu kola believed to trigger this effect.

By influencing how GABA is absorbed by the brain, asiatic acid may be able to relieve anxiety without the sedative effect of traditional GABA agonist drugs like Ambien (zolpidem) and barbiturates. It may also play a role in treating depression, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

Blood Circulation

There is some evidence that gotu kola can improve blood circulation in people with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Venous insufficiency is a condition that occurs when the walls and/or valves in the leg veins are not working effectively, making it difficult for blood to return to the heart.

A 2013 review of studies from Malaysia concluded that older people treated with gotu kola showed significant improvement in CVI symptoms, including leg heaviness, pain, and swelling (edema).

These effects are believed linked to chemical compounds known as triterpenes, which stimulate the production of cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides are organic compounds that increase the force of the heart and increase the rate of contractions.

There is even some evidence that gotu kola may stabilize fatty plaques in blood vessels, preventing them from breaking off and causing a heart attack or stroke.

Wound Healing

Herbalists have long used gotu kola poultices and ointments to aid in wound healing. The current body of evidence suggests that a type of triterpene, known as asiaticoside, is able to stimulate collagen production and promote the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) at the injury site.

Disease Prevention

Claims that gotu kola can treat diseases from leprosy to cancer are largely exaggerated. These "cure-all" claims often shroud the actual benefits gotu kola may have in reducing disease risk.

Gotu kola is known to have potent antioxidan effects, neutralizing many of the free radicals that cause cell damage at the molecular level. It has been theorized that these properties may provide protection against stomach ulcers and certain cancers.

Asiatic acid, found in gotu kola, has been shown in ongoing research to induce apoptosis (spontaneous cell death) and inhibit cell growth activity in certain types of cancer cells, including liver, breast, skin, brain, and gastrointestinal tumor cells. Further research is looking into possible anti-cancer drug development.

Nutritional Facts

In Southeast Asia, gotu kola is used as much for food as for medicinal purposes. A member of the parsley family, gotu kola is an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain optimal health.

According to a review in the International Food Research Journal, 100 grams of fresh gotu kola delivers the following nutrients and meets the following recommended dietary intake (RDI) needs:

Gotu kola is also a good source of dietary fiber, providing 8 percent of the RDI for women and 5 percent of the RDI for men.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Gotu kola is a key ingredient in many Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes. It distinctive sweet and bitter flavor and a slight grassy scent. Gotu kola is a central ingredient of one of Sri Lanka's most popular dishes, gotu kola sambol, which combine shredded gotu kola leaves with shallots, lime juice, chili, and grated coconut.

It is also used to make Indian curries, Vietnamese vegetable rolls, and a Malaysian salad called pegaga. Fresh gotu kola can also be juiced and mixed with water and sugar to create the Vietnamese beverage nuoc rau ma.

Fresh Gotu Kola

Fresh gotu kola is difficult to find in the United States outside of specialty ethnic grocers. When purchased, the lily pad-shaped leaves should have a bright green color without any blemishes or discoloration. The stems are edible and similar to that of cilantro.

Fresh gotu kola is temperature-sensitive and can quickly turn black if your refrigerator is too cold. If not used immediately, you can place the herbs in a glass of water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Fresh gotu kola can keep this way for up to a week.