We Sri Lankans barely give it a second glance. We relish this round, serrated-edge leafy green in the ubiquitous sambol – chopped finely, mixed with onion, green chilli, coconut and tangy lime juice. Often, we use it in kola kendha (breakfast porridge) and the more adventurous deep fry it and toss it with chilli flakes and cashew nuts. But the humble Gotukola is a veritable pharmacy sprouting from the ground.
Gotukola, also called Indian Pennywort or Centella, is a native herb of Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Madagascar. It has been used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for the last 3000 years and was also referred to by early Western medicine in the French pharmacopoeia of 1884.
In the 21st Century, Gotukola is used as an active ingredient in tonics, oral slimming formulas, body-beautiful preparations, body firming products, wound healing and anti-ageing skincare products. Gotukola is said to help purify the blood, promote better circulation, increase energy, healthy skin, assist in helping with high blood pressure, rejuvenating and balancing the mind as well as being a nerve tonic, assisting with slimming, edema, helping with arthritis, rheumatism, treating of liver and kidney problems an anti-stress agent.
The saying “if it is too good to be true, then it usually is,” comes to mind when you start talking about this amazing herb, but in the case of Gotukola, much can be said for the properties it contains, and for this reason it has been successfully used for more than 3,000 years.
Indian yogis believe that Gotukola helps in their meditation, mental alertness and mental focusing. Students have also reported greater capacity for memory retention as it is thought to help produce neurotransmitters. Consuming Gotukola is also useful for bedridden patients since it assists with circulation, wound healing and bedsores. People with phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), varicose veins, gastric ulcers and other circulatory problems also report benefits from eating Gotukola.
Gotukola is also thought to increase energy and vitality as it helps with the regulating of blood sugar levels. This in turn, helps with combating hypoglycaemia, mental fatigue, depression and confusion. As Gotukola has high levels of thiamine (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) it assists in converting carbohydrates into glucose.
In the sub-continent, Ayurvedic medicine has utilized Gotukola for wound healing and as a mild diuretic. In India, Gotukola has a host of names including mandukparni, jalbrahmi, and just plain brahmi (not to be confused with bacopamonnieri, another ayurvedic plant also called brahmi). A centrepiece of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, it’s used to treat infected wounds, syphilis, eczema, psoriasis, lupus, and female disorders.
In England, where it’s known by the lowly name pennywort for its coin-shaped leaves, it was one of the earliest treatments for leprosy. In France, Gotukola was first identified and accepted as a pharmaceutical agent in the 1800s for its use treating diarrhea, dysentery, and female issues including infertility.
Taken internally, usually as a tea or other beverage, it’s considered an effective treatment for fever, dysentery, hepatitis, and recent research shows it boosts memory and relieves depression and anxiety. In Thailand, Gotukola is drunk as a cold beverage and considered a turn-back-the-clock health tonic.
In the Far East it is used for treatment of depression and longevity. Called the “Fountain of Youth” in China, Gotukola is revered as a herb that increases haemoglobin while decreasing urea and acid phosphate levels in the blood. As we age, our skins become thinner. Gotukola is said to have an effect on connective tissue and helps with the synthesis of collagen that thickens the skin. It is also believed to promote hair and nail growth. As a detoxifying agent, Gotukola is perfect as it is said to assist with destroying toxic accumulation in the brain and nerves while helping to rid the body of heavy metals. Gotukola can be planted in garden beds and in containers. It grows easily and its pretty round leaves are a lovely addition to any garden.