Feeling adventurous in an Asian market the other day, I decided that I would buy one thing completely foreign to me and give it a try. Having adopted a vegetarian diet about a decade ago made my choices a bit easier. I passed by the stacks of fish sauce, ogled at the gruesome display of pork uteri, pork bungs (slang for rectum) and other assorted animal parts, and wondered about what it took to harvest the creatures now filling freezers packed with squid rings and frog legs.
Overcome with thirst, I contemplated choices in the canned drink display: Mangosteen or white fungus drink? Coconut or guava? The latter two have long been adopted into the standard line of American refreshments, so I reached for a cheerfully illustrated can of Pennywort Drink, aka Nuac Rau Ma in Vietnamese. Back home, I poured the beverage into a wine glass, held it up to the light, whiffed and swished. This brand looked and smelled a lot like bong water to me. Having never actually drank bong water, I cannot compare the taste, but it was sickeningly sweet. Sugar, it seems, was the main ingredient.
However, I was intrigued to learn that Pennywort (Centella asiatica) is more commonly offered as a medicinal herb in the U.S., usually referred to as Gotu Kola. Gotu kola is a Hindi name for the herb, a common ingredient in memory enhancing tonics and pills. In the Indian tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, Gotu Kola is revered as a spiritually beneficial plant, aiding in meditation and therefore attainment of enlightened states of mind. As with many herbal remedies, the curative powers of Gotu Kola are legendary, used to treat everything from wounds to male impotence, as well as neurological disorders.
The plant grows wild in wetlands and is especially common in sewage ditches throughout southeast Asia. This does nothing to calm my mind, knowing that toilet facilities are often coincident with roadside ditches in Asia, so after a few delicate sips, I tossed the brew. Next time, I'll go for the mangosteen juice.