Centella asiatica, a perennial herb also known as gotu kola, produces fan-shaped, green leaves that are harvested and used for medicinal purposes. Native to China, Japan, India and Indonesia, the herb has a long history of use in these areas. Medical practitioners in the United States and Europe have recently taken an interest in the herb for its possible health benefits. Although Centella asiatica appears safe when taken as directed, the University of Maryland Medical Center warns against taking the herb for longer than six weeks without consulting a doctor. Also, individuals with liver disease or a history of cancerous skin lesions should not take Centella asiatica. Always talk to your doctor before self-treating with this or any other herb, especially if you currently take prescription medications.
Centella asiatica may help reduce swelling and improve circulation in individuals with venous conditions such as varicose veins and venous insufficiency, a condition that causes blood to pool in the legs. One study, published in Angiology in 2001, examined patients with venous hypertension taking placebo or Centella asiatica for a period of four weeks. At the end of the study, individuals taking Centella asiatica experienced a significant reduction in ankle edema, swelling, pain, cramps and tiredness in the lower extremities compared to placebo. Researchers noted that a dosage of 180 mg a day was more effective in reducing symptoms associated with venous hypertension than lower doses.
Traditionally used to treat minor wounds, Centella asiatica contains chemicals known as triterpenoids that appear to speed wound healing, boost antioxidants at the wound site, strengthen the skin and increase blood supply to the wounded area. A study published in 2006 in the International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds examined the effects of Centella asiatica on wounds in rats. The study found that wounds treated with Centella asiatica leaf extract contracted and healed significantly faster than untreated wounds. Though human trials are lacking, this evidence appears to confirm the herb's traditional use as a wound healer.
Centella asiatica's triterpenoids may also decrease anxiety and increase mental function in some individuals. According to one study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2000, patients given Centella asiatica were less startled by a new noise 30 to 60 minutes after taking a single dose than patients who did not take the herb. While these findings suggest that Centella asiatica may have anti-anxiety activity in humans, researchers note that its therapeutic efficacy for treating anxiety symptoms remains unclear.
Healers have used Centella asiatica to treat a variety of ailments for thousands of years including leprosy, eczema, psoriasis, respiratory infections, ulcers, colds, hepatitis, epilepsy, fatigue, fevers, asthma and syphilis. In Chinese medicine, Centella asiatica is also known as the “fountain of life” herb because it supposedly increases longevity. Though scientific study has yet to prove the efficacy of gotu kola for these disorders, herbalists sometimes prescribe the herb for the treatment of insomnia, scleroderma, cancer, circulatory disorders, hypertension, memory loss, scars and cellulite.