What Is It?
Found growing in hot, swampy regions around the world, from India to the southern United States, the herb gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has a storied past.
Centuries ago, practitioners of the ancient Hindu system of healing known as Ayurveda began using this creeping perennial therapeutically. It was the leaves–fan-shaped when grown in water but small and thin when grown on land–that were most useful for medicinal purposes, including the control of skin problems. By the l880s, gotu kola’s reputation for treating skin and other disorders had spread throughout Asia to Europe.
Due to the similarity in their names, gotu kola is sometimes confused with kola nut, a caffeine-containing stimulant used to produce cola beverages. In fact, the two are not related.
The enduring popularity of gotu kola has been attributed to active ingredients known as triterpenes. These substances are believed to enhance the production of the tough, fibrous protein known as collagen, which is found in cartilage, bones, and connective tissues. Triterpenes also help to keep blood vessels strong and assist in producing essential neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers.
When applied externally as part of a compress, gotu kola encourages the healing of burns, wounds, and various skin irritations. Some studies suggest that you can apply a gotu kola ointment directly to affected areas to promote healing as well.
Taken internally, gotu kola is widely used to minimize varicose veins, boost memory, sharpen the mind in general, and stall memory loss related to Alzheimer’s disease. It has even shown promise in treating scleroderma (an autoimmune disorder) and in controlling cellulite because of its ability to reinforce the structure of connective tissue. In one study, very good results appeared after three months in 58% of the 65 patients taking gotu kola for cellulite.
Gotu kola has even been tested for reducing inflammation and improving liver function in people with alcohol-induced cirrhosis and other conditions that involve scarring and hardening of tissues in this large organ.
Specifically, gotu kola may help to:
Treat burns, keloids, and wounds. When applied externally, gotu kola is believed to prevent or minimize scarring, accelerating the healing of burns, keloids (overgrown scar tissue), and wounds (including skin ulcerations and surgical incisions). Gotu kola may be even more effective for burns when it’s combined with echinacea, vitamins (A,C, E), and zinc.
Minimize varicose veins. Gotu kola appears to enhance blood flow, increase the tone of the connective tissue sheath that surrounds the veins, and maintain the suppleness of the veins. Study results have been somewhat promising.
In a recent trial done in Italy, 87 people with varicose veins were randomized to take either gotu kola or a placebo. At the end of two months, the participants taking the herb showed measurable improvements in the functioning of their veins, while those on the placebo did not experience any change in the tone or strength of their veins. More research in this area is needed, however.
Boost memory and counteract Alzheimer’s disease. In China, gotu kola has been used for centuries to heighten mental function. Today, researchers are trying to determine if the herb has a role to play in improving memory, enhancing learning capabilities, and perhaps restoring some of the memory loss of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Results of a controlled animal trial indicate that the herb is effective in enhancing learning. The animals given gotu kola for two weeks were able to learn and recall new behaviors with greater ease than were those not given the herb.
And in an intriguing clinical study related to learning, 30 children with developmental disabilities who received gotu kola for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in their attention spans and concentration skills.
For Alzheimer’s disease: Take 200 mg of freeze-dried herb or 400-500 mg of crude herb or 1/2 teaspoon of liquid extract three times a day.
For topical use to treat burns or prevent scarring: Soak a compress in a 50/50 water/liquid extract solution, and apply three times a day. If available, gotu kola ointment can be used in place of calendula cream.
For memory loss/impairment: Take 200 mg liquid extract or 400-500 mg crude herb three times a day.
Guidelines for Use
Commercial gotu kola preparations are available in Europe and are sold under such names as Madecassol and Centelase.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with gotu kola.
Possible Side Effects
Neither topical nor oral gotu kola preparations are commonly associated with adverse reactions. In rare cases, headache, skin rash, and sensitivity to sunlight may develop. High doses may result in nausea. Lower your dose or stop taking the herb altogether if any of these reactions occur.
Avoid gotu kola if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to conceive.
Alzheimer’s Disease 200 mg freeze-dried or 400-500 mg crude herb or 1/2 tsp. liquid extract 3 times a day
Burns 200 mg freeze-dried herb or 400-500 mg crude herb or 1 tsp. liquid extract (dilute in 1/2 cup of water) 3 times a day. To prevent scarring, soak a compress in a 50/50 water/liquid extract solution, and apply 3 times a day to prevent scarring. If available, gotu kola ointment can be used in place of calendula cream.
Memory Loss/Impairment 200 mg extract or 400-500 mg crude herb 3 times a day.
Varicose Veins 30-60 mg of standardized extract (TTFCA) twice a day, or 600-800 mg whole herb 3 times a day
David Edelberg, MD