With leaves that are strangely reminiscent of a cerebellum, gotu kola is a regenerative herb known for its cognitive health benefits. Native to parts of South Africa, East Asia, and India, this tropical plant is commonly found near smaller bodies of water, growing in shaded areas.
Unlike the more familiar Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha, which helps the body combat stress, gotu kola is a nootropic, working to enhance cognitive performance and brain health. That may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits this restorative plant offers.
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What is Gotu Kola?
If you’re familiar with ashwagandha and are wondering about better herbs, gotu kola might just be your new herbal best friend. It has been studied for its ability to modulate neurotransmitters (aka helping calm your nerves), help joint pain, support healthy collagen levels, and support healthy cognition.
How Gotu Kola Benefits Your Brain, Mood, and Memory
When you think nootropics, or about herbs that may improve intelligence, ginkgo biloba is what might first come to mind. But while ginkgo has been used in Western cultures longer than gotu kola, gotu kola is emerging as a “brain health” herb as well. In one study that compared its effects with folic acid on patients who had suffered strokes, gotu kola was found to be equally effective at improving all the cognitive domains, but it’s more effective at improving memory after 60 days.1 In another study, it was found to improve cognition on mice, particularly older mice.2
Benefits of Gotu Kola for Anxiety and Stress
Move over, ashwagandha! Gotu Kola also has impressive anti-anxiety and stress-lowering properties. In one research study, male mice who were given gotu kola for five days before being sleep deprived for 72 hours, experienced lower anxiety, less oxidative damage, and better locomotor activity.3 And in a 2013 study of plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, gotu kola was identified as a potent herb for combating stress and anxiety.4
Benefits of Gotu Kola for Depression
As gotu kola can have a positive impact on feelings of anxiety or stress, it may have some antidepressant qualities as well. In a 2016 review of various gotu kola studies, a study was discussed where rats, who were given gotu kola in conjunction with chronic depression, were found to have better energy, behavior, and reduced cortisol levels, among other signs of lowered depression.5 In the same review, the herb was given as an antidepressant alternative to participants in a small study, and after 60 days, participants reported they felt less stressed, anxious, or depressed.5
Benefits of Gotu Kola for Sleep
Quality sleep is crucial for good health, but it can be one of the first areas to suffer when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. Gotu kola’s role in supporting overall nervous system health may also spill over into supporting a more restful, rejuvenating sleep. Although it has been shown to act as a sedative in animal studies, no research yet exists to see whether it has the same impact on humans.6 Given what we do know about this plant, better sleep could be an unexpected benefit of adding it to your daily wellness routine.
Benefits of Gotu Kola for Skin Health and Scarring
Dubbed “Tiger’s Herb” because of the way tigers love to rub against it when their skin needs soothing and healing, gotu kola has topical, as well as internal uses. Known for its wound-healing properties,7 one study found that it helped repair rats’ skin tissue after many different types of wounds, including skin infections, surface abrasions, and deeper cuts.8
Benefits of Gotu Kola for Pain and Joint Pain
Given its regenerative qualities, it’s perhaps not surprising that gotu kola has also been studied for its pain-reducing abilities. In a 2014 study, when rats induced with arthritis were given gotu kola, they had less inflammation, along with less bone and cartilage loss.9
With its many benefits, gotu kola can also be a valuable player in your immune support nutrition, alongside such heavy hitters as adaptogens, medicinal mushrooms, as well as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods, like turmeric and rosemary.
How to Get Gotu Kola
While it is possible to get your hands on dried or fresh gotu kola for infusions into teas, green smoothies, or even pesto, that can be a more costly and less efficient way to go, since the herb isn’t native to the United States.
Known prominently for its cognitive and skin supportive qualities, gotu kola may also have an impressive number of additional benefits, making it a valuable player in any daily wellness ritual. When used alongside other antioxidant herbs, probiotics, fiber and superfoods, gotu kola can be a remedy for healthy aging, brain function, and overall good health.