Saturday, 19 January 2013

Gotu kola (Centella Asiatica)

Gotu kola is an evergreen perennial from the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) or Parsley family. It is also known as brahmi, European water marvel, Indian ginseng, Indian pennywort, hydrocotyle, horsehoof, spadeleaf, marsh penny and tiger's herb. It is native to East Asia, Africa and Australia but also grows widely in many other parts of the world, particularly tropical areas.

An image of a gotu kola (Centella asiatica) plant growing in a pot
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu kola is a really important herb and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It has very many medicinal uses including treatment for tuberculosis and leprosy, the pain of arthritis and rheumatism, as a blood purifier, for digestive problems and skin conditions. It is well known for its rejuvenation properties and as a brain food and a nervine. It is commonly described as the miracle elixir of life or fountain of youth.

Under the name fo-ti-tieng it was prescribed and taken by Professor Li-Ching-Yun, Chinese herbalist, who died in 1933 at the reputed age of 256 ('Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine' by Thomas Bartram). 

Growing gotu kola

Sow the seed during the spring under cover or in the autumn in an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel. Seeds can be difficult to germinate. Emerging seedlings should be transfered into pots until large enough to be planted outside. Plants grow to around 0.2m in height and are frost tender. Gotu kola prefers boggy soil, damp rocky areas and shady conditions although it will grow in full sun as long as it is kept moist.

Although it is an evergreen perennial it can be killed off during the cold winter months of the British Isles. It is probably best grown outside during the summer and kept under cover during the winter or grown as an annual. It can easily be propagated by division during the summer and will root at the nodes. It is a low growing creeping plant which can be used as ground cover. The purple flowers are small and inconspicuous.

Plants can be purchased from Poyntzfield Herb Nursery. We obtained our seeds from Horizon Herbs in America. We have also seen seeds for sale on Amazon and Ebay.

Raw edible parts

The leaves and stems are edible raw and are quite pungent and aromatic, similar to parsley. Although some people like to eat the leaves on their own, we prefer them mixed with other bland green leaves. The fresh or dried leaves can be made into a caffeine-free and theobromine-free tea. Dried leaves can be ground down into a fine powder for culinary use e.g. in smoothies, nut milks, raw cakes, raw crackers, etc.

If you can't grow it for any reason, Raw Living sell a powder and an extract.


Gotu kola can cause photosensitivity. It is best avoided by diabetics as it can interfere with drug treatments. It is an abortifacient and excessive use should be avoided by pregnant women. ('Traditional Herbal Medicines: a guide to their safer use' by Dr L. Karalliedde and Dr I. Gawarammana).

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