by Namini Wijedasa (Island, 2001)
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is valued so highly in Ayurveda that reams have been written about it with emphasis on the fact that it cannot be appreciated enough. In English, the herb is known as Centella or Indian Pennywort and grows abundantly in Sri Lanka. In Sanskrit, it is called Brahmi, meaning ‘godlike’, and is regarded in India as a spiritual herb.
According to Lakshmi Senaratne, chief scientist (Ayurveda) at the Bandaranaike Memorial Ayurveda Research Institute, there are two varieties: the small one, called heen gotukola in Sinhala, and the one with large leaves, identified as maha gotu kola. The former is usually used in Ayurveda medicine. The entire plant is beneficial, dried or fresh, and sometimes the root powder is taken. Senaratne advises that the plant be dried and stored in an airtight glass bottle for use when required.
The herb contains Vitamins A, G, and K and is also high in magnesium. Taken in excess, however, it causes headaches and giddiness, and sometimes confusion, skin redness and itching. To treat, stop ingestion of the drug or herb or reduce dose and give a purgative.
Sri Lankans eat it most often as a sambol or as a ‘kenda’. The latter is good for sinus, phlegm, arthritis and strengthens the immune system.
Gotu kola balances and can treat all three humours: vatha, pitta and kapha. It is thought to help the functions of the nervous systems and also increases brain power. It strengthens memory, concentration and intelligence as well as promoting longevity, improving the voice, physical strength and complexion.
A 1992 study by K. Nalini at Kasturba Medical College, showed gotu kola does offer support for healthy memory function. Her tests showed an impressive improvement in memory in rats treated with a daily oral extract for 14 days before the experiment. The retention of learned behaviour in the rats treated with gotu kola was three to 60 times better than that in control animals. Meanwhile, preliminary results in one clinical trial with mentally retarded children was shown to increase scores on intelligence tests (Bagchi, 1989) but this does not mean gotu kola will improve intelligence for all special or normal children.
According to pharmacological studies, one outcome of gotu kola’s complex actions is a balanced effect on cells and tissues participating in the process of healing, particularly connective tissues. One of its constituents, asiaticoside, works to stimulate skin repair and strengthen skin, hair, nails and connective tissue (Kartnig, 1988).
Oriental healers rely on gotu kola to treat emotional disorders such as depression.
Senaratne said that gotu kola increases appetite, is good for the heart and reduces oedema (swelling with fluid). It is an expectorant and treats the throat. It is diuretic, increases breast milk and is good for skin rashes.
The root powder is used for treatment of sinusitis: boil the whole plant to make a decoction, add a little pepper powder and sugar and administer for a few weeks. Also, take a decoction of gotu kola, garlic and pepper.
For fever and dysentery, take gotu kola and valmi decoction.
For rejuvenation, boil the whole plant in cow’s milk, dry and powder it and take with cow’s milk. Fresh gotu kola juice is also taken in cow’s milk for rejuvenation.
Gotu kola increases general health and body strength. For general health, mix gotu kola, ginger and valmi powder and eat 1/2 tsp. twice a day.
Senaratne said that a gotukola syrup can be given for haemorrhoids, sinusitis and brain disorders. Extract juice, add sugar and prepare the syrup.
For haemorrhoids, boil small onions, kohila and gotu kola and take the drink.
In India, a lot of drugs treating brain disorders contain gotu kola extract. A home remedy for brain disorders, according to Senaratne: take the gotu kola plant, boil with cow’s milk, dry in shade and powder. Mix with sugar, bee’s honey and ghee. Take one teaspoon at a time for brain disorders, epilepsy and sinusitis.
For chronic ulcers (external), grind the plant to a paste with water, apply on the wound. It cleans and heals.
Gotu kola powder with milk is given to increase brain capacity, soothe mental disorders and for treatment of epilepsy.
For ascites (fluid in the abdomen), cook gotukola with thampala leaves and eat.
For boils (external), apply gotukola juice.
To improve the voice of children, chew the leaf and swallow the juice.
In cough and asthma, eat it as a vegetable.
For difficulty in passing urine, drink gotu kola juice. The juice, taken during lactation, increases breast milk production.
To prepare a gotu kola tea, dry the leaves in the shade, powder and store in airtight jars.
Dr. Seela Fernando, in her book Herbal Food and Medicines in Sri Lanka, advises the ingestion of plenty of gotu kola and red onions when suffering from a cough or cold. She says that gotu kola tea, prepared also with gotu kola dried and cut into small pieces, is a remedy for worms in children and enriches appetite. It is also an effective herbal tea for those suffering from hay fever and catarrh.
Fernando notes that gotu kola is a general tonic and relieves mental fatigue. It induces sound sleep. It can be taken regularly when a person suffers from sinusitis, catarrh, bronchitis, diabetes and epilepsy.
Gotu kola can be an aphrodisiac and treats high blood pressure. Recent studies show that the herb has positive effects on the circulatory system. It seems to improve the flow of blood throughout the body by strengthening the veins and capillaries.
A new study out of Korea reveals that components in gotu kola show potential for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, in 1999, European and Indian researchers demonstrated that gotu kola compounds promote rapid wound healing.