Centella asiatica – The Brain Food and the Miracle Elixir of Life

An Overview, Benefits, Side Effects and Interactions

Best used as a revitalizing herb that strengthens nervous function and memory

Family Name: Apiaceae (previously known as Umbelliferae)

Botanical Name: Centella asiatica (Linn.) Urban, Hydrocotyle asiatica Linn.

English Name: Indian pennywort, Asiatic pennywort, Gotukola

Hindi Name: Bengsag (बेंगसाग)

Sanskrit Name: Mandukaparni, Mandooki (मण्डूकपर्णी, माण्डूकी)

Charaksamhita: Tikta skandh, Prajasthapan, Vayasthapan

Sushrutsamhita: Tikta varg

Taste: Bitter (Subtaste – Astringent)

Nature: Cold

Parts Used and Season of collection: All parts of the plant. Flowering in spring and fruiting in summer.


C.asiatica is a small perennial plant that grows about 20 cm tall. The stems are slender, creeping stolons green to reddish-green in color, connecting plants to each other[2]. Leaves are round, kidney-shaped, around 2 cm (0.79 in) and have toothed margins[1]. Flowers are white or crimson, subsessile, in umbels (minute, 3-6 in cluster). Fruits are small, like a grain of barley, 7-9 ridged compressed[1], [5].

In India the plant was earlier confused with Bacopa monnieri Wettst., as both plants have been sold in the market by the name “Brahmi”. However, the controversy has been resolved and it is concluded that Brahmi is B.monnieri and mandookaparni is C. asiatica[8].


E. Asia – India, China, Nepal, Madagaskar, SriLanka, Indonesia and Japan. Commonly found in lowland hills, waste places, gardens and shady localities. Centella asiatica found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of India up to an altitude of 600m[1], [8].

Chemical Constituents

C.asiatica contains amino acids, asiatic, asiaticoside, centic, centellic, centoic and pectic acids, carotene, centellose. Leaves: Protein, 3-glucosylquercetin, 3-glucosyl- and 7-glucosyl-kaempferols; root: polyacetylenes I-V[3].

Mode of Action

  1. Ayurvedic Doshas: C.asiatica balances Kapha and Pitta doshas.
  2. C.asiatica is neuroprotective and antioxidant[16].
  3. C.asiatica is alterative, antidiarrhoeal, antidysenteric, antidiabetic, vulnerary, diuretic and tonic[3].
  4. It was historically known as “Snow plant” for the reason of its cooling properties[10].
  5. C.asiatica contains certain chemicals that seem to decrease inflammation and also decrease blood pressure in veins. It also seems to increase collagen production, which is important for wound healing[11].

Therapeutic Benefits

  1. C.asiatica is chiefly valued as a revitalizing herb that strengthens nervous function and memory, hence primarily known as a “Brain food” in India.
  2. It is one of the effective herbs for treating skin problems, to heal wounds, and for scars and stretch marks.
  3. It is used mainly in the bowel complaints such as indigestion in children, applied both externally and internally as poultice and powder respectively in the treatment of leprosy and syphilitic ulcers[3].
  4. Formulation of 5% Chromolaena odorata and 1% C. asiatica extract is stable and suitable for further testing as a topically applied product[7].
  5. Leaf extract is taken orally to cure dysentery and improve memory power[9].
  6. Applying C.asiatica to second-degree burns seems to decrease the time that it takes for burns to heal[11].
  7. Taking C.asiatica or its specific extract (Centellase) by mouth for 4-8 weeks seems to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling in people with poor blood circulation in the legs (varicose veins and venous insufficiency)[11].
  8. A study assessed the antioxidant property in elderly persons at doses of 500 and 750 mg per day for 90 days, where, the CAE improved the strength especially in the lower extremities of the elderly. The study also proved it as a natural resource for vigor and strength increase, in healthy elderly persons[16].

Edible Uses

Leaves and young shoots are consumed as vegetable[4]. Raw Pennywort is used in salads and as an accompaniment to rice, curries and vegetarian dishes such as dal. The centella fruit-bearing structures are discarded due to their intense bitter taste. Centella leaves are also used in modern sweet “pennywort” drinks and herbal teas. In Northeast India, it is locally known as ‘Changkong che’ and is widely used as chutney along with dried red chili and fermented fish called ‘nga-thu’ or ‘ngari'[2]. The leaves are stir-fried whole in coconut oil/edible oil with garlic and other spices and added to vegetarian dishes/dal for extra flavour[M].

Side Effects and Risk Factors

  1. Pregnancy: It is is POSSIBLY SAFE for pregnant women when applied to the skin. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if gotu kola is safe to take by mouth when pregnant[11], hence should be AVOIDED. Also, it is postulated that chronic treatment may prevent women from becoming pregnant by causing spontaneous abortion[13].
  2. Breastfeeding: There is insufficient evidence regarding the safety of C.asiatica in Breastfeeding, hence should be AVOIDED in BreastFeeding[11].
  3. When taken by mouth: It is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people for up to 6 weeks. Drowsiness, nausea, stomach upset  may occur after consuming it. Adverse effects on liver function may happen when used for many months[2], [11]. People taking the herb for an extended period of time (up to 6 weeks) should take a 2-week break before taking the herb again[12].
  4. When applied to the skin: It is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people for up to 12 months. Gotu kola may cause itchiness and redness[11].
  5. LIver disease: People who already have a liver disease should avoid using gotu kola[11].
  6. Surgery: Stop using gotu kola at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery[11].


There have been no reports documenting negative interactions between C.Asiatica and medications to date[12].

  1. Medications that promote sleep or reduce anxiety: Since high doses of C.Asiatica can cause sedation, it was warned that individuals should avoid this herb with medications that promote sleep or reduce anxiety[14].
  2. Hypoglycaemic therapy and cholesterol lowering agents: Theoretically, CAsiatica was postulated to interfere with blood glucose levels and thus also possibly interfere with the existing hypoglycaemic therapy and cholesterol lowering agents[15], [13].



  1. DRAVYAGUNA-VIJNANA Vol.2 (vegetable Drugs) by Prof. P.V.Sharma, Chaukhambha Bharati Academy, Varanasi, Sixteenth Edition:1995.
  2. Centella asiatica – Wikipedia
  3. Domap: Database of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Rajasthan
  4. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Author- Chevallier.A, Publisher- Dorling KIndersley. London, 1996, 9-780751-303148
  5. International Journal of Parmaceutical Sciences and Research
  6. CENTELLA ASIATICA (L.): A PLANT WITH IMMENSE MEDICINAL POTENTIAL BUT THREATENED by Sakshi Singh*, Asmita Gautam, Abhimanyu Sharma and Amla Batra. Lab no. 5, Department of Botany, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, India
  7. Rajendran K., Balaji P and Basu Jothi M., Medicinal plants and their utilization by villagers in southern districts of Tamil Nadu, Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, 7(3) (2008) 417-420.
  8. William A. Emboden., The ethnopharmacology of Centella asiatica (L.) Urban (Apiaceae), J. Ethnobiol., 5(2) (1985) 101-107.
  9. Gotukola – Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage … – WebMD
  10. Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all, Kashmira J. Gohil, Jagruti A. Patel, and Anuradha K. Gajjar, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Sep-Oct; 72(5): 546–556. Website
  11. Dutta T, Basu UP. Crude extract of Centella asiatica and products derived from its glycosides as oral antiferility agents. Indian J Exp Biol. 1968;6:181. []
  12. No author listed. Centella: Monographs for herbal medicinal products. 2007. [consulted on 2008 May 12]. available from: http://www.mohp.gov.eg/Sec/Statistics/hplants.pdf .
  13. Kartnig T. Clinical applications of Centella asiatica (L) urb. In: Craker LE, Simon JE, editors. Herbs, spices, and medicinal plants: Recent advances in botany, horticulture, and pharmacology. Phoenix AZ: Oryx Press; 1986. pp. 145–73. []
  14. Mato L, Wattanathorn J, Muchimapura S, Terdthai Tongun T, Piyawatkul N, Yimtae K, et al. Centella asiatica improves physical performance and health related quality of life in healthy elderly volunteers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med; 2009;2:465–73. []

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