Gotu kola – Centella asiatica, Hydrocotyle asiatica
This plant of the Apiaceae (parsley) family likes a moist, watery environment, and in its native India, Sri Lanka, Australia, China, Japan and South Africa, finds accommodating conditions for growth. Gotu kola has small pink or white flowers and is low-growing like a ground cover. Also known as Marsh Penny, Indian Pennywort, Hydrocotyle, and Centella, you can even grow it as a house plant. It sends out runners, so you can repot them in their own containers; regular harvesting encourages new growth. Do not confuse this plant with kola or cola.
The herb (above-ground part) is used and made into tincture, with adult dosing at 30-60 (1.5-3ml) drops 3xday. The plant is also used in topical remedies, oil and cremes. Gotu kola is considered a tonic herb “rejuvenator” of memory and concentration, and is beneficial externally for mild to severe skin conditions.
While Gotu kola is used in TCM, it has extensive history – several thousand years – in Ayurvedic medicine for increasing mental capacity and decreasing mental aging, and is called Vayasthapana or Brain Revitalizer. Bitter, pungent, sweet and cooling, research indicates that Centella has the tendency to modulate both internal (pathological) and external (neuro-toxic) oxidative brain impairment, and can be used to halt further damage. It has been shown to increase the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a chemical messenger of the brain, while inhibiting the uptake of glutamate in the brain (a causative factor in dementia). (Some researchers believe that GABA serves to control anxiety and fear, or “mental turbulence”.) The herb is useful for people who are constantly on the go, or for those feeling “burned out” from too much work or stress. It also has value in treating cases of sleep deprivation. Gotu kola is nourishing to the brain but not over-stimulating. In addition, the herb has been shown to decrease adrenal enlargement. In Sri Lanka it is said that the elephant’s memory is on account of eating this “brain tonic” plant.
Anecdotal observation supports the use of Gotu kola in reducing the stress that accompanies cancer diagnosis, calming anxiety and fear and allowing for more heart-centered thought processes.
Gotu kola encourages cognition, but it also has a role in vascular health. As a cardioprotective, it has a role in preventing injury to the heart muscle in the case of heart attack. Additionally, it lends strength to the weakened venous tissue of phlebitis and lymphedema, both internally and externally. Gotu kola can help remedy other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism and RA, and has been shown to reduce edema especially to the lower legs and ankles.
Centella is useful for healing chronic skin conditions of all types, internally and externally, including ulcers, slow-healing wounds, eczema, psoriasis and superficial phlebitis. If you have access to the fresh plant, you can also use it as a poultice. The triterpenoids in Hydrocotyle stimulate the rapid growth of epithelial matter, preventing scar tissue and decreasing inflammation. It has been used for healing post-op cancer sites (both surgical and radiation) and has even been shown to inhibit the recurrence of new cancer cells. The component Asiaticoside promotes fibroblast and extracellular structural repair. In India it has historically been used to treat leprosy or Hansen’s disease. Gotu kola has been combined with neomycin to treat burns, speeding recovery of skin tissue without infection.
Periodontal inflammation has been treated with Gotu kola extract, with favorable results. The tincture diluted in water and swished around the mouth is one way to administer it.
The powdered herb has been used on skin wounds, weeping eczema and other aggravated conditions. The oil extract is used on its own or made into a balm for treating scar-tissue, and when combined with essential oils of grapefruit, cypress, rosemary and bay can be used as massage oil for lymphedema.
Here is a simple recipe for making Centella Oil:
Take ½ cup dried herb and combine with 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and reduce liquid to half (about 1 cup). Strain. Add the above liquid extract to 1 cup almond or coconut oil, and simmer until the water is evaporated and the oil is infused with the herb.
We love this herb at The Wild & Weedy Apothecary, and have seen good results from using it for psoriasis.