By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Also commonly referred to as centella, Asiatic pennywort or Indian pennywort, gotu kola is a versatile herb that goes by many names. Plus it boasts just as many health benefits.
Gotu kola grows in the wetlands of Asia. It’s native to China, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa. For centuries, the leaves and stems have been used as a natural remedy treat everything from depression to gastric ulcers.
In fact, some people even attribute the impressive memory and long lifespan of the elephant to the potent properties of this medicinal herb.
From improving wound healing to easing anxiety, gotu kola is a powerful herbal remedy that can have a major impact on your health.
Gotu Kola Nutrition
Gotu kola is a member of the Apiaceae family of plants, right alongside carrots, celery and parsley. Its taste can range from mild to slightly bitter and it is virtually odor-free.
In addition to being a prominent ingredient in many traditional Asian cuisines, it is also conveniently found in many forms. These include as a tea, capsule, tincture, dried herb and extract.
Gotu kola contains many nutrients, which may contribute to its medicinal properties, including several B-vitamins, vitamin C and a handful of phytonutrients such as flavonoids, tannins and polyphenols. (1)
These phytonutrients supply it with antioxidants — beneficial compounds that prevent damage to your cells and help ward off disease.
However, the nutritional profile of gotu kola can vary significantly based on many factors, such as the way it’s processed or prepared.
7 Gotu Kola Benefits
1. Enhances Memory
One of the most well-known gotu kola benefits is its potential to improve cognition and sharpen memory.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease revealed that gotu kola extract may be able to improve memory at the molecular level by enhancing the activity of a pathway that is associated with long-term memory formation. (2)
This was demonstrated in a 2002 animal study in which rats were given gotu kola extract and put through a series of tests to measure their cognitive function. The extract was shown to improve learning and memory by increasing antioxidant levels in the blood. (3)
Another study found that supplementation with gotu kola was able to boost both memory and cognitive function in elderly participants. (4)
Thanks to its strong memory-enhancing abilities, this powerful plant has found itself in the spotlight lately as a natural treatment to help slow age-related decline and the progression of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Improves Circulation
Poor circulation can be a result of many different causes, including varicose veins, obesity, diabetes and peripheral artery disease. Decreases in blood flow can be behind symptoms like numbness, tingling and muscle pain.
Traditional treatments to help improve circulation include exercising, elevating your legs and avoiding long periods of immobility. Supplementation with gotu kola may also help, as it has been studied extensively for its unique ability to naturally improve blood circulation.
One study gave 87 participants with poor circulation a dosage of 30 milligrams or 60 milligrams twice a day for 60 days. This was found to significantly improve circulation compared to a placebo. (5)
Meanwhile, a review published in 2013 looked at eight studies and found that gotu kola was effective at improving circulation and alleviating symptoms of poor circulation such as swelling, leg heaviness and pain. (5)
Adding gotu kola to your daily routine, along with other remedies like regular physical activity, can increase blood flow to help you avoid the negative side effects of poor circulation.
3. Repairs Skin
Another remarkable benefit of gotu kola is its ability to repair skin cells and boost the health of your skin.
It effectively enhances antioxidant activity in your tissues. This aids in wound healing and skin regeneration. Antioxidants can help neutralize harmful free radicals. These are compounds that accumulate over time to cause oxidative damage and accelerate aging.
One animal study found that applying gotu kola to wounds twice daily increased the levels of some antioxidants by up to 77 percent after seven days. (6)
In another animal study, it was applied to wounds three times a day for 24 days, which was found to increase collagen production and regenerate new skin cells faster. (7) Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the body and it is responsible for the repair and renewal of the skin.
Because of its positive effects on skin health, gotu kola is also often used topically as a natural remedy for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
4. Eases Depression and Anxiety
In addition to being good for your physical health, some studies have found that gotu kola could benefit your mental health too.
This is because it possesses anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. This means it can naturally inhibit anxiety, help treat depression, calm nerves and even act as a sedative to promote better sleep. (8)
A 2010 study gave 33 participants 500 milligrams of gotu kola twice a day for 60 days. Not only did this cause a reduction in anxiety levels, but it also decreased levels of stress and depression as well. (9)
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology produced similar findings and showed that elderly participants supplementing with gotu kola showed improvements in both mood and memory. (10)
5. Prevents Gastric Ulcers
Some studies suggest that gotu kola can help prevent and treat these harmful lesions by strengthening the intestinal barrier and blocking damage from harmful free radicals.
In fact, a study in the journal Life Sciences showed that supplementing rats with gotu kola reduced the formation of gastric ulcers by up to 82 percent. (14)
Another animal study found that the active compounds of gotu kola were able to decrease gastric ulcer size after just three days. (15)
Paired with other gastric ulcer treatments, such as reducing stress levels, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding foods that irritate your stomach, gotu kola could aid in the prevention and treatment of gastric ulcers.
6. Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a normal biological response to injury. Chronic inflammation, however, can wreak major havoc on the body and contribute to conditions like heart disease, obesity, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
From protecting your cells against damage to preventing chronic disease, antioxidants are essential to many aspects of health. They have even been shown to help alleviate inflammation. (16)
Gotu kola can enhance antioxidant activity in the body. This may help reduce inflammation and aid in the treatment of several inflammatory disorders. (17)
To really take advantage of its inflammation-busting benefits, be sure to fill your diet with other antioxidant-rich whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
7. May Help Kill Cancer Cells
Though current research is limited to test-tube studies, some evidence shows that gotu kola could help kill cancer cells.
This is likely due to its potent antioxidant activity, as antioxidants can help neutralize cancer-causing free radicals and prevent damage to your cells.
One study in 2008 treated human breast cancer cells with gotu kola extract and found that it successfully blocked cancer growth and induced cancer cell death. (19)
Another study found that it was effective in causing cell death for several strains of cancer cells, including human breast cancer cells, mouse skin cancer cells, and rat brain cancer cells. (20)
However, although this evidence is promising, more studies are needed to evaluate the potential effect of gotu kola on cancer cells in humans.
History of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola has a rich history in its use as a medicinal herb. Native primarily to Southeast Asia, it has been a staple natural remedy for centuries. (21)
Historically, it has been used for everything from promoting lactation to treating herpes, as well as a myriad of other conditions.
In addition to its medicinal effects, gotu kola was also revered in India and China for its ability to enhance spirituality. In fact, many still refer to it as the “Herb of Enlightenment.”
Today, while gotu kola remains a prominent part of many traditional Asian cuisines, people from around the globe appreciate it for its potent health-promoting properties.
How to Use Gotu Kola
Incorporating gotu kola into your daily routine is easy and effective, thanks to the many varieties that are available.
In many Asian countries, it is used as a leafy vegetable in curries, side dishes and soups. It is also a popular base for salads. Gotu kola sambol, for instance, is a common Sri Lankan side salad composed of gotu kola, grated coconut, onions and chili peppers.
Here are some other recipes that you can try:
- Cashew and Gotu Kola Relish
- Burmese Pennywort Salad
- Vallarai Keerai Kootu (Pennywort Leaves with Lentils)
You can also sip on a soothing cup of gotu kola herbal tea, use it as a cream or ointment for skin conditions and wound healing, add a few drops of liquid extract to your drinks or pop a quick and convenient capsule.
The many forms of gotu kola are widely available in most pharmacies and health stores as well as online. Look for a reputable brand with minimal added ingredients to ensure that you’re getting the best quality.
Recommended dosages typically starts at 1 gram daily and can range up to 4 grams per day. You should start with a low amount and increase slowly to assess your tolerance.
Although generally safe when used in recommended doses, some side effects have been reported.
While uncommon, side effects may include headaches, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness and skin irritation. If you experience these or any other adverse reactions after taking gotu kola, you should discontinue use and consult your health care practitioner.
Additionally, most research advises against usage for longer than six weeks and recommends taking a two-week break if using for an extended period of time.
Most also recommend against using gotu kola if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding as its effects have not been studied on infants or children.
Finally, because high doses can act as a sedative, some sources caution against using gotu kola in combination with medications that are used to treat anxiety or sleep disorders. (22)
Gotu kola is as versatile in its uses as it is in its impressive health-promoting properties. From sharpening memory and improving cognition to easing inflammation, gotu kola is an easy way to pack a concentrated dose of health benefits into your day.
Fortunately, there are many options available if you’re looking to reap the benefits of this powerful herb. Capsules, powders, tinctures and creams are all simple and effective ways that can help upgrade your health.
Combine gotu kola with a balanced diet and active lifestyle to maximize its impact and help optimize both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Read Next: Vervain: 5 Benefits of a Versatile Herb
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