Gotu Kola

Posted to Subscribers on 28 February 2012


Dear Subscribers,

Perhaps this needs to begin with one of those "many years ago" lines because when the American Herbalists Guild was in its embryonic stages, I attended an agonizingly long evening in a private home in which the pundits were facing an embarrassing dilemma of whether the herb that had made it to the top of the hit list had even been correctly identified. With hindsight, the confusion is much easier to understand than it was that night. Basically, two very famous rasayana herbs are called Brahmi and while they are different, they share some attributes so that today, decades later, we can actually say, "both Brahmis" or "the two Brahmis". These are Bacopa and Gotu Kola.

Try to keep in mind that the ancient texts in both Tamil and Sanskrit preceded Linnaeus, not to mention photography, by a couple of thousand years. The questions of identity do not go away easily because there has been confusion over Bacopa and its ID going back to the 16th century. This, however, is not true of Gotu Kola which is the Sinhala name for Centella asiatica. It is, in fact, native to Sri Lanka and India but is found as far east as Melanesia and as far west as Africa. It's an annual and is aquatic and therefore highly Gotu Kola Extractsensitive to pollutants in the water. However, just as it can be used for ecological rehabilitation, it performs some of the same wonders for the body.

Gotu Kola is used in cooking, often with coconut and spices. When prepared with thick rice, it makes a sort of porridge that is considered very nutritious and restorative. When used medicinally, Gotu Kola is considered to be primarily a brain tonic, but it is also used as a general nervine and anti-ulcer medicine. It is an adaptogen and anxiolytic, meaning it has been used to prevent anxiety and panic attacks. I might need some!

Traditionally, Gotu Kola is used on open sores, including such serious and difficult to treat diseases such as leprosy, but what has captured the attention of modern society is what are called nootropic properties. Basically, these are constituents of plants that enhance cognitive powers. They are of special interest to those dealing with everything from attention deficit disorder to Alzheimer's disease, you might say early onset interference with the brain and late onset dementia of some degree or other. After the Flower Children Era, it ought not to surprise anyone if dozens or perhaps one or two hundred plants came to be regarded as somehow useful in improving the way the mind works, including the ability to perceive, interpret, and remember. So, basically, if an herb can cross the blood-brain barrier or help us to relax or concentrate or think more clearly or see beyond the veil, it is potentially going to be tossed into the nootropic bin where it will be lumped together with a lot of plants that are not legal for personal or medicinal purposes. Gotu kola is legal!

Having watched the herb circus of the early 90s, I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, but Gotu Kola finally got my undivided attention when I was trying to organize what we know or think we know about rejuvenation. Then, a siddhar, Machamuni, who used Gotu Kola for kaya kalpa was found on my radar. He lived to be more than 300 years of age. He authored many books on various forms of yoga, again A to Z: Hatha Yoga to Tantric Yoga.

Now, let's say I invite you to play in my sandbox. In one of his songs, Siddhar Machamuni says that Bogar was one of his main teachers, this is the same Bogarnatha that I have written about several times now, the one who is said to have gone to China where he took the dead body of an old man and became known as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism. Now, let's fast forward to almost contemporary times.

There was a famous Chinese Taoist master who also relied heavily on Gotu Kola for his remarkable longevity. He died in 1933, perhaps at the age of 197 but some put the age higher, 256! What we know about Master Li is that he began studying herbs at the age of 10 and subsisted primarily on a diet of herbs and, according to the accounts, rice wine. Of these, four herbs figured prominently: Chinese knotweed, Gotu Kola, wild ginseng, and some kind of lycium berry. Some sources say "goji" and this is actually possible since in the first century of his life, he traveled in Tibet and Mongolia and gathered herbs that he sold. Later, he left the collecting of herbs to others but he continued to sell herbs and to live a life of spiritual discipline in which the emphasis was placed on tranquility of the heart and mind. He is said to have outlived 23 wives and to have fathered about 200 descendents.

Anyway, back to Gotu Kola . . .

Like many herbs that have made headlines, concrete studies ensue that eventually either support of refute ancient claims and popular legend. Not surprisingly, in the case of Gotu Kola, these concluded that its value in neurodegenerative diseases is significant. Naturally, this brought up issues of DNA and cancer and all the other scientific obsessions. The short list of additional virtues includes hypertension, ascites, and breast cancer. It has also been used in traditional medicine to treat psoriasis, syphilis, epilepsy, and diarrhea; and in modern times, varicose veins and venous insufficiency have added to the already long list. Why?

Let's see if our thinking is moving in the same direction and playing what many think is my favorite game: connect the dots.

What does a skin lesion have in common with epilepsy or neurodegenerative diseases? Those who have been reading my posts on spirochetes and parasites ought now to know that tiny creatures who bite often do significant damage to their victims. As if this were not bad enough, the subsequent infections can often be passed along by mother to child as well as between sexual partners. So, those dots connect well as do the ones that suggest that veins might be damaged by the very same microscopic creatures. Worse yet, these wiggly beings get into the central nervous system and brain where they modify behavior in ways we find disturbing. So, what does this aquatic plant do so well that one of the 18 siddhars — as well as a master herbalist who lived longer than anyone of modern record — relied on it for longevity?

First of all, Gotu Kola has nothing to do with other similar sounding words. Kola is Sinhala for leaf, so the name means "conical leaf". Gotu kola is "sattvic" meaning that it promotes a deep sense of harmony. My memory is slipping. I have been writing some descriptions of tamasic, rajasic, and sattvic foods and herbs but am not sure whether or not I have posted them yet. The handwriting is on the wall: time to take Gotu Kola!

What Master Li said is that he attributed his longevity to the practices he used to maintain inner balance. In our toxic world, many people are quick to explode, quick to attack, and perhaps slow in learning the art of harmony. Tamasic foods and herbs are dulling and when consumed in excess lead to congestion and stagnation of energy. For all intents and purposes, all food that is hard to digest, that is so old that it has been separated from its prana, as well as food from animals is tamasic. I would probably like to add to this short list but perhaps another day. Food that is stimulating is rajasic. These have strong flavors and are often spicy. Sattvic foods are more elegant and they help us to refine our bodies and the minds that must learn how to master the bodies through which those minds seek expression. Gotu Kola is one of these herbs.

In addition to all that has been mentioned, Gotu Kola aids regeneration. It is believed that this is due to its influence on connective tissues so whether we are talking about skin repair or healing of joints, this is an herb to consider, but some people suggest using it for six weeks, suspending use for two weeks, and then starting again. Older people should start with smaller doses. Some Western sites advise against giving Gotu Kola to children. Sri Lankans would not agree as this is favored treatment for intestinal worms as well as cough and congestion. Finally, some sources regard Gotu Kola as an aphrodisiac. Given the life of Master Li, this idea might have some merit.

Many blessings,



Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2012


Ayurvedic Herbs




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Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2012

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