The Healing Herbs: Gotu Kola


Gotu kola, a creeping vine native to India and Sri Lanka, among other areas, has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine to calm inflamed skin. Now, studies published in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and Phytomedicine confirm that the plant (also known as Centella asiatica) has anti-inflammatory benefits and may I even stimulate the production of collagen, the protein fibers in skin that give strength and elasticity. Try gotu kola-rich body lotion from Sundari ($24;, and Body Bistro Eye Jelly and Eye Butter ($42 each;

PHOTO (COLOR): Body Bistro Eve Jelly

This Ayurvedic herb may reduce your anxiety without the side effects of drugs. BY MARIA NOËL MANDILE

THIS CREEPING PLANT GROWS IN CHINA, India, and Madagascar. Practitioners of Ayurveda (India's holistic medical system) have relied on the herb for centuries. Gotu kola is often confused with the caffeine-containing kola nut, but gotu kola is unrelated and contains no caffeine.
How It Works

People with stress-related disorders like anxiety and panic attacks are believed to have an overactive startle response. Scientists theorize that compounds in gotu kola known as triterpene acids bind to receptors in your central nervous system and reduce your startle response.

Gotu kola strengthens the collagen lining of your vein walls, enhances circulation, and reduces inflammation to treat varicose veins. Practitioners believe gotu kola improves memory by boosting circulation to the brain.

The herb's ability to improve vein health is well supported by human studies. Research on gotu kola for anxiety and memory is limited.

In the only controlled clinical trial on gotu kola and anxiety, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2000, scientists gave 40 healthy adults either a very high one-time dose of 12 g of goru kola or a placebo. Then they measured the subjects' startle responses with loud bursts of noise. After 60 minutes, the gotu kola group displayed less than half the startle response of the control group.

A series of studies published in the International Journal of Angiology last October tested gotu kola's ability to improve vascular health. In one study, researchers gave 40 patients with venous hypertension (thought to be a precursor to varicose veins) either a placebo or 120 mg of gotu kola daily. After six weeks, the patients who took the herb experienced a significant reduction in leg swelling, and most of their leg veins were able to constrict blood flow properly.

Preliminary results in Fitoterapia in 1992 support gotu kola's reputation as a memory enhancer. In the study, rats that ate gotu kola every day for 14 days had three to 60 times better retention of learned behaviors than rats that took a placebo. No further research has been done to confirm this use.
How to Take It

For these ailments, take 2 to 6 g of dried or encapsulated gotu kola or 40 to 80 drops of the liquid extract daily, suggests Alan Keith Tillotson, Ph.D., medical herbalist in Wilmington, Del., and author of The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook (Kensington, 2001). Divide your dose into two smaller doses, and take them before meals.

Gotu kola appears to be safe and to have no side effects. However, consult your doctor before giving it to a child or if you are pregnant.
Health Claims

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is used to ease anxiety as well as to heal varicose veins and improve memory.
The Bottom Line

Gotu kola is a promising treatment for anxiety, varicose veins, and poor memory. However, only its use for varicose veins is well supported by science. More clinical research is necessary to verify the other uses.

PHOTO (COLOR): Gotu kola can decrease anxiety and improve memory in as little as one day.


By Maria Noël Mandile

Maria Noël Mandile is the research editor at Natural Health.


Long ago, the native Sinhalese of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) noticed that elephants, renowned for their longevity, loved the rounded leaves of diminutive gotu kola. The herb gained a reputation as a longevity promoter, and a Sinhalese proverb advised, "Two leaves a day keep old age away."

Gotu kola won't add years to your life, but it may stimulate the immune system, accelerate wound healing, help treat psoriasis, and improve circulation in the legs, which may help prevent varicose veins.


India's Ayurvedic herbalists first used gotu kola like ginseng to promote longevity and treat problems of aging. But over time, the herb became popular both internally and externally to treat skin diseases, including leprosy.

Philippine healers used gotu kola to treat wounds and gonorrhea. Chinese physicians used it for fever, colds, and flu.

Gotu kola got a bum rap in Europe. Several species grow there, but Europeans believed it caused foot rot in sheep (hence its once popular name, "sheep rot"), though there is no evidence this is the case.

Close relatives of gotu kola also grow in the United States, and America's 19th-century Eclectics were well aware of the herb's use as a treatment for leprosy in Asia. According to one report, "In 1852, Dr. Boileau of India, having been for many years afflicted with leprosy...experimented with [it] and recovered."

The Eclectics considered gotu kola safe and effective when used externally to treat skin problems. They called it a "poison" when used internally, however, asserting large doses produce "headache, dizziness, stupor, itching, and bloody passages from bowels."


Gotu kola wasn't used much during the early 20th century, but after World War II it was included in an herb tea blend called Fo-Ti-Tieng, which claimed to boost longevity, reviving the ancient Sinhalese claim. The story was that one Li Ching Yun, an ancient Chinese herbalist, had used the blend regularly and lived 256 years, surviving 23 wives. The tea caught on, and gotu kola reemerged from obscurity as an herbal tonic.

Contemporary herbalists recommend gotu kola externally as a poultice for wounds. For internal use, they prescribe small doses as a tonic stimulant, and large doses as a sedative.


Any longevity claims for gotu kola are as farfetched as the tale of Li Ching Yun. But modern science has found support for other traditional claims for this ancient herb.

Wound healing. Gotu kola may spur wound healing. According to a study published in Annals of Plastic Surgery, gotu kola accelerates healing of burns and minimizes scarring. Other studies show the herb accelerates the healing of skin grafts and surgical enlargement of the vagina during childbirth (episiotomy).

Psoriasis. Supporting its traditional use for skin diseases, one small study showed that a gotu kola cream can help relieve the painful scaly red welts of psoriasis. Seven psoriasis sufferers used the cream. It healed the welts in five within two months, and only one of the five experienced any recurrence within four months after the treatment ended. Gotu kola cream is not available commercially, but you can use a compress of gotu kola infusion to help treat psoriasis.

Leprosy. Gotu kola's traditional use in treating leprosy (now called Hansen's disease) was supported by a study published in the British journal Nature. The bacteria that cause leprosy have a waxy coating, which protects them against attack by the immune system. Gotu kola contains a chemical (asiaticoside) that dissolves this waxy coating, allowing the immune system to destroy the bacteria.

Leg circulation. Gotu kola also may help promote blood circulation in the lower limbs. In one study, 94 people suffering poor circulation in the legs (venous insufficiency) were given either 60 milligrams of gotu kola or a look-alike placebo. After two months, those taking the herb showed significantly improved circulation and less swelling.

Intriguing possibilities. Poor circulation through the legs causes varicose veins. Gotu kola has not been studied specifically as a treatment for this condition, but its possible ability to improve leg circulation might help prevent and treat varicosities.

Gotu kola has a sedative effect on laboratory animals. Sedation has never been reported in humans, but some scientists claim it is possible. In animals, large doses are narcotic, causing stupor and possibly coma. Some scientists warn this reaction is also possible in humans, echoing the Eclectics, who advised against ingesting the herb. It might, however, help fight insomnia; just don't use more than recommended amounts.

Ironically, reports have also appeared claiming gotu kola causes restlessness and insomnia, which is rather odd for a purported "narcotic." Apparently these cases involved the caffeine-containing herb kola, which was mislabeled as gotu kola. Gotu kola is not related to true kola (Cola nitida), the caffeine-containing nut used in cola drinks.


Use an infusion of gotu kola to help improve circulation in the legs. Or give it a try if you have insomnia. For an infusion, use 1/2 teaspoon per cup of boiling water. Drink up to 2 cups a day. Gotu kola tastes bitter and astringent; adding sugar, honey, and lemon, or mixing it into an herbal beverage blend will improve its flavor.

To help treat wounds or psoriasis topically, try compresses made from gotu kola infusion. If results are disappointing, try a stronger infusion.

Gotu kola should not be given to children under age 2. For internal use by older children and people over 65, start with a low-strength preparation and increase strength if necessary.


The only confirmed side effect in humans is skin rash in sensitive individuals.

The chemical asiaticoside that helps against leprosy also appears to be weakly carcinogenic. A concentrated solution of the isolated chemical was applied to the skin of mice twice a week for 18 months (a long time in mouse terms), and 2.5 percent developed skin tumors. The risk to humans, if any, from occasional use of weaker, smaller doses of the whole herb remains unclear but appears minimal. Nonetheless, those with a history of cancer might reasonably decide not to use it. When in doubt, consult your physician.


The Food and Drug Administration considers gotu kola an herb of "undefined safety." For otherwise healthy non-pregnant, nonnursing adults who have no history of cancer and are not taking other tranquilizers or sedatives, gotu kola is considered relatively safe in amounts typically recommended.

Gotu kola should be used in medicinal amounts only in consultation with a physician. If gotu kola causes minor discomforts, such as a rash or headache, use less or stop using it. Let your doctor know if you experience unpleasant effects or if the symptoms for which the herb is being used do not improve significantly in two weeks.

Natural Way Publications, Inc.

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