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Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. 1879
pronounced: ken-TELL-uh ay-see-AT-ick-uh
(Araliaceae – the ivy family)
pronounced: hi-droh-KOT-ih-lee ay-see-AT-ick-uh, try-SAN-thuss ko-chin-chin-EN-siss
Common names: Pennywort, Asiatic Pennywort, Gotu Kola
The derivation of Centella is uncertain. It is thought it may be a diminutive of the Greek verb κεντεω (kenteo), to prick, stab, or sting. Asiatica is from asiaticus, botanical Latin for ‘from Asia’. The word Pennywort is used to describe several herbs whose leaves have approximately the diameter of a pre-decimal penny coin. Wort is from the Old English wyrt, a root, herb.
This is a small herbaceous annual native to India, Sri Lanka, northern Australia, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Melanesia, other parts of Asia and PNG. The plant was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River in 1770.
It is used as a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine, traditional African medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine.
The stems are slender creeping stolons, green to reddish green in colour, interconnecting one plant to another. It has long-stalked green kidney-shaped leaves with rounded apices, with a V-shaped slot where the leaf joins the petiole; they are smooth in texture with palmately netted veins. The leaves are borne on petioles normally around 2 cm long. The size of the leaves depends on climate and growing position – whether in sun or in shade. The smaller leaves usually hug the ground, and have a short petiole; but when the plants are grown in the shade, the leaves tend to be larger, and can have a petiole up to 20 cm long.
The rootstock consists of rhizomes, growing vertically down. They are creamish in colour, and covered with root hairs.
The flowers are pinkish to red, borne in small rounded umbels near ground level. Each flower is enclosed in 2 green bracts. The bisexual flowers are minute (less than 3 mm), with 5 – 6 corolla lobes per flower. Each has 5 stamens and 2 styles. The fruits are densely reticulate. The flowers are so small, and often hidden underneath the leaves, that they are generally not noticed at all. The seeds form in flat oval capsules, usually containing 2 tiny brown kidney-shaped seeds. The crop matures in about 3 months, and the whole plant, including the root, is harvested.
Centella is used as a leafy green in Sri Lankan cuisine, and it is here that it is called Gotu Kola. It is most often prepared as mallung, the finely chopped Gota Kola mixed with grated coconut and finely chopped green chillis, chilli powder, turmeric powder and lime or lemon juice. The mallung is used to accompany rice and curry. Most south-east Asian cuisines make use of Gota Kola in some shape or form.
In Thailand a brew of the leaves is used as an afternoon stimulant. A decoction of juice from the leaves is thought to relieve hypertension, and a poultice of the leaves is used to treat wounds.
Steroids isolated from the plant are used to treat leprosy. Various parts of the plant are claimed to revitalize the brain and the nervous system, increase attention span and concentration, and combat aging. In Thailand it is used for opium detoxification.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photograph taken in Picnic Bay, 2010, 2011
Page last updated 18th October 2016