This perennial member of the parsley family produces clusters of scalloped leaves and tiny white or pink flowers on low-growing plants. Native to tropical and subtropical climates in Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia, gotu kola has traditionally been used to lengthen life and is one of the most important plants used in Ayurvedic medicine. According to South Asian folklore, the elephant acquired its long life and remarkable memory by eating large amounts of gotu kola leaves.
Common Names: Gotu Kola, Indian Pennywort
Description: Low-growing, creeping evergreen perennial with round, scalloped leaves; clusters of small white or pink flowers are followed by small, oval fruits
Hardiness: To Zone 9
Parts Used: Leaves
Range/Habitat: Tropical and subtropical climates in Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia; near water
In Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka, gotu kola leaves are eaten raw in salads (often combined with freshly grated coconut and lime juice) or cooked in curries, chutneys, and sauces. The leaves are also juiced and consumed as a beverage.
Gotu kola is used to help heal superficial wounds and skin problems, such as psoriasis; to reduce scarring after surgery; and to improve circulation and memory. Its leaves contain glucosides—potent healing agents with anti-inflammatory properties. This explains the herb’s ability to accelerate the formation of collagen and reduce the formation of scar tissue. Gotu kola, which also has adaptogenic properties, is a common ingredient in topical preparations used to treat burns, sunburn, and wounds.
Gotu kola strengthens veins by stimulating the development of connective tissue, and it can be helpful in the treatment of varicose veins and edema. The herb also contains precursors to the neurotransmitters that are important for memory and learning.
Caution: Gotu kola may cause sensitivity to sunlight. The herb should not be taken by women who are pregnant or nursing, or by children younger than 2 years old.
How to grow it
Gotu kola grows abundantly in marshy and wet areas. Plant the seeds in spring in moist to wet soil in partial shade, and allow it space to spread out—this plant produces plenty of runners. In Zone 8 and colder, grow gotu kola in a container and move it indoors when temperatures drop in fall. Indoors, mist the plant often and, if your home is dry, consider enclosing it in plastic to increase humidity. Keep the soil evenly moist indoors and outdoors. Harvest gotu kola leaves year-round. Propagate by root division in spring or fall.
Remember This Herb
Gotu kola is one of those wonderful herbs that should be used more widely in the United States. Numerous clinical studies have shown how beneficial it can be for various conditions. In one study, people who used a standardized extract of gotu kola had faster reaction times and increased cognitive performance and memory compared with those who took a placebo. The study’s authors suggested that this plant might increase alertness and exert a calming effect, improving attention and memory.
Another clinical trial demonstrated gotu kola’s efficacy in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency (a condition where, due to malfunctioning leg vein valves, the leg veins cannot pump sufficient oxygen-poor blood back to the heart), which affects up to 5 percent of the population in the United States. According to another study, gotu kola could also help people afflicted with the leg condition flight microangiopathy, a condition of the blood vessels that includes blood circulation and coagulation problems and which can occur during long air flights.