769 Centella asiaticaCommon Names: gotu kola, coinwort, Asiatic coinwort, American coinwort, spadeleaf, Asiatic pennywort Family: Apiaceae (carrot Family)
Asiatic coinwort is a small creeping herb with shovel shaped leaves emerging alternately in clusters at the stem nodes. The runners lie along the ground and the inch long leaves with their scalloped edges rise above on long reddish petioles. The insignificant greenish- to pinkish-white flowers are borne in dense umbels (clusters in which all the flower stalks arise from the same point) on separate stems in the summer. The seeds are pumpkin-shaped nutlets 0.1-0.2 in (3-5 mm) long.
Asiatic coinwort appears to have originated in the wetlands of Asia. China, India, and Malaya were probably within its original range. It apparently spread through the South Pacific and to Mauritius, Madagascar, East and South Africa, Turkey, and the southeastern United States many centuries (or perhaps millennia) ago. Since Centella asiatica probably invaded these regions naturally (maybe by seeds carried on the feet of wading birds), and has long been integrated into their ecosystems, it should be regarded as a pantropical species and managed as a native wherever evidence for recent human introduction is lacking. Recent genetic studies have shown that the Centella in the southeastern United States is in fact a distinct species, to be called C. erecta (American coinwort), but it is very closely related to C. asiatica, and practically indistinguishable to all but the geneticists.
CultureCoinwort volunteers in sunny damp places like wetland edges, roadside ditches, and soggy lawns. It seems to prefer somewhat disturbed areas where the sandy soils have been heavily enriched with organic matter. Since this species is common in pine flatwoods, which are fire-maintained habitats, it can be assumed that it would recover or reestablish itself readily after a fire. Light: This plant likes sunshine. Moisture: Coinwort is a wetland plant. It will grow on flooded sites, floating its leaves on the surface like a waterlily, but it is happiest where the soil is wet, but its leaves are dry. It may disappear during a drought, but it will come back when the rains come. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 11. Propagation: Coinwort spreads by producing new plants on above-ground runners. The new plants can be separated from the parent plant once they have taken root. It should also be easy to start this plant from seed set in damp soil.
Coinwort (Asiatic or American) can be grown around the edges of a water feature, incorporated into a wet low maintenance, mixed species lawn, or kept in a well-irrigated corner of the herb garden. The leaves may be used in salads.
Under the name "gotu kola", Centella asiatica is revered as one of the great multi-purpose miracle herbs of Oriental medicine. It has been in use for thousands of years and has been employed to treat practically every ailment known to man at one time or place or another. Gotu kola is considered the most powerful of the rejuvenating herbs in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, where it is called "brahmi" meaning "greatest of the great."
In the Ayurvedic tradition, it is recommended for treatment of mental disorders, immune system deficiencies, circulatory problems, skin conditions, liver ailments, epilepsy, asthma and bronchitis, hair loss, tetanus, inflammation, rheumatism, and intestinal complaints. In Chinese medicine, gotu kola is regarded as the primary herb for promoting longevity. Its use is traced to LiChing Yun, a legendary healer who is said to have lived 256 years as a result of drinking gotu kola tea
In Western medicine, gotu kola is acknowledged to have value in strengthening the blood vessels and thereby improving circulation, in combating stress/depression/fatigue, in decreasing inflammation, in healing wounds and burns, and in treating rheumatism and intestinal and urinary disorders. It is regarded as particularly valuable in promoting circulation, healing, and positive attitude in the bedridden. In India, gotu kola is considered "the herb of enlightenment" and is sometimes burned in incense prior to meditation. It is thought to have great value in supporting spiritual practices by improving meditation, promoting clear dreams, and enhancing past life recall. It is regarded as useful in developing the crown chakra and in balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Gotu kola can be made into a tea by steeping 1-2 tsp of dried crushed leaves in a cup of boiling water.
If you like to impress your friends with your botanical knowledge, Centella asiatica (or C. erecta) is the plant for you! Grow this little lawn weed in a corner of your yard, then tell all your visitors that it is the same miracle herb they are paying big bucks for at the health food store. Hydrocotyle asiatica is sometimes listed as a synonym, but Oriental medicine references say this is actually a different and medicinally inferior plant.
Linda Conway Duever 7/8/00; updated 11/15/03