Gotu Kola

By Steven Horne and Paula Perretty

Gotu kola is a small aquatic annual that belongs to the same family as carrots. It has a long history as a medicinal herb in traditional Ayurvedic Chinese medicine. Eastern people attribute the long life and remarkable memory of animals, such as the elephant, to their feeding on the gotu kola plant. Many people of the Orient claim that consuming at least a couple of leaves of gotu kola in a salad a day can extend the life span by as much as fifty years.

In Thailand, it is eaten raw as a salad leaf. It is thought to help maintain youthfulness. Gotu kola is a common leafy green used in Sri Lankan vegetarian cuisine. It is also used in afternoon pick-me-up juices. The herb also plays a part in the longevity myth of the Tai Chi Chuan master Li Ching-Yun. He purportedly lived to be 256, due in part to his regular use of traditional Chinese herbs, including Gotu Kola.

In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is known as “Brahmi” (the greatest of the great). It is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a brain food to improve all aspects of mental functioning, including comprehension, memory and recollection. It nourishes and supports the formation of quality blood as well as bone marrow and nerves. Gotu Kola is believed to retard the aging process and is used in the treatment of insomnia, stress, nervousness and disturbed emotions, memory loss and even serious nervous system disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. Considered “the herb of enlightenment,” gotu kola promotes mental calm and clarity and is often used in the practice of yoga and meditation.

In Chinese medicine, gotu kola is regarded as the primary herb for promoting longevity. Several famous Chinese centenarians, and Taoist “immortals” have sworn by gotu kola’s ability to help them keep their hair well into their 90’s. Traditionally, the herb was used to treat catarrh, upper respiratory infection and inflammation, boils, wounds, jaundice and other liver troubles, edema and circulatory problems, including high blood pressure. It has a long history of use as an aid for developing memory and intelligence.

Gotu kola is a mild adaptogen. It is also antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. It reduces anxiety, stimulates circulation, acts as a mild diuretic and a tonic for the nerves. It supports and nourishes the skin, blood, circulation and nerves. It helps with stress, depression, fatigue and diseases of the skin. It is most highly recommended by Western herbalists as an aid to mental alertness, memory and improved brain function.

Science recognizes three main “active” constituents in gotu kola. The first is asiaticoside, a type of natural antibiotic. The second constituent is a pair of chemicals, brahmoside and brahminoside (Bacoside A and B), which are glycosides that are diuretic and slightly sedative. The third is madecassoside, a strong anti-inflammatory agent.

Asiaticosides have been shown to stimulate the production of blood cells and to stimulate the immune system. Bacoside A assists in the release of nitric oxide. This allows the aorta and veins to relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. Bacoside B is a protein attributed to nourishing brain cells.

Besides being a popular single herb, gotu kola is an important ingredient in many popular formulas. It is a major ingredient in Ginkgo/Gotu Kola with Bacopa, which is used to enhance memory and brain function. It is also found in ENERG-V and Target Endurance, both energy-enhancing formulas. It is also found in X-A, a formula for enhancing sex drive; Men’s Formula and PS II, blends which help prostate problems; SUMA Combination, an adaptogenic blend; and finally in SF, a weight-loss blend.

Selected References

Herbal Medications by David G. Spoerke, Jr.
Herbs that Heal by Michael A. Weiner and Janet Weiner.
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra.
Centella asiatica, a Monograph by Ajay Padmawar