Gotu kola is a vine-like plant native to India and Southeast Asia. In India and Indonesia, gotu kola has a long history of use to promote wound healing and treat skin diseases. In Europe, extracts of Centella asiatica are used as drugs for the treatment of wound healing defects. Gotu kola should not be confused with Kola nut – which is completely unrelated and is often used in dietary supplements as a “natural” source of caffeine.
The use of gotu kola in cultural and traditional settings may differ from concepts accepted by current Western medicine. When considering the use of herbal supplements, consultation with a primary health care professional is advisable. Additionally, consultation with a practitioner trained in the uses of herbal/health supplements may be beneficial, and coordination of treatment among all health care providers involved may be advantageous. Gotu kola is also known as Centella asiatica, Indian pennywort, marsh penny, white rot, thick-leaved pennywort, hydrocotyle, Indian water navelwort, and talepetrako. Gotu kola has been used orally for muscle and joint stiffness and pain and skin afflictions. Gotu kola has been used topically for wound healing, leprosy sores, and post-operative scarring.
Gotu kola has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years in India, China and Indonesia. Its ability to heal wounds, improve mental clarity, and treat skin conditions such as leprosy and psoriasis were important reasons for its extensive use in these countries. It has also been called one of the "miracle elixirs of life" because legend has it that an ancient Chinese herbalist lived for more than 200 years as a result of using the herb.
The primary benefits of Gotu kola appear to be an enhancement of wound healing and an improvement in overall vein function (especially for varicose veins and hemorrhoids). Gotu kola represents a good value for people who suffer from varicose veins or swollen ankles as well as for anybody recovering from a connective tissue injury (muscle/tendon strain, ligament sprain, skin abrasion). Historically, gotu kola has also been used to treat syphilis, hepatitis, stomach ulcers, mental fatigue, epilepsy, diarrhea, fever, and asthma. Today, American and European herbalists use gotu kola for disorders that cause connective tissue swelling, such as scleroderma, psoriatic arthritis (arthritis occurring in conjunction with psoriasis), anklylosing spondylitis (arthritis of the spine), and rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies confirm some of the traditional uses and also suggest possible new applications for gotu kola, such as lowering high blood pressure, treating venous insufficiency (pooling of blood in the veins, usually in the legs, boosting memory and intelligence, easing anxiety, and speeding wound healing.
Gotu kola contains triterpenoids, compounds that have been shown to aid in wound healing. For example, animal studies indicate that triterpenoids strengthen the skin, increase the concentration of antioxidants in wounds, and restore inflamed tissues by increasing blood supply. Because of these properties, gotu kola has been used externally for burns, psoriasis, prevention of scar formation following surgery, recovery from an episiotomy following vaginal delivery of a newborn, and treatment of external fistulas (a tear at or near the anus). Triterpenoids (active compounds in gotu kola) have been shown to soothe anxiety and boost mental function in mice. A recent study found that people who took gotu kola were less likely to be startled by a novel noise (a potential indicator of anxiety) than those who took placebo. Although the results of this study are somewhat promising, the dose used in this study was extremely high, making it difficult to draw any conclusions about how gotu kola might be used by people with anxiety. When blood vessels lose their elasticity, blood pools in the legs and fluid leaks out of the blood vessels, causing the legs to swell (venous insufficiency). In a study of 94 people with venous insufficiency, those who took gotu kola reported a significant improvement in symptoms compared to those who took placebo. In another study of people with varicose veins, ultrasound examination revealed improvements in the vascular tone of those who took gotu cola.