Meet the buzzy plant that calms the mind -- and naturally boosts collagen production

What if there was a single plant that could help you concentrate at work, reduce post-workout joint pain, minimize varicose veins, and give you glowing, calm skin?

Turns out that this powerful little herb isn't just the stuff of a healthy gal's dreams—it actually exists, and you're about to start hearing its name, gotu kola, a lot more often. Practitioners of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have revered the plant—also known as centella asiatica, Indian pennywort, or tiger grass—for thousands of years, but it's only now beginning to infiltrate the Western wellness world. Specifically, it's cropping up in supplements and skin-care products—from high-end potions by Alexandra Wagner and Annmarie Gianni to mass brands like Acure.

The list of gotu kola's healing properties is impressively long. For one thing, it's got some pretty profound mental health benefits when consumed orally. "Studies show that gotu kola promotes cerebral circulation, which helps with focus, concentration, and memory," says Ro Giuliano, an herbalist and acupuncturist at Brooklyn's Maha Rose Center for Healing. "It also has a sedating quality, so it's really helpful in calming the mind." (Giuliano has used it to help patients come off of ADHD drugs, for example.)

Gotu kola, Asiatic pennywort, Indian pennywort, green leaf background, Tiger Herbal

Its most well-known superpower pertains to the skin: It modulates the production of collagen.

Gotu kola is also anti-inflammatory, and Giuliano says it's particularly good for promoting healthy veins and capillaries. "It has a specific affinity for vasculature, so it can be really helpful for folks who have varicose veins—it'll bring the inflammation down, which reduces the appearance of them," she explains. (She advises against using it if you're pregnant or nursing, however.)

But perhaps its most well-known superpower pertains to the skin: It modulates the production of collagen. And unlike those buzzy collagen supplements that come from animals and fish, it's suitable for vegans.

Related: The 15 healthiest herbs and spices:

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The 15 Healthiest Herbs and Spices
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The 15 Healthiest Herbs and Spices

Read on to discover the amazing health benefits behind 15 common herbs and spices in your kitchen.

Basil

Basil has flavonoids that protect cells from oxygen and radiation damage, preventing premature aging and common skin issues. Basil’s oils have anti-inflammatory properties that relieve swelling and have anti-bacterial properties that can inhibit the growth of many types of bacteria, including some antibiotic-resistant strains. For added protection from bacteria growth, add basil oil to your dressing and spritz onto raw dishes like salads.

Image Credit: Rachel Weill

Chili Pepper

The compound capsaicin, naturally found in chili peppers (as well as in cayenne and paprika), causes the release of feel-good endorphins to relieve pain and may help treat arthritis pain. Studies also suggest that chili peppers may prevent prostate cancer because they are high in carotenoids and flavonoids.

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Cinnamon

Some studies suggest that cinnamon can help regulate blood glucose in people with diabetes, while others remain doubtful. Regardless, cinnamon has antibacterial properties that can preserve food longer, and a recent study suggests that it could play a role in delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Cloves

Nutrient-dense clove is an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K, dietary fiber and vitamin C. Studies have shown that adding clove extract to a diet rich in anti-inflammatory components can significantly further reduce inflammatory symptoms.

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Coriander

Several studies suggest that dry coriander seeds or coriander oil may help lower total cholesterol and increase “good” cholesterol HDL. Coriander oil has also been used for centuries to treat nausea, alleviate cramps and help with digestion. Now, it is being investigated for its anti-bacterial properties.

Fennel

While fennel bulb is a vegetable, its leaves can be used as an herb. Raw fennel has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and a key phytonutrient in fennel called anethole has been shown to inhibit the spread of cancer cells in experiments with cultured cells, which has generated interested in its use in cancer research. Fennel is a great source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber, and herbalists use fennel to treat intestinal spasms or cramps.

Garlic

Preliminary studies suggest that eating garlic may lower your risk of cancer, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. However, the way you prepare garlic may reduce its anti-cancer properties. Penn State researchers suggest chopping or crushing the herb and letting it stand for at least ten minutes before cooking to retain its benefits.

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Ginger

This spice has chemicals that reduce nausea and inflammation and can effectively treat various stomach problems such as motion sickness and upset stomach and provide pain relief for arthritis and muscle soreness.

Oregano

A 2002 USDA study comparing 27 common culinary herbs revealed that oregano scored the highest in antioxidant activity, making it a potentially important source for protection against oxidative damage in cells.

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Parsley

This herb is often used to make medicine for a variety of ailments from indigestion to urinary tract infections, and herbalists believe it can help stimulate appetite and reduce spasms. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A for a strong immune system and heart-healthy folic acid.

Image Credit: Mitch Hrdlicka

Rosemary

A treatment with rosemary essential oil can ease scalp dryness by increasing circulation, reduce bloating and relax muscles. In addition, rosemary’s natural antioxidants may reduce the formation of cancer-causing toxins in grilled meats. A study in the Journal of Food Science suggests that rosemary can inhibit carcinogen formation up to 92 percent. Try adding fresh, dried or ground rosemary into your marinades.

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Saffron

A 2008 study by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that saffron may be an effective treatment for relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

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Sage

Herbalists recommend sage tea to soothe sore throats and relieve upset stomachs, but recent studies are investigating sage as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In a 2003 study, participants that took sage oil capsules consistently performed better at memory tests than their placebo-taking counterparts. Scientists believe that sage works by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down the chemical messenger acetylcholine, and its antioxidant, estrogenic and anti-inflammatory properties may help in Alzheimer’s therapy.

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Thyme

Thyme has long been used in natural medicine to treat chest and respiratory problems. Many studies have shown that thyme contains the volatile oil thymol and a variety of flavonoids that all contribute toward its antioxidant capacity to protect cells. Thyme is also an excellent source of nutrients like iron and manganese.

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Tumeric

This yellow-orange spice has manganese, iron, vitamin B6 and potassium. Turmeric is also an antioxidant food that protects cells from cancer, and researchers have shown that its compounds demonstrate anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties as well.

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"What I really love about gotu kola is that it protects our existing collagen and helps create the building blocks for new collagen," says Laurel Shaffer, herbalist/botanist and founder of the skin-care line Laurel Whole Plant Organics. "If you're having joint problems, it can be great when taken internally, but it's also wonderful for supporting the collagen in our skin [when applied topically]." She adds that it's also got antimicrobial properties, which means it's appropriate for acne-prone skin. Shaffer uses it in her brand's Antioxidant Serum and Normal/Mature Elixir.

With all these benefits for beauty and the brain, gotu kola will fit right in with the other botanical overachievers on your shelves, maybe between your chlorophyll and ashwagandha.

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