An Edible and Medicinal Herb.
Written by Juliet Blankespoor
This article was originally written for Mother Earth Living magazine and is published here with permission from the publisher. Mother Earth Living is an American bimonthly magazine about sustainable homes and lifestyle.
The Healing Benefits of Gotu Kola: An Edible and Medicinal Herb
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica, Apiaceae) has been a legendary herb in India and China for over two thousand years, where it’s considered to be one of the best herbs for promoting clarity, focus, and a peaceful, calm nature.
Gotu kola is both a medicinal herb and a food plant. I’m especially fond of the botanicals that are food-herbs for several reasons: one, they’re generally the safest remedies, and two, there are countless ways you can ingest them. You can take gotu kola as a tea, a tincture, or in capsules, and if you’re a culinary creative, try sneaking the herb into broths, vinegars, smoothies, and vegetable juices.
Also called brahmi, gotu kola is one of the easiest tonic herbs to grow, in the garden or in containers. Take note that there is another plant called brahmi: Bacopa monnieri is a low-growing wetland herb in the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), which also goes by the name water hyssop; it has some overlapping uses with gotu kola. This has resulted in copious confusion in the scientific and herbal literature and in commerce. Herbalists debate how their uses differ and overlap. Both are used to increase focus and mental clarity.
If you purchase gotu kola, be sure to double check the scientific name—you’re looking for Centella asiatica.
Medicinal Benefits of Gotu Kola
Parts Used: Leaves; may include small amounts of stem, flower, and fruit
Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, infused oil, garnish, infused ghee, broth, green smoothie, fresh juice, compress, poultice
Tincture ratios and dosage: Fresh leaves 1:2 95%; dried leaves 1:5 50%. Both preparations 2–5 ml (½ to 1 teaspoon) three times a day
Infusion ratios and dosage: 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 ml) of the cut and sifted dried leaves infused in 1 cup (240 ml) of boiling water three times a day
- Secondary adaptogen
- Vulnerary (promotes wound healing)
Medicinal Uses: This low-growing member of the carrot family, also known as brahmi or mandukaparni (Sanskrit), is a tonic remedy for assuaging memory loss, stress, worry, and foggy thinking.1 In Ayurvedic medicine—the ancient healing system of India—gotu kola is used to increase memory, concentration, and comprehension. In the Himalayas, yogis use gotu kola as an aid for meditation.
Folklore tells us that daily ingestion of gotu kola keeps the mind fresh and promotes longevity and vitality. In Southeast Asia, gotu kola has long been credited as the source of elephants’ long life spans and exceptional memories.
In addition to its effects on the brain, contemporary herbalists use gotu kola as a wound healer, diuretic, antioxidant, nerve tonic, and antibacterial remedy.
An Herb to Promote Relaxation and Alertness
Natural healers and researchers debate whether gotu kola is a true adaptogen (a tonic herb that helps balance the body by supporting its ability to deal with physical and emotional stress). Tonic herbs are traditionally taken on a daily basis over a long period of time, as opposed to herbs that are only used on an as-needed basis. In any case, gotu kola has a long tradition of use as a tonic herb for promoting longevity, vitality, and equanimity. I find it to be one of the most useful herbs to help people feel energized, alert, and relaxed. Gotu kola is one of the safest remedies for easing stress and anxiety. See the accompanying tea recipe for inspiration on combining gotu kola with similar tonic herbs.
A Traditional Remedy for Wounds and Injuries
Gotu kola has long been used to heal wounds, both internally and topically. Once famous for its use in treating leprosy in India, gotu kola is used today by herbalists to treat burns, minimize scarring, heal wounds, and promote tissue repair after injury or surgery. It appears to promote wound healing through its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial qualities, in addition to stimulating keratinization (an integral process of nail and hair growth) and epidermal repair (the epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin).2
One in vitro study which used an isolated constituent, asiaticoside, demonstrated the proliferation of fibroblasts, which are specialized cells responsible for producing and maintaining the structure of connective tissue. Fibroblasts are integral to wound healing.3
In my herbal practice, I use gotu kola to promote tissue repair after surgery or injury, such as sprains, bone breaks, bruising, burns, and wounds. In fact, it’s the primary herb I recommend for this purpose! Gotu kola has another benefit in this healing arena: its adaptogen-like qualities help with the emotional and physiological stress of physical trauma. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is an herb that I frequently pair with gotu kola. Calendula flowers also promote tissue repair and support the lymphatic system in fighting infection.
In addition to its internal use in healing injuries, gotu kola is used topically, in the form of poultices, compresses, soaks, and infused oils (don’t use infused oils on fresh burns). A compress is the simplest preparation: prepare a concentrated tea, strain it, and soak a clean washcloth in the tea when it’s still warm. Apply the cloth to the affected area several times per day. The proportions of tea to water aren’t essential for this herb—simply make the tea about three times as strong as you would make a tea to drink.
Along with gotu kola’s wound-healing properties, it’s also applied topically to mollify a variety of skin conditions, including insect bites, seborrheic dermatitis, cold sores, eczema, psoriasis, and dry, irritated skin. I like to infuse the dry herb into sesame or coconut oil, which can be rubbed into the scalp to calm the mind, deepen sleep, and promote hair growth.4
Safety and Contraindications: Avoid gotu kola in pregnancy or when trying to conceive.5 A small number of people react to the topical use of the herb with dermatitis.6 Be sure to check with your health care provider before ingesting any new herb, paying special attention to any possible contraindications with medications.
Eating and Preparing Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is grown in southern Asia as a medicinal potherb and salad green. The fresh leaves are added to green drinks, which are sold as a health and energy tonic on the streets in many tropical Asian countries. The parsley-like flavor of juiced gotu kola pairs nicely with vegetable juices containing apples, ginger, lemon, and kale. Substitute concentrated gotu kola tea for the juice if you don’t have it growing fresh. An innovative way to incorporate gotu kola into the diet is to infuse the dried herb into herbal broths (see the accompanying herbal broth recipe).
Relaxation & Clarity Gotu Kola Tea Recipe
This blend is helpful for promoting relaxation throughout the day, as the herbs aren’t sedating and, instead, typically increase alertness. Tulsi, gotu kola, and milky oats are classic nerve tonics for assuaging anxiety, stress, and forgetfulness. Lemon verbena adds a splash of citrusy flavor and is a traditional remedy for imparting calm.
3 Tablespoons dried milky oat tops (Avena sativa)*
1½ Tablespoons tulsi, flowering herb (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
1½ Tablespoons gotu kola, herb (Centella asiatica)
2 teaspoons lemon verbena, herb (Aloysia citriodora)
Yield: 32 ounces (1 L)
Bring 32 ounces (1 L) of water to boil. Turn off the heat, add all the herbs, and cover for thirty minutes. Strain and enjoy warm or at room temperature. Sweeten with honey or maple syrup if desired. Drink 1 to 3 cups a day. The measurements in this blend are for dried, cut and sifted herbs (store-bought). If you’re using homegrown herbs, or fresh herbs, use larger quantities.
*If you can’t find milky oat tops, substitute oatstraw, which is simply a different part of the same plant.
Healing Herbal Broth Recipe
I help keep my family’s immune systems in tip-top shape by adding dried gotu kola to my herbal broths. This broth is high in minerals due to the seaweed and stinging nettles—fold it into chili and stews to add some of the nutritional benefits of leafy greens into the diets of picky eaters. The flavor of this broth is mild enough that you won’t notice the flavor of the herbs, especially if you add other classic stew ingredients, such as carrots, celery, or onion peels. The broth can also be used as a medicinal base for healing soups and stews when recuperating from injury, childbirth, or surgery. Since this broth is an all-day affair, start early in the morning on a day you’ll be at home, or use a slow cooker set to simmer.
- ½ cup gotu kola, herb (Centella asiatica)
- ½ cup calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis)
- ¼ cup astragalus root, cut and sifted (Astragalus propinquus)
- 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, whole dried (Lentinula edodes)
- 1 cup stinging nettles, herb (Urtica dioica)
- 1 cup seaweed pieces, such as kombu, wakame, kelp, or alaria
Yield: 1 gallon (4 L)
Add 1½ gallons (6 L) of water to a large stew pot. Add the astragalus, seaweed, nettles, and shiitake. If you’d like, add your classic stock ingredients at this time (see above). For those of you who prepare bone broth, go ahead and add the bones into the pot, alongside the herbs. Bring to a boil and simmer for four to six hours. Turn off the heat and add the calendula and gotu kola. Let steep for a half hour with the lid on and then strain, pressing out the plant material with a spoon and fine-meshed colander.
Use the stock as a base for soups, stews, chili, and marinades. Freeze any unused portions into large ice cubes, which are handy for adding a quick herbal boost to most any dish. The measurements in this blend are for dried, cut and sifted herbs (store-bought). If you’re using homegrown herbs, or fresh herbs, use larger quantities.
How to Grow Your Own Gotu Kola
I find that gotu kola is one of the most luscious herbal houseplants, and I enjoy its presence in my library, where it keeps me company throughout the winter as I write. When the afternoon doldrums seize my creativity, I nibble on a leaf or two for renewed inspiration. It’s surprisingly easy to grow, both as a garden herb and as a potted plant. In zones 7b and warmer, gotu kola can be grown outdoors as a perennial ground cover, and in colder climates it can be grown as a frost-tender annual.
Gotu kola prefers moist soils with good drainage. If your soil is compacted or clayey, add finished compost, coarse sand, or pine bark fines. In milder climates, you can grow gotu kola in full sun, as long as the soil stays relatively moist, either through irrigation or by choosing a moist garden site.
In hotter climates, plant gotu kola in part shade; preferably with morning sun and afternoon shade. In my garden, I play the herbal matchmaker by pairing gotu kola with passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata). Passionflower is trained up a tipi-type trellis, providing shade and holding in moisture for its creeping companion, who, in turn, suppresses weeds.
As a container plant, gotu kola prefers a shallow, broad pot with a saucer underneath to help keep it moist. You may need to water your plants every few days—they’ll readily wilt when they’re thirsty. In the summer, I grow potted gotu kola on my front porch, which receives full morning sun and afternoon shade. Before the first frost, I bring the plants inside, placing them in front of an east-facing window.
Whether your plants are in the garden or a container, harvest gotu kola with the “haircut method,” using kitchen scissors to trim most of its leaves. It quickly grows a new batch, offering a few cuttings per growing season.
Purchase gotu kola from the miscellaneous section of our shop.