Gotu kola is an herbaceous plant native to India, and now grown with frequency throughout much of China. As an herb, it is occasionally used in food, but its more common application is to make lotions, tinctures, teas and oral pills for use in traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurvedic medicine. You may find gotu kola called by its scientific name Centella asiatica or by a variety of synonyms like Asiatic pennywort, Indian pennywort, march pennywort, hydrocotyle or brahmi. You should not confuse this herb with the kola or cola nut, and it should be noted it does not contain caffeine or other stimulants.
In the US gotu kola is marketed as a nutritional supplement. This means that most of the statements regarding how it works, what it does, and whether it is safe and effective have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration. As with all herbal supplements, you should check with a licensed physician prior to taking it in order to determine whether this product is safe for you. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence supporting some of the claims made by manufacturers of gotu kola in tincture, supplement, or lotion form, but there are not many double blind clinical studies proving that it works.
As an ointment, gotu kola has been used directly on wounds to accelerate healing time and reduce scarring. It is considered mildly antiseptic, slightly antibiotic, and possibly may reduce swelling and pain. One application of gotu kola that is common, especially outside of the US, is its application directly on the skin of people who have leprosy. It does appear this use is viable, since the herb tends to increase and stimulate production of collagen, which helps to promote skin healing. Others find benefit in using this herb in an ointment or lotion form to promote wound healing after surgery, or to reduce overall joint and muscle pain due to conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and muscle or joint injury.
Some people take this supplement in oral form, since it is thought to be a mild relaxant or sedative, and may promote mental clarity. There are also myths that underlie one of its most common uses, as a supplement to promote longevity. No hard evidence exists to support this, though the herb has sometimes been referred to as the fountain of youth. As a topical, it might make a decent anti-aging ingredient for the skin, if it truly stimulates collagen production.
People who are considering using gotu kola should not do so if they are diabetic, since it can raise blood sugar, or if they have high cholesterol. Further, pregnant or nursing mothers should not use this herbal supplement. There is little evidence regarding the effects of this herb on children, and generally, without doctor’s consent, gotu kola should not be given to children.