A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Centella asiatica syn. Hydrocotyle asiatica
Gotu kola is a slender herb found growing as a perennial in much of the tropics. The herb has peculiar shaped leaves, which have an almost smooth surface and are shaped like a kidney or almost heart shaped. The plant also bears dark purple flower petals; these appendages give the form of the plant somewhat of an exquisite or fragile appearance. The plant is very hard to cultivate, and many efforts to do so have often failed, though the plant is rather obstinate and hardy in the wild and grows as a weed in many places. For example, gotu kola subjected to spraying with herbicides, will result in only the death of the leaves, the root of the plant on the other hand seems to thrive on these harmful substances. The plants growing as weeds still proliferate amazingly well even following one good spraying.
Much of the swampy areas in tropical countries such as India and Sri Lanka, in South Africa, and the other tropical regions of the New World have thriving populations of this creeping perennial herb. Gotu kola is the common name of the herb; however, the herb is also called the hydrocotyle or the Indian pennywort in many places where it grows.
Traditionally the people of Sri Lanka have observed that one of the longest living mammals, the elephants fed extensively on the plant in the wild. This may have been the initial cause for the use of this plant and its subsequent reputation as a promoter of longevity in people who eat it. It is commonly held that the consumption of a few leaves of the gotu kola every day will "strengthen and revitalize worn out bodies and brains." At the same time, traditionally, herbalists have used the gotu kola in treating people affected by all sorts of mental troubles, by high blood pressure problems, by the presence of abscesses, by rheumatism, and it has also been used in the treatment of fever, in treating ulcers, in treating cases of leprosy, problems like skin eruptions, all sorts of nervous disorders, as well as jaundice. A considerable reputation that the herb has acquired in recent times, is as an “aphrodisiac ”- a chemical agent that has an ability to stimulate and promote sexual desire as well as heighten sexual ability in people. In Sri Lanka, the crushed leaves of gotu kola are commonly eaten, either in the form of a hot beverage or as a green salad.
In the ancient Indian system of medicine known as ayurveda, the gotu kola has been used for thousands of years and has a prominent position in all ayurvedic medicine. In this ancient system, remedies made from the gotu kola are used especially for the treatment of leprosy, all kinds of skin ulcers, and all skin problems in general.
The power of rejuvenation is attributed to the gotu kola, this particular reputation as a "rejuvenator," herb has been linked to the gotu kola for a long time. The herb is believed to aid mental concentration as well as memory in people. Remedies made from the gotu kola are also used to boost fertility and are used in the role of a tonic for improving poor digestion as well as in the treatment of rheumatism in different people.
The gotu kola is used in treating children for dysentery, a few freshly plucked leaves of the herb is given to the affected children along with the daily meal. Gotu kola remedies are also believed to be helpful in the treatment of fevers, as well as in alleviating all kinds of abdominal disorders, in the treatment of asthma, and in the treatment of bronchitis. The gotu kola is also used in the form of an oil extract to promote hair growth in people affected by balding and hair loss.
Gotu kola medications are mainly utilized in the treatment of skin problems and topical wounds, this is despite the reputation it has as a tonic herb. The anti-inflammatory action of the gotu kola is also now being considered to be effective and helpful and it is normally given for the herbal treatment of rheumatism, problems like rheumatoid arthritis, and in cases of poor venous circulation affecting patients.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The gotu kola grows native in most of the tropics, though it is believed to be a native species of India; it also grows in the wild in the southern US states. At the same time, wild populations of the gotu kola herb are also seen growing in the tropical and subtropical parts of Australia, the Southern parts of Africa, as well as the South American tropics. The gotu kola herb tends to prefer marshy areas and riverbanks in the tropics. While it is hard to grow, the gotu kola is cultivated from seeds during the spring season, while commercially it is usually gathered from the wild. Harvesting of the aerial parts of the herb is usually carried out throughout the year in many places.
The organic compounds present in the gotu kola have been investigated for their properties in many studies. Initial research conducted during the1990s suggested that the asiaticocide and thankuniside fractions in the herb may actually reduce fertility in people. This shocking discovery naturally contrasts with one of the main traditional uses of the herb in India-where it was usually taken to boost fertility by people.
Remedies made from the gotu kola herb have been known to thin the blood of the person, at the same time when used in larger dosages, the herb has been shown to aid in lowering elevated blood sugar levels in patients.
Laboratory tests on small animals have shown a definite sedative action during scientific studies conducted using relatively large doses of the herbal medication. The sedative action is induced by two saponin glycosides present in the herb, which are designated brahminoside and brahmoside. Some anti-inflammatory action is also exhibited by another glycoside, called madecassoside, at the same time, the compound called asiaticoside, also seems to stimulate the healing of wounds on the body. On the main traditional use of the herb, namely as a promoter of longevity, however, there is little evidence and all the current research does not support gotu kola as a longevity promoter. At the same time, no research can substantiate the other extravagant claims of gotu kola as a revitalizing and healing herbal remedy. Gotu kola is one of the few famous herbs, the usage of which is not supported by substantive data about comparative safety and efficiency - almost no data exists.
Dosages for different types of gotu kola differ, and are given on a case by case basis. An herbal tea can be prepared from the dried gotu kola leaves by adding 1-2 teaspoons of the leaves to 150 ml of boiling water. This must be allowed to steep in the boiling ware for 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch to allow the herb to infuse into the water. Dosage of this tea is usually three cups of the herbal tea per day per person. The gotu kola based herbal tincture can also be taken at doses of 10-20 ml thrice every day by affected individuals. At the same time, the standardized gotu kola extracts which contain up to 100% total triterpenoids in them are also usually taken at 60 mg doses one or two times daily by some patients.
Side effects and cautions
There is rarely any problem or side effect with gotu kola usage, with the rare exception of people who are allergic to the herb; the only known problems which have been encountered are an occasional case of nausea if the doses of the herb are excessively high. At the same time, breast feeding women and pregnant women must avoid the use of any gotu kola based remedy in all cases.