Pennywort: See illustration. (Hydrocotyle or Centella asiatica) small variety; (Hydrocotyle or Centella javanica) large variety. The common English name for this leaf is not widely known (except among gardeners and plant nurseries), but say the words 'gotu kola' (which are from the Sinhalese language) and a Western health shop assistant will immediately know what you're talking about.
The larger leaf variety is sold in Vietnamese areas. They have a slight bitter tang and are good to eat combined with shallots and lightly seasoned.
Another way this leaf is taken is as a sweetened beverage. Look in the refrigerator section of large Asian grocery stores and there, among the canned soft drinks featuring tropical fruit juices, you will also find pennywort drink. The canned version does not appeal much in colour or flavour; but the drink made with fresh pennywort leaves is entirely different and very refreshing. Frothy and bright green, its piquant herb flavour sweetened by the addition of sugar syrup and poured over crushed ice, it quenches thirst and does you good at the same time. In Vietnamese areas, certain shops make it to order. If you have a supply of leaves, it is easy enough to make at home.
Medicinal uses: Pennywort is used for purifying the blood and curing nervous conditions and is said to be 'good for the eyes'. It is also one of the herbs used in tonics to improve the memory. Eating 2 leaves each day is said to relieve the pain of arthritis and it is sold in plant nurseries as 'the arthritis herb'.
China: hang kor chow
Malaysia: daun pegaga
Sri Lanka: gotu kola, heen gotu kola
Thailand: hai hobo, hua-hok
Vietnam: nuoc rau ma
Encyclopedia of Asian Food
By Charmaine Solomon
Reprinted by permission.
This page created July 1999
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