Centella, (Centella asiatica L. Family: Umbelliferae) is a small, herbaceous annual plant that is widely grown throughout Asia and consumed mostly in Thailand and India. We also know it by another popular name of gotu kola. The aerial parts rather than the roots are the key sources of any functional medicine. The plant is a true weed of canals, ditches and waterways with running water although it has considerable tolerance to pollution. Fortunately, its habitat of choice makes it easy to harvest and its use has grown immeasurably. Naturally, it has been the focus of a great deal of pharmaceutical interest.
It is part of the Ayurvedic and traditional chinese medicine system. It is a common extract in personal care and cosmetic products which rely on improving the skin.
It is a rich source of many bioactive compounds including phenolics such as asiatic acid, asiaticoside, brahmoside, brahmic acid, brahminoside, centelloside, centic acid, cenellic acid madecassic acid, madecassoside, thankiniside, isothankunisode, madasiatic acid. The main vitamins present are vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C and niacin.
It is claimed to have a huge range of health benefits and studying the traditional texts hint that anything might be treated. In general terms many of its benefits include anti-inflammatory, wound healing and memory-enhancing properties according to a major review by Seevaratnam et al., (2012) but the phenolics are generally sensitive to heat and oxygen (Niamnuy et al., 2013).
In the traditional medicine systems it is used to treat a vast variety of conditions and diseases. These include many viral, parasitic and bacterial infections. For example, urinary tract infection, cholera, leprosy, shingles, syphilis, dysentery, influenza, common cold, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis and so on. It can also treat a variety of skin complaints including wound healing a and scar reduction. Some claim it reduces pregnancy stretch marks.
Gotu kola (centella) is also a treatment for various mental health issues associated with anxiety and fatigue, depression as well its memory-enhancing benefits. It has also been used to treat jaundice, ulcers of various types, asthma, diabetes and sunstroke. A number of blood flow related conditions are claimed to be improved along with trauma. We know that women take it to improve sexual desire but also prevent pregnancy and turn round the menstrual cycle.
Many more of these conditions are covered on the WebMD web-site.
The Biochemistry Of Action
The main componentry seems to reduce inflammation which may explain many of its general healing properties. Some of the compounds help to reduce blood pressure mainly by improving vasodilation. There is also stimulation of collagen synthesis which explains its general skin healing benefits.
Generally, there is still plenty to understand about the compounds contained within the plant extract.
Niamnuy, C., Charoenchaitrakool, M., Mayachiew, P., Devahastin, S. (2013). Bioactive compounds and bioactivities of Centella asiatica (L.) Urban prepared by different drying methods and conditions. Drying Technology, 31, pp. 2007–2015.
Seevaratnam, V., Banumathi, P., Premalatha, M.R., Sundaram, S.P., Arumugam, T. (2012). Functional properties of Centella asiatica (L.): a review. Int. J. of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 4, pp. 8–14.
Xu, Y., Cao, Z., Khan, I., & Luo, Y. (2008). Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) extract enhances phosphorylation of cyclic AMP response element binding protein in neuroblastoma cells expressing amyloid beta peptide. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 13(3), pp. 341-349 https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad00806
Revised 07/02/2019 with further additions of treatments and names.