Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is now being used in Europe for its effects on mental function. New research in India explores the effects of an aqueous (water) extract of the fresh leaf on learning and memory. Gotu kola has sometimes been confused in the popular and medical media with cola nut, a source of caffeine and cola beverages. The unrelated Indian food and medicinal plant called gotu kola contains no caffeine and is said to be the favorite food of the Indian elephant. Also known as Indian pennywort, this is a low-growing herb fond of moist and shady conditions.

The recent research follows on reports that Centella improves memory and helps overcome negative effects of stress and fatigue. Surprisingly, other research shows an alcohol extract has sedative effects on rats. Two studies have shown benefits to mentally retarded children, improving their IQ and behavior. The current study focused on one of the proposed mechanisms of activity, an effect on the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. The extract used was made by grinding fresh leaves with a small amount of water and expressing the extract One ml of the extract corresponded to .38 g of fresh leaves. However, dosages cited in the report are in terms of the flesh leaves. No toxicity was noted at any dosage level, from 0.1 to 16.0 g/kg of body weight The highest dose used would be equivalent to 1120 g (nearly 2.5 pounds for an average 154-pound human). This is excellent documentation of the safety of the plant, which has long been used as a food in much of Asia.

Test results showed an impressive improvement in memory in rats, which were treated daily with the extract (orally) for 14 days before the experiment. The retention of learned behavior in the rats treated with Centella was 3 to 60 times better than that in control animals. This correlated with a decrease in all the neurotransmitters in the treated animals. This indicates the chemicals (biogenic amines) are involved in learning and memory. The authors conclude, "In summary, the results of the present study prove that C. asiatica improves learning and memory process." (Nalini K, et al. "Effect of Centella asiatica fresh leaf aqueous extract on learning and memory and biogenic amine turnover in albino rats." Fitoterapia, 1992 63(3):232/237).

American Botanical Council.


By Rob McCaleb

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