The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus (Cola) of trees native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. The caffeine-containing fruit of the tree is sometimes used as a flavoring ingredient in beverages.
Kola nut is a caffeine-containing nut of evergreen trees of the genus Cola, primarily the species Cola acuminata and Cola nitida. Cola acuminata is an evergreen tree of about 20 meters in height, and has long, ovoid leaves pointed at both the ends with a leathery texture. The trees have yellow flowers with purple spots, and star-shaped fruit. Inside the fruit, about a dozen round or square seeds can be found in a white seed shell. The nut’s aroma is sweet and rose-like. The first taste is bitter, but sweetens upon chewing. The nut can be boiled to extract the cola. This tree reaches 25 meters in height and is propagated through seeds. C. nitida and C. acuminata can easily be interchanged with other Cola species.
The Use of Kola Nut
The kola nut has a bitter flavor and contains caffeine. It is chewed in many West African cultures, individually or in a group setting. It is often used ceremonially, presented to tribal chiefs or presented to guests. It is preferred among African Muslims, who are forbidden to drink alcohol. Chewing kola nut can ease hunger pangs. Kola nuts are often used to treat whooping cough and asthma. The caffeine present acts as a bronchodilator, expanding the bronchial air passages. Frequent chewing of the kola nut can also lead to stained teeth. Among the urban youth of West Africa, kola nut is becoming less popular.
Kola nuts are perhaps best known to Western culture as a flavouring ingredient and one of the sources of caffeine in cola and other similarly flavoured beverages, although the use of kola (or kola flavoring) in commercial cola drinks has become uncommon. However, recently the use of Kola nut has been reintroduced.
Digestive Aid and Diuretic
Kola nut is said to increase the production of gastric acid in the body, which is known to promote healthy digestion. A Holistic Online article noted that the kola nut may be used as a remedy for nervous diarrhea. Members of some Western African tribes are said to chew a piece of kola nut before every meal to aid in digestion, according to a Botanical article.
Caffeine-rich kola nuts are the seeds of the cola tree, native to tropical coasts of Western and Central Africa. Several different types of kola nuts are obtained from different species of the cola tree, such as Cola vera, Cola nitida and Cola accuminata. The seeds vary in the amount of caffeine and astringent content, and are generally used in decoction and tincture form.
Kola nuts have been used traditionally to treat a variety of conditions, although excessive intake may lead to insomnia, restlessness, nausea, vomiting and increased heart rate.
Kola nut extracts contain nonsteroidal plant compounds that have the ability to induce death of cancerous prostate cells and may modulate prostate growth and function, says Rajasree Solipuram in an article published in the 2009 edition of the “Journal of Toxicology.” No clinical studies have been conducted to study the benefits of kola nut extracts in prostate cancer patients and the herb may not be substituted for your prescription medications. Always talk to a doctor before using kola nut to avoid possible adverse reactions and drug interactions.
Extracts obtained from a variety of kola nuts can significantly inhibit the growth of the bacteria belonging to the Mycobacterium species that cause a variety of diseases, including tuberculosis and meningitis, says a study published in the May 2004 edition of the journal “Phytotherapy Research.” However, the anti-mycobacterial properties of kola nut have not been proven clinically and the herb should be used only under the guidance of a trained health care professional.
Nervous System Stimulation
One tablespoon of kola nut powder in a cup of black coffee can stimulate and economize nervous and muscular energies, according to Richard Alan Miller, author of the book “The Magical and Ritual Use of Herbs.” Kola nut has also been used in combination with ephedrine to treat chronic fatigue syndrome. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center, on its website, warns against the use of kola nut to treat CFS because of the risk of seizures and psychosis. It is best to consult a doctor before using kola nut as a nervous system stimulator.
The indigenous people of Africa used kola nuts for thousands of years, chewing them raw to obtain energy from the caffeine inside these nuts. People still consume products that contain kola nut extract as a source of caffeine. This substance is one of the main ingredients in many varieties of soft drinks marketed as colas. Folk medicine and alternative medicine include the use of kola nut as an appetite suppressant, aphrodisiac and energizer, as well as a treatment for indigestion, morning sickness and migraine pain, although standard Western medicine does not support the use of kola nut for these purposes.
History of Kola Nut
The use of the kola nut, like the coffee berry and tea leaf, appears to have ancient origins. It is chewed in many West African cultures, individually or in a social setting, to restore vitality and ease hunger pangs. Kola nuts are an important part of the traditional spiritual practice of culture and religion in West Africa, particularly Nigeria. Kola nuts are used as a religious object and sacred offering during prayers, ancestor veneration, and significant life events, such as naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. They are also used in a traditional divination system called Obi divination. For this use, only kola nuts divided into four lobes are suitable. They are cast upon a special wooden board and the resulting patterns are read by a trained diviner. This ancient practice is currently enjoying increased growth within the United States and Caribbean.
In the 1800s, a pharmacist in Georgia, John Pemberton, took extracts of kola and coca and mixed them with sugar, other ingredients, and carbonated water to invent the first cola soft drink. His accountant tasted it and called it “Coca-Cola”. Cocaine (not the other extracts from the Peruvian coca leaf) was prohibited from soft drinks in the U.S. after 1904, and Coca-Cola no longer uses kola in its original recipe.