Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Brahmi, Indian Ginseng, Indian Pennywort, Hydrocotyle, Horse Hoof, Spadeleaf, Marsh Penny, Tiger’s Herb, Centella, Asiatic Pennywort, Indian Water Navelwort, Wild Violet, Ji Xue Cao, Sombrerito, Hierba De Clavo, Mandukaparni, European Water Marvel
About This Plant
Gotu Kola, or Centella asiatica, is a small and mighty evergreen herbaceous perennial from the Apiaceae (or Parsley) family. It is a water-loving, creeping ground cover that is often a pioneer plant in the tropics, covering ground laid bare by fire, construction, or other disturbances. It is used as a culinary vegetable and as a medicinal herb. Its tender green leaves taste a bit like celery and watercress combined. Gotu Kola grows about eight inches high and spreads out about three feet wide. It is hardy in USDA zones 8-12. It is frost-tender and in colder climates is grown in containers that can be brought inside during winter months, or is grown as a Summer annual. While a welcomed ground covering in many areas, it can be invasive.
Gotu Kola has distinct bright green, seven-veined, round leaves that are often described as “brain-shaped”, which according to the doctrine of signatures, alludes to the plant’s medicinal properties. In Sanskrit, it is known as “Mandukaparni” which translates as “frog-leaved”, referring to its leaf shape resembling a webbed frog’s foot. Yet another description is kidney-shaped. Single leaves grow at the terminal end of each stem.
The stolons, or above ground stems, are green to pinkish-red in color. They spread out and at each leaf node roots grow down, giving rise to new plants that continue to spread and cover more ground. In other words, the plants grow horizontally, much like Strawberry plants, sending out root runners that can sprout into new plants.
The primary Gotu Kola plant will make a long taproot that appears like a thin carrot. It sends out horizontal rhizomes that root in at the nodes. The axillary plants send back nutrients to the mother plant. These peripheral plants are clones and can be dug up and replanted elsewhere. Roots are creamish in color and covered with root hairs. The growth looks lovely spilling out of a pot. Again, alluding to the doctrine of signatures, the growth pattern is said to resemble a neural network.
Flowers bloom from July to August. They are generally white or reddish in color and occur at the very base of the plant, blooming in small, rounded umbels near the surface of the soil. They will eventually form at every node once the axillary plants become sufficiently mature. Each flower is partly enclosed in two green bracts. Pollination occurs by insects and seeds ripen from August to September.
Gotu Kola has been known for over 2,000 years in China as one of the “miracle elixirs of life”. A massive amount of research has been conducted supporting its long list of health benefits. It is known as a longevity tonic, with a particular affinity for the entire cardiovascular system. It has a special reputation for supporting the brain and memory. Under the name fo-ti-tieng, it was prescribed and taken by Professor Li-Ching-Yun, a Chinese herbalist, who died in 1933 at the reputed age of 256! In Sri Lanka, it is well-known that elephants eat it and Gotu Kola is credited for the elephants’ long life and remarkable memory.
Gotu Kola can absorb heavy metals from contaminated soils, transferring them to the growing tips, thereby remediateing toxic soils. As an aquatic plant, it is especially sensitive to biological and chemical pollutants in the water, which it can absorb. It is important to always make sure your Gotu Kola comes from clean sources and that you grow your own organically.
When purchasing Gotu Kola, it’s important to note that both Bacopa and Gotu Kola can be called “Brahmi”, so always check for the Latin name, Centella asiatica. Gotu Kola can cause photosensitivity and some people experience skin irritation after touching the leaves. It should be avoided by pregnant women and used cautiously by diabetics as it can interfere with drug treatments.
Gotu Kola seeds can be difficult to germinate. It is best to sow them in the Springtime in a greenhouse. Once the seedlings are large enough to be handled, pot them up individually. Grow the seedlings in the greenhouse for their first winter. Gotu Kola can easily be propagated by division at any time of year. It roots at the nodes and individual nodes can be dug up and replanted. It is considered best to pot up the divisions and make sure they are rooting well before transplanting back into the ground.
If growing from seed, transplant the tiny plants into individual containers when they have at least one set of true leaves. Allow the plants to mature for several months before planting them out after all danger of frost has passed. Space plants two feet apart to allow them room to spread. Water thoroughly after planting.
Gotu Kola is a plant that can require a bit more fuss than some, but most would agree it is a plant that is well worth it. It prefers a moist position, very rich soil, full to filtered sunlight. It is an aquatic plant, but can tolerate drier soils as long as the soil is kept evenly and consistently moist. It can do well in a Bog Garden, cultivated bed, or in a container. It can take some time to find the perfect spot for Gotu Kola–one that is not too sunny, not too shady, and as warm as possible.
When it comes to harvesting Gotu Kola for food or medicine, fresh is always best. The dried herb quickly loses its medicinal properties. Leaves can be harvested all year, though growth is optimal in the Summer.
- Helps to remediate toxic soils
- Groundcover in damp areas
Fresh Gotu Kola has a very mild to slightly bitter taste that is a bit like celery, parsley, or watercress. Leaves can be nibbled plain, juiced, or incorporated into raw or cooked dishes like other edible greens. Leaves can be sprinkled into salads, smoothies, curries, and soups. It is often used in much the same way cilantro or parsley is used in the West. It is rich in nutrients and is used as a food source in many regions of the world.
In Thailand, Gotu Kola is juiced and used as a drink sweetened with palm sugar. In Sri Lanka, people make a sambal with the leaves, fresh coconut and lime juice. Sri Lankans also make Malluma, made with Gotu Kola, grated coconut, diced shallots, lime juice, sea salt, finely chopped green chilis, chili powder, turmeric powder and chopped carrots. In Burma it is used as the main ingredient in a salad mixed with onions, crushed peanuts, bean powder and seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce. Try it stir fried in Coconut oil, or cooked in Coconut milk with garlic.
The history of use and the list of applications for Gotu Kola is long. Gotu Kola contains a substance that increases collagen production, stimulating the production of new skin cells, and improves circulation–both of which speeds the healing of wounds and burns and reduces scarring. It can be infused into an oil and used as a skin treatment or rubbed into the scalp as a hair tonic. It is known to speed the growth of hair, skin, and nails. It is used in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, and rheumatism.
Gotu Kola has a positive effect on memory and focus. It is considered a “Brain Tonic”, assisting with cognitive function and reducing anxiety. It has been shown to repair and restore axons which are used to transmit nerve impulses throughout the brain and body. The brain-shaped leaves and neural network-type growth pattern are all said to be doctrines of signature for this plant. Gotu Kola is said to enhance nearly every aspect of mental functioning. Typically herbs of this sort are also stimulating, but Gotu Kola is not. It is considered centering, instead, making it ideal for anyone looking for a cognitive boost without any of the unwanted and imbalancing side effects of stimulants.
Gotu Kola’s neurological benefits may be due in part to its effect on the circulatory system, strengthening blood vessels and causing them to be more pliable, thereby improving circulation. Studies have shown it to improve microcirculation in those with diabetes. It is also used for varicose and spider veins as well as haemorrhoids. Research has also supported its use as an antimicrobial against leprosy, tuberculosis, and herpes simplex II.
Gotu Kola also has antiinflammatory properties. People have reportedly relieved their arthritis by eating two to three leaves a day.
Gotu Kola is known across Asia as a longevity herb due to its synergistic effects on the mind, body, and spirit. It is considered a true adaptogen. It has long been a favorite herb of Daoists, monks, yogies, and sages.
Fresh herb is always best as many of its medicinal qualities are lost once dried. It is bitter-sweet, astringent and acrid.
Gotu Kola is native to southeastern Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as South Africa and Madagascar. It now grows widely in many other parts of the world, particularly in tropical areas.