Gotu kola is a creeping plant that propagates both by seeds and runners. It is a member of the carrot or parsley family, but I would never guess that by just looking at it. It’s so unlike the typical members of this family with their umbels and finely divided leaves. Native to tropical areas such as Pakistan, India, and Malaysia, it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, TCM, and herbal medicine in Southeast Asia as well as a food.
One of the most popular uses of gotu kola, and the first use I learned for it, was as a tonic for the brain. It’s been proven helpful for improving all aspects of mental functioning, including comprehension, memory, and recollection. As I understand, it’s one of the foods eaten by elephants and we’ve all heard the saying, “An elephant never forgets.” So, think of it as a remedy to keep your memory clear and your concentration focused.
In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is known as “Brahmi” (the greatest of the great). Considered “the herb of enlightenment,” gotu kola promotes mental calm and clarity and is often used in the practice of yoga and meditation.
Elephants also live a long time, and gotu kola also has a reputation as an anti-aging tonic. We do know that it has neuroprotective qualities, helping to prevent Alzhiemer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. So, if you want to keep your mind sharp as you age, it’s an herb you should seriously consider using regularly. It combines well with ginkgo and bacopa to help prevent cognitive decline, two herbs which also seem to improve memory and cognition, and slow the aging process, while protecting the brain and other tissues from damage.
Gotu kola has also been used as a treatment for disorders like epilepsy and schizophrenia. However, I think it would need to be combined with other remedies to be useful with these conditions.
The uses of gotu kola go way beyond its use for the brain. One of the major traditional uses of gotu kola is as a wound healer (vulnerary) and remedy for skin conditions. It has been used to help heal burns and psoriasis and has even been used to treat leprosy. Topical preparations have been shown to decrease stretch marks in pregnancy, tone up wrinkled skin, and prevent wounds from scarring while healing. It has also been used internally to help heal ulcers.
Gotu kola also has mild adaptogenic properties. It helps reduce anxiety and relieve depression. It can also improve sleep and reduce the effects of stress and fatigue.
Years ago I experienced the power of gotu kola to help with stress through a formula called GGC. The letters stood for ginseng (Siberian), gotu kola, and capsicum, the three herbs in the formula. The ginseng in the formula is now known as eleuthero root. Research had been done showing the formula increased endurance in rats by over 400%.
I had been put on the road on a three-and-one-half-week tour of the country for the herb company I was working with in order to promote the school I was putting together for them. We visited six cities a week, resting only on Sundays. We’d do a meeting in the evening, go to sleep at a hotel, wake up the next day to fly, or drive to the next location to do that night’s meeting and repeat the process.
By the end of two weeks, I was completely exhausted. I was touring with Jack Ritchson, a traditional naturopath, who recommended I use GGC and licorice root. I started taking both three times a day and my energy actually increased as I finished the other week and a half of the tour. As a result, I’ve long regarded the combination of eleuthero, gotu kola, and licorice as a great tonic for adrenal fatigue caused by stress.
Other Benefits of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola also has positive effects on circulation. It helps the venous circulation in the legs when people have peripheral artery disease. It can help to heal varicose veins and reduce blood pressure in the legs. It has a cardiotonic effect and can be helpful for high blood pressure when combined with other herbs.
Other possible uses for gotu kola include arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. It has an immune-modulating ability, which may be part of the reason it helps protect neurons during the aging process. It can also be helpful for inflammatory bowel disease, seizures, infertility, allergic reactions, and erectile dysfunction. It can also protect the body from radiation and has anticancer activity, which means it can be helpful, especially when combined with other adaptogens and tonics to help counteract the side effects of cancer treatments.
Gotu Kola as a Food
Gotu kola is also consumed as a food. In Thailand, it is eaten raw as a salad leaf. It is thought to help maintain youthfulness. Gotu kola is a common leafy green in Sri Lankan vegetarian cuisine (dhal) that include rice and curry. 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.
You can buy gotu kola plants if you want to try eating some fresh leaves. Otherwise, I recommend you purchase capsules or tinctures, or simply use it as part of a formula. Besides being used in formulas for the brain, you’ll also find it in formulas for energy, skin problems, and venous circulation.