Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
PLANT NAME: Centella asiatica (L.) Urb.
OTHER NAMES: Centella biflora, C. coriacea, C. erecta, Hydrocotyle asiatica, H. asiatica, H. biflora, H. erecta
COMMON NAMES: Pohe kula [Hawai'i]; gotu kola, marsh pennywort [USA]; ji xue cao ("accumulated snow"), luo dei da ("drop will strike"), ma ti cao ("horse's hoof") [China]; mandukaparni, muttil, kutannal [India]; kapukapu [Cook Islands]; tohetupou [Tahiti]; ghod tapre [Nepal]; totodro [Fiji]; tono [Samoa, Tonga].
Centella is derived from the Latin "centrum," meaning prickle. The fruit of Centella resembles two tiny needles.
The Chinese name luo dei da ("drop will strike") is a reference to pohe kula's use for bruises, sprains and injuries.
In Hawaiian, Hydrocotyle verticillata is called pohe, Tropaeolum majus is called pohe haole, and Centella asiatica is called pohe kula, or sometimes pohe for short.
FAMILY: Apiaceae (carrot family).
CATEGORY: Clear heat, cool the blood.
PROPERTIES: Sweet, bland, pungent. Bitter but tasty. Cool to cold.
PLANT PART USED: Whole plant.
TOXICITY: None noted.
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS: Some sources state that Centella may reduce fertility in animal studies, thins the blood, and may be hypoglycemic. I could not verify any of this with research studies, but I would not use it in pregnancy or with blood thinners. See Possible Drug Interactions.
PREPARATION OF MEDICINE: Fresh or dried. Can be put in salads in small doses.
DOSAGE: For trauma 1.5 grams dried 3 times per day. Fresh 1 - 3 leaves per day
STATUS IN HAWAI'I: Alien. Pest factor is minimal to moderate.
MERIDIAN AFFINITIES: Liver, spleen, kidney, heart, lung, large intestine.
WESTERN FUNCTIONS REPORTED: Alterative; analgesic; antidepressant; antimicrobial; antitoxic; antiviral; anodyne; anti-infectious; antipyretic; aphrodisiac; astringent; diuretic; immunomodulatory; improves circulation; increases longevity; insecticide; narcotic; nervine; refrigerant; sedative; stimulant; tonic; veterinary lactogogue.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE ENERGETIC FUNCTIONS (~ = extrapolated):
1) Clear heat, drain damp
2) Cool the blood
3) Invigorate blood
4) Clears heat and toxins
Pohe Kula Common Medicinal Uses
§ Low immunity
§ Vascular problems
§ Poor memory
§ Heart disease
Pohe Kula Cross-Cultural Medicinal Uses
§ Bleeding [China]; varicose veins [Europe]; hypertension; venous insufficiency.
§ Pregnancy-related stretch marks (striae gravidarum).
§ Blotchy skin [Hawai'i]; dermatosis [Malaya]; eczema [India (chronic)]; scabies and tinea / ringworm [China]; skin ulcers, rash, and redness [China, Fiji (leaf juice), India]; skin irritation due to "prickly heat"
§ Pimples [Fiji (leaf juice)].
§ Boils [Samoa]; abscesses [India].
§ Stomachache [Fiji (leaf juice)]; abdominal pain [China]; peptic ulcer [India]; bleeding ulcer [Fiji (leaf juice)].
§ Diarrhea [China]; dysentery [China, Philippines, South Pacific]; indigestion [Nepal, General]; vomiting [China].
§ Constipation [Fiji (leaf juice)].
§ Hemorroids [Fiji (leaves)].
HEAD AND THROAT
§ Juiced for eye ailments and nasally for migraines [Tonga]; red eyes [China]; cataract [India]; eye problems [Fiji (leaf juice), India, Samoa].
§ Headache [Philippines, South Pacific]; migraines [Samoa].
§ Swollen throat, tonsilitis [China].
§ Nosebleeds [China].
§ Jaundice, infectious hepatitis [China].
§ Boils, fistulas, furuncles and carbuncles with toxic swelling [China, Samoa].
§ Fever [China (high fever), India, Philippines, South Pacific]; chills and fever that come and go each season [China].
§ Cholera [India].
§ Elephantiasis [Brazil].
MUSCULOSKELETAL / TRAUMA
§ Trauma, falls, contusion [China]; wounds [Indonesia, Philippines]; fractures [China, Fiji (leaves and coconut oil)].
§ Rheumatism [Nepal]; painful and swollen joints [Fiji (leaf juice)]; spasms [Turkey].
§ Rib pain [Fiji].
§ Cold extremities, white fingers [Hawai'i].
§ Convulsions [Tonga].
§ Cancer [Mauritius]; abdominal tumor [India]; uterine cancer [Brazil].
§ Delayed closure of the fonatel [Tonga (leaves poulticed)].
§ Dysentery in children.
§ Childhood tidal fevers [China]; childhood convulsions [Fiji (leaf juice)].
§ Navel infection in babies [Tonga (leaves poulticed)].
§ Measles [China].
§ Anxiety neurosis; insanity [India].
§ Poor memory [Hawai'i, India, Nepal].
§ Impotence due to vascular disease [Hawai'i], (One of my Hawaiian teachers used to say "Pohe makes your rooster stand up and crow!")
§ Venereal disease [Samoa]; syphillis [Nepal].
§ Post partum weakness [Fiji (leaf juice)].
§ Unwanted pregnancy [Fiji (leaves in combination)].
§ Asthma, bronchitis; respiratory problems [China].
§ Tuberculosis; coughing blood [China]; pleurisy [China].
§ Urinary difficulty with stones or bleeding [China].
OTHER MEDICINAL USES
§ Used for arsenic poisoning [China].
§ General debility [India, Nepal].
§ Aversion / fear of cold [China].
§ Dizziness [China].
§ Hansen's Disease (leprosy) [Brazil, China, India, Malagasy, Nepal, Samoa, Turkey].
§ Scrofula [China].
USE AS FOOD: Edible, but I wouldn't eat more than 3-4 leaves per day.
CONSTITUENTS: 3 glucosylkaempferol, 3 glucosylquercetin, 7 glucosylkaempferol, alpha alanine, aluminum, aminobutyrate, ascorbic acid, asiatic acid, asiaticoside, aspartic acid, beta carotene, beta caryophyllene, beta elemene, beta farnesene, beta sitosterol, betulic acid, betulinic acid, bicycloelemene, brahmic acid, brahminoside, brahmoside, calcium, campesterol, camphor, carbohydrates, centellic acid, centellinic acid, centellose, centelloside, centoic acid, chromium, cineole, cobalt, elaidic acid, essential oils, fat, fiber, germacrene, germacrene-d, glucose, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, hydrocotyline, indocentelloside, indocentoic acid, inositol, iron, isobrahmic acid, isothankunic acid, isothankuniside, kaempferol, lignoceric acid, linoleic acid, lysine, madasiatic acid, madecassic acid, madecassoside, magnesium, manganese, medicassic acid, mesoinosital, methanol, myo inositol, n-dodecane, niacin, oleic acid, oxyasiaticoside, palmitic acid, p-cymol, pectin, pyridoxin (B6), phosphorus, potassium, protein, raffinose, rhamnose, riboflavin (B2), saponin, selenium, serine, silicon, sodium, stearic acid, stigmasterol, thankunic acid, thankuniside, thiamine (B1), threonine, tin, trans beta farnesene, vellarine, zinc.
POSSIBLE DRUG INTERACTIONS: Caution with Aspirin, Coumadin, Heparin, or any blood thinner. (speculative)
Pohe Kula Local Combinations
Skin disorders: Add Trifolium praetense (red clover) and Oxalis spp. ('ihi).
Impotence: Add Bacopa monnieri (brahmi).
Low immunity: Add Trametes versicolor (yun zhi) and Morinda citrifolia (noni).
Poor memory or heart disease: add Bacopa monnieri (brahmi).
Toxic swelling: Topical with salt [China].
Bleeding: 30 grams with Eclipta prostrata (han lian cao) [China].
Sore throat: Mix juice with vinegar [China].
Vomiting blood or blood in urine: With Eclipta prostrata (han lian cao) and Biota orientalis leaves [China].
Food poisoning: With Ipomoea reptans (water spinach) [China].
RANGE: From Australia and New Zealand, to South America and South Africa. Native to Asia.
HABITAT: In Hawai'i, (if it's not too dry) somewhere in your yard. Grows from sea level to 5000'.
PROPAGATION & CULTIVATION: No need.
Antimicrobial: Constituents are antimicrobial in vitro and in vivo against Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis [Medda 1995] May inhibit Herpes Simplex II Virus [Zheng 1989].
Cancer: Cytotoxic against Dalton's lymphoma ascites tumor and Erlich ascites tumor in mice [Babu & Kuttan 1995].
Cardiovascular: Demonstrates significant improvement in chronic insufficiency of the veins [Incandela & Cesarone 2001(c)], possibly through modifying mucopolysaccharide metabolism [Arpaia 1990]. It improves microcirculation in diabetics [Cesarone, Incandela, De Sanctis, & Bavera 2001(b)] and in airline passengers with varicose veins [Cesarone, Incandela, De Sanctis & Belcaro 2001(c)]. It is effective for venous hypertension [Belcaro 1990; Incandela, Belcaro, & De Sanctis 2001(a)] and secondary leg edema [Cesarone, Belcaro, & Rulo 2001(a)].
Constituents reduce atherosclerotic plaques in humans [Incandela, Belcaro & Nicolaides 2001(b)].
Cognitive: Various Centella extractions may increase cognition in rats [Veerendra 2003; Gupta 2003]. Certain asiatic acid derivatives are neuroprotective in rats, as well as being anti-oxidant and neuroprotective [Lee 2000(c), Veerendra 2003].
Digestion: Reduces digestive ulcer formation in rats [Cheng / Koo 2000; Cheng / Guo 2004; Sairam 2001; Chatterjee 1992].
Wounds: Centella is often used to speed the healing of wounds. Constituents speed wound healing in guinea pigs, [Shukla 1999] in rats, [Suguna 1996; Sunilkumar 1998] and increase human skin collagen levels in vitro [Bonte 1994, 1995; Maquart 1990]. Ingredients appear to be able to alter collagen production in such a way as to inhibit formation of hypertrophic scars, keloids, and stretch marks (striae gravidarum / striae distensae) [Bosse 1979; Widgerow 2000].
NOTES 'N QUOTES
§ Used by Confucius.
§ Legend has it that gotu kola was introduced to Hawai'i as medicine by a victim of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) who had cured himself of the affliction.
§ Called "Küpuna medicine" ("Elders medicine") in Hawai'i because of its function of improving memory.
§ "Eat one leaf per day, live an extra 25 years... two leaves per day, an extra 50 years... three leaves per day, live forever."
§ Special thanks to Robert Newman for his helpful translations
David Bruce Leonard is the founder of the Earth Medicine Institute and practitioner of all five branches of traditional Chinese medicine: acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, food medicine, martial arts.
David has studied traditional medicines with healers in Asia, North and South America, and Hawai’i. With a Master’s Degree in traditional Chinese medicine, he has a working knowledge of more than 400 traditional Hawaiian, Chinese, and Western plants. A deep ecologist and Hawaiian plant specialist, he has been a student of Hawaiian medicine under Kahu Kawika Ka’alakea, Kaipo Kaneakua and Na Kupuna ‘O Hawai’i since 1992.
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