The Benefits of Brahmi
Brahmi/gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is one of the most beloved mental rejuvenatives in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia. Best known for its long and impressive history of use for enhancing intellect and mental acuity, it also soothes the nervous system, purifies the blood, and promotes healthy skin and hair.1
In this article:
- Gotu Kola vs. Bacopa: Which Is the “Real” Brahmi?
- Characteristics of the Brahmi/Gotu Kola Plant
- Brahmi/Kola Gotu Benefits and Uses
- How to Take Brahmi/Gotu Kola
- Modern Research on Brahmi/Gotu Kola
- Is Brahmi/Gotu Kola Safe?
- Growing and Harvesting Brahmi/Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola vs. Bacopa: Which Is the “Real” Brahmi?
This plant is not to be confused with bacopa (Bacopa monnieri). These two plants have quite a lot in common—not only are they both powerfully supportive of the mind and nervous system—they are both also commonly referred to as “brahmi,” which can cause confusion.
To clarify, this article is about Centella asiatica, which we refer to as brahmi/gotu kola.
While we don’t refer to it as “brahmi,” it’s worth mentioning that bacopa is a wonderful mental rejuvenative in its own right. If you’re curious to learn more about that particular herb, we have a separate article where you can learn more about bacopa benefits and uses.
What Is the Significance of the Name “Brahmi?”
The name “brahmi” derives from Brahman, the Sanskrit name for the universal consciousness in Vedic philosophy. It translates as “energy of universal consciousness,” and speaks to the legendary effects on the mind and consciousness that both brahmi/gotu kola and bacopa possess.2
The names of these two herbs can vary between teachers and geographic regions. Centella asiatica is commonly referred to as brahmi in northern India, while the name is more frequently used to describe Bacopa monnieri in southern India.3
While both herbs can correctly and appropriately be referred to as brahmi, the founders of Banyan Botanicals were educated in a tradition that reserves the name “brahmi” for Centella asiatica.
Since many also refer to Centella asiatica by its Singhalese name, “gotu kola,”4 Banyan decided to refer to this herb by both names (“brahmi/gotu kola”) and to simply call Bacopa monnieri “bacopa.”
Characteristics of the Brahmi/Gotu Kola Plant
A small, water-loving perennial creeper of the Apiaceae family, brahmi/gotu kola is thought to have originated in the Indian subcontinent, although it can be found in warm climates across the globe.5
Its slender stems support vibrant green leaves that are arguably this plant’s most distinctive feature. Many of its names are a reference to the appearance of its leaves. For instance, in ancient Sri Lanka, the gentle curling shape of the leaves was thought to resemble a cone, leading to the Singhalese name “gotu kola” or “cone leaf.”6
One of its Sanskrit names is mandukaparni, or “frog-leaved,” referencing the shape of its leaves resembling the webbed feet of a frog.7 Another of its Sanskrit names, manduki (“like a frog”) alludes not to the frog-like appearance of the leaves, but to the plant’s tendency to grow near bodies of water.8
The leaves are also thought to resemble a cerebellum, representing one of the best examples of the "doctrine of signatures"—a school of thought which suggests that herbs have a special affinity for the part of the body that they resemble (in this case, the brain).9
Brahmi/Gotu Kola Benefits and Uses
This many-named plant is popular throughout several cultures as a brain and focus supplement, with some having called it "the herb of enlightenment."10 In Sri Lankan folklore, for instance, it is said that gotu kola is what gives elephants their celebrated capacity for memory and longevity.11
Speaking of longevity, brahmi/gotu kola is often classified as a rasayana (rejuvenative herb) that works to slow the effects of aging.12 Legend has it that Tai Chi Chuan master Li Ching-Yun lived to the age of 256 with the help of an herbal regimen that included brahmi/gotu kola.13
Here are a few more of this herb's remarkable benefits:
- Opening and Clarifying the Mind. As a brain tonic, brahmi/gotu kola strengthens memory and intellect, supporting focus and concentration while encouraging a balanced emotional state.14
- Having Adaptogenic Properties. Brahmi/gotu kola is one of Ayurveda’s most beloved adaptogenic herbs, meaning that it supports the body’s reaction to internal and external stressors. Thanks to these adaptogenic qualities, brahmi/gotu kola promotes energy in the daytime while supporting sound, restful sleep at night.15
- Promoting Healthy Hair and Radiant Skin. Brahmi/gotu kola has a soothing effect on the hair and scalp, and is said to cleanse, soften, and protect the skin.16
- Comforting and Nourishing the Joints. Brahmi/gotu kola is very supportive of the joints—clearing ama (natural toxins) while promoting comfort and freedom of movement.17
- Supporting Multiple Systems in the Body. Brahmi/gotu kola also has a powerful affinity for the circulatory, digestive, and nervous systems, as well as the lymph, blood, nervous tissue, and urinary tract.
Brahmi/Gotu Kola in Ayurveda
Ayurveda teaches that brahmi/gotu kola is a tridoshic herb, meaning that it balances all three Ayurvedic doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha, though it is especially balancing for pitta.
It can be particularly helpful for balancing mental or emotional aggravations involving both vata and pitta, though it can increase vata in excess.18,19
Brahmi/gotu kola also works very directly with some of pitta’s subdoshas, including sadhaka pitta (which is closely related to the intellect and intelligence) and bhrajaka pitta (located in the skin).
In addition, brahmi/gotu kola works on several of the dhatus (tissue layers of the body), including mamsa (muscle), meda (adipose), asthi (bone), and majja dhatu (nervous tissue).20
Brahmi/gotu kola also encourages a healthy appetite, working to gently enkindle agni (the digestive fire) and promote overall digestive health.21
Modern Research on Brahmi/Gotu Kola
There has been a fair amount of scientific research evaluating a wide range of beneficial applications for brahmi/gotu kola. Among other things, studies have looked at its ability to support cognitive function, mental health, and proper volume and tone in the venous system.22 Below are a few links that summarize some of these findings:
- “Centella Asiatica: Phytochemistry and Mechanisms of Neuroprotection and Cognitive Enhancement.” Phytochemistry Reviews. PubMed Extract (September 2017).23
- “The Complete Chloroplast Genome Sequence of Centella Asiatica (Linnaeus) Urban.” Mitochondrial DNA Part B. PubMed Extract (May 22, 2020).24
- “Dermal Targeting of Centella Asiatica Extract Using Hyaluronic Acid Surface Modified Niosomes.” Journal of Liposome Research. PubMed Extract (May 27, 2019).25
- “Effects of Centella Asiatica (L.) Urb. on Cognitive Function and Mood Related Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Scientific Reports. PubMed Extract (September, 2017).26
- “Gotu Kola (Centella Asiatica): Nutritional Properties and Plausible Health Benefits.” Advances in Food and Nutrition Research. PubMed Extract (October 1, 2015).27
- “Cardiovascular Protective Effects of Centella Asiatica and Its Triterpenes: A Review.” Planta Medica. PubMed Extract (September 20, 2019).28
- “Centella Asiatica in Dermatology: An Overview.” Phytotherapy Research. PubMed Extract (August 7, 2014).29
How to Take Brahmi/Gotu Kola
There are many ways to incorporate brahmi/gotu kola into your daily routine—both internally and externally—to support the body and mind. Below are some of the most common methods of taking it.
How to Take Brahmi/Gotu Kola Internally
Brahmi/Gotu Kola Powder. Taking Brahmi/Gotu Kola powder with an anupan (carrier substance) like water, milk, or ghee offers the experience of tasting the herb (which is considered highly beneficial in Ayurveda) and provides the most economical option for purchasing it.
Brahmi/Gotu Kola Tablets. A more convenient way to take this herb, especially for those who are frequently traveling or on the go, Brahmi/Gotu Kola tablets also provide a nice alternative for those who find the taste a deterrent to taking herbs.
Brahmi/Gotu Kola Liquid Extract. Taking Brahmi/Gotu Kola liquid extract is another convenient way to harness this herb's benefits. Liquid extracts are specially prepared to reach the bloodstream with minimal digestive effort, so this form is ideal for moments when a quick but gentle brain boost is needed.
Brahmi/Gotu Kola in Formulas
You can find brahmi/gotu kola in several herbal formulations:
- Mental Clarity, Stress Ease, and Tranquil Mind support mental calmness.
- Healthy Pitta and Healthy Vata offer herbal support for the doshas.
- Healthy Hair and Healthy Skin promote natural beauty.
- 7-Herb Energy, I Travel Well, and Focus liquid extracts support mental fortitude and energy throughout the day.
Brahmi/Gotu Kola as Food
Brahmi/gotu leaves can be eaten right off the plant, and can be especially supportive to the mind before meditation. The leaves are often consumed as salad greens, and can also be used for recipes such as smart pesto, rehydration tea, and bedtime super milk.
How to Take Brahmi/Gotu Kola Externally
Use Brahmi Oil
This Ayurvedic herbal oil blend is infused with a decoction of both brahmi/gotu kola and bacopa to support concentration and the mind. This oil transports the many benefits and qualities of both herbs known as brahmi deep into the tissues when used for scalp massage.
At Banyan, we offer two varieties of this herbal oil—one that uses a warm, nourishing base of sesame oil, and one that uses a more cooling base of coconut oil.
Create a Paste
A paste of brahmi/gotu kola can be applied to the exterior of the body to promote healthy skin and comfortable joint movement.
To make, mix a small amount of powder with water and mix until it has reached a paste-like consistency.
Is Brahmi/Gotu Kola Safe?
Brahmi/gotu kola is generally considered safe, though it can increase vata if used in excess. Excessive doses of brahmi/gotu kola can be slightly narcotic and can cause headache, dizziness, giddiness, or skin irritation.30
It has also been known to cause gastric irritation and nausea.31 In addition, brahmi/gotu kola can inhibit liver enzymes responsible for barbiturate metabolism.32
Please consult an Ayurvedic practitioner or your healthcare provider before taking this herb if you are pregnant or nursing. If you are taking prescription medication of any kind, it is always best to check with your doctor before introducing an herbal regimen.
Avoid this herb if there are known allergies to Centella asiatica or any of its constituents.33 Extra care is advised if taking benzodiazepines, barbiturates, diuretics, hormonal agents, vasodilators, hypo-glycemic medication, or cholesterol-lowering agents.34,35
Growing and Harvesting Brahmi/Gotu Kola
Over the years, Banyan Botanicals has sourced our brahmi/gotu kola from Sri Lanka, India, and Zimbabwe, each of which possesses the warm, humid growing conditions that best help this remarkable plant thrive. Sri Lanka, where its name of “gotu kola” originated, has a very well-established tradition of growing this herb, which is used in one of the country’s most popular dishes—the gotu kola sambol.
In India, we partner with Panchvati Organic Farm, a certified organic farm whose focus crop is brahmi/gotu kola. At first, the farm was hard-pressed to find a reliable source of this herb due to plants growing in contaminated water.
After much perseverance, they located a reliable source and got to work developing the perfect growing conditions for this water-loving herb. They have found that brahmi/gotu kola flourishes in the monsoon seasons and wetter times of year. It requires regular weeding and responds well to rich, moist, but well-drained soil that is regularly irrigated with pure, pristine water.
When it’s time to harvest, brahmi/gotu kola is picked, sorted, hand-washed, and sun-dried before being powdered and shipped to our Albuquerque warehouse for packaging or mixing into formulas.
Quality and Sustainability of Brahmi/Gotu Kola
Where and how brahmi/gotu kola is grown and harvested makes a big difference in the quality.
This is especially critical for aquatic herbs such as brahmi/gotu kola, which grow naturally along the banks of India’s rivers, some of which are severely polluted.
Most of the brahmi/gotu kola you’ll find on the shelves that comes from India is collected from the wild. From an ecological and sustainable perspective, this is not a concern because only the aerial parts (not the roots of the plant) are harvested, and they regenerate quickly.
However, from a quality perspective, wild collection is a risk due to the number of contaminated water sources that a wild growing plant may encounter.
Banyan carries only cultivated, organic brahmi/gotu kola, grown by our partner farms who ensure that the herb is free of unwanted toxins or pollutants.
As a part of a larger conversation regarding the sustainability of Ayurvedic herbs, it is important to understand where and how plants are grown and harvested.
We ensure sustainability by sourcing the botanicals used in our products from privately owned farms where each plant has been cultivated or harvested from legal wild-craft sourcing. Our herbs and ingredient-producing plants are harvested at optimal times, using environmentally sustainable practices sensitive to the long-term health of the plants.