The recent heavy monsoon rains have turned the bottom of my garden into somewhat of a marshland and this has meant an explosion of gotu kola sprouting up everywhere. Intrigued I started reading up on this herb and wow what a herb it is! In fact it’s so bloody good for you, they sell it in capsules, as tea and concentrated oils in Health food shops worldwide at silly prices. I have an abundance of it so feeling just a little smug, let me tell you a little about it and give you some recipes for the fresh stuff if you can get your hands on it (I’m guessing Asian groceries in bigger cities if you are not lucky enough to find it in your garden – ok enough smugness for now 😉 ).
Gotu kola, also known as Centella Asiatica, is a low growing trailing herb that loves moist areas. It has rounded simple leaves, slender stems and inconspicuous flowers that form in short clusters. It is part of the parsley family native to tropical Asia (specifically Sri Lanka & India where it is grown commercially) and is also found in Hawaii and other tropical regions.
Gotu kola is a rejuvenative nervine recommended for nervous disorders, epilepsy, senility and premature aging. As a brain tonic, it is said to aid intelligence and memory. It strengthens the adrenal glands and cleanses the blood to treat skin impurities. It is said to combat stress and depression, increase libido and improve reflexes. It has also been indicated for chronic venous insufficiency, minor burns, scars, scleroderma, skin ulcers, varicose veins, wound healing, rheumatism, blood diseases, congestive heart failure, urinary tract infections, venereal diseases, hepatitis and high blood pressure.
In India, gotu kola is regarded as perhaps the most spiritual of all herbs. Growing in some areas of the Himalayas, gotu kola is used by yogis to improve meditation. It is said to develop the crown chakra, the energy center at the top of the head and to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which the leaf is said to resemble. It is regarded as one of the most important rejuvenative herbs in Ayurvedic Medicine. Sri Lankans noticed that elephants, renowned for their longevity, munched on the leaves of the plant. Thus the leaves became known as a promoter of long life. It is said to fortify the immune system, both cleansing and feeding it and to strengthen the adrenals. It has been used as a pure blood tonic and for skin health. It has also been used to promote restful sleep.
It is also mild diuretic that can help shrink swollen membranes, lessen edema and aid in the elimination of excess fluids. It hastens the healing of wounds.
Gotu kola has a positive effect on the circulatory system. It improves the flow of blood while strengthening the veins and capillaries. It has been used successfully to treat phlebitis, leg cramps, and abnormal tingling of the extremities. It soothes and minimizes varicose veins and helps to minimize scarring.
It reduces scarring when applied during inflammatory period of the wound. It was found effective when applied on patients with third degree burns, when the treatment commenced immediately after the accident. Daily local application to the affected area along with intramuscular injections, limited the shrinking of the skin as it healed. It is known to prevent infection and inhibit scar formation. It is also useful in repairing skin and connective tissues and smoothing out cellulite. HEAR THAT LADIES?!?
So, how can we consume this leafy wonder food? Traditionally the dried leaves were prepared as tea.
In Sri Lankan cuisine it is most often prepared as a mallum (මැල්ලුම), a traditional accompaniment to rice and curry, and goes especially well with vegetarian dishes, such as dhal, and jackfruit or pumpkin curry. In addition to finely chopped gotu kola, a mallum almost always contains grated coconut, and may also contain finely chopped green chilies, chili powder, turmeric powder and lime (or lemon) juice.
A very traditional dish is Kola Kenda. This is an ancient Sri Lankan herbal porridge made up of fresh juice of herbal green leaves, coconut milk and red (or white) raw rice.
Recipe for Kola Kenda (with Gotu kola)
- Gotu kola leaves loosely packed in a 500ml container.
- 1 1/2 cup of well cooked rice (prepared from white or red raw rice)
- About 1 L of water
- 7-8 tbsp (heaped) of coconut powder (for convenience, see note (*) below if you wish to use scraped fresh coconut)
- 1 tsp of salt
- Crush the cooked rice with 1 cup of water for 10 second in an electric blender (or pestle and mortar) and put into a sauce pan.
- Dissolve the coconut powder in 1/2 cup of water and add to the rice.
- Add salt and bring to boil in medium heat.
- Blend the gotu kola with 1-2 cups of water in an electric blender and strain the juice well.
- Add the juice to the boiling mixture and stir continuously.
- Add the rest of the water.
- Remove from fire when the kola kenda starts to boil. Leave for few minutes to cool.
- Enjoy with a piece of jaggery to counteract the bitterness.
* If you prefer to use fresh scraped coconut skip point 2) above and add the scraped coconut to the gotu kola in point 4) instead.
** Some add pepper, lime (or lemon) juice, finely chopped onion and/or garlic for added taste.
Other leaves used in kola kenda other than gotu kola can include:
- Iramusu – Hemidesmus indicus
- Mukunuwenna – Alternanthera sessilis
- Karapincha – Murraya koenigii
- Hatawariya leaves and roots – Asparagus racemosus
- Welpenela – Cardiospermum halicacabum
- Polpala – Aerva lanata
- Ela batu leaves – Solanum melongena
- Monarakudumbiya – Vernonia cinerea
- Wel thibbatu leaves – Solanum trilobatum
- Heen Bowitiya – Osbeckia octandra
- Neeramulliya – Asteracantha longifolia
- Kohila leaves and stem – Lasia spinosa
- Heen Undupiyaliya – Desmodium triflorum
- Divul leaves – Limonia acidissima
Even if the initial taste is not to your liking, it grows on you. Try it!