The upper parts of this creeping, low-growing green plant in the Apiaceae (Carrot/Umbel) family are used as medicine. The leaves are simple, ovate, and a medium green and can be eaten as a salad green fresh. Gotu kola is indigenous to southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, parts of China, and Madagascar and grows primarily in shaded damp grounds on the banks of streams and ponds or near rice fields. It is primarily wild-harvested in India and southeast Asia for food and medicine, although it can be grown in the Pacific Northwest as an annual. The taste of the fresh herb is a slightly sour and salty green, while the dry is more grassy, salty, and mineral-y.
This herb has a long history of use as food and medicine in India and China and is considered a “rasayana” herb in Ayurveda, meaning it is a long-life supportive and tonic herb.
The primary constituents identified in gotu kola are saponins, alkaloids, and triterpene acids. The triterpenoid saponins thought to exert the most effects are asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic acid, and madecassic acid.
Its primary actions are as a nervous system tonic, circulatory stimulant, anti-inflammatory, alterative, vulnerary, and mild adaptogen.
The vulnerary properties of gotu kola, both topically for wound-healing and internally for healing of gastrointestinal wounds, such as ulcers, have been ascribed to asiaticoside,which seems to increase wound healing and scar reduction. Gotu kola has been shown to increase the synthesis of collagen, which leads to its use topically in skin care. Other effects, including its anti-inflammatory properties, seem to indicate an increase of connective tissue repair in general, so gotu kola is used to aid in healing of tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries and joint inflammation.
Gotu kola has long been used to decrease mental fatigue by increasing attentiveness and concentration, increase memory, and reduce premature aging. As a nervine, gotu kola is used for balancing the nervous system to reduce symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. It is considered an anti-stress herb because has been shown to reduce stress-induced ulcers, decrease adrenal enlargement and possesses corticosteroid-sparing effects, which leads to its categorization in some texts as an “adaptogen”, helping the body adapt better to stressful conditions and reducing stress-related negative effects on the body.
As a circulatory stimulant, this herb has been shown in studies to help with chronic venous insufficiency. It is partly due to this effect that gotu kola is thought to increase focus, concentration, and memory because it allows more blood flow to the brain. It is also traditionally used to increase venous health and strength in cases of varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and the like.
Potential adverse effects of gotu kola include skin irritation and photosensitization (increased sensitivity to light). In large doses (over 1000 mg/day), headaches or sedation can occur (which may be desirable in the evening). Because gotu kola may increase blood sugar and blood lipids, it may not be a good choice in high amounts for those with diabetes.