Guarana is a climbing plant in the Sapindaceae family, native to the Amazonian Basin of Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay, and North and West Brazil. It has compound leaves with pinnate, arcuate veination and axillary tendrils and yellow, zygomorphous flowers in axillary racemes, each with five petals and sepals and eight stamens. These flowers mature into reddish fruits that are ripe when partially open, revealing black seeds covered at the base with white flesh. There are two varieties of guarana; the cupana variety differs from the sorbilis variety, which is the widely cultivated variety, in that it has no tendrils, its and its flowers and fruits are bigger. Guarana is cultivated in nutritious, deep, low acidity soils in full sun. Even though germination can take up to 3 months, seeds need to be sown immediately. The plants can also be started via cuttings, and cannot tolerate temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a strong stimulant, Guarana is best used in small doses over a period of time to increase vitality, memory, and energy, rather than by slamming a sugary energy drink all at once, which can lead to a crash. Traditionally, the seeds of the plant are crushed and dried to make a stimulating drink. It has anywhere from 3% to 5% caffeine, which is about three times more than that of coffee. It tends to quicken perception and memory, slow the heartbeat, decrease stress, improve mood, impairs the appetite, and gives a sensation of wakefulness. It’s shown to increase learning capacity and improve reflexes. It’s also commonly used for relief from hangovers, menstrual cramps, migraines, and headaches. It’s a useful stimulant for long work hours, drives, or other situations that require attentiveness and mental alertness. Guarana in used in energy drinks, and is thought to help athletes recover from strains and aches in the legs, especially the hamstrings and quadriceps. It’s a popular additive in weight loss products due to it’s appetite suppressant qualities and the belief that it helps digest and process fats. Too much can have adverse effects, symptoms of caffeine overdose are high blood pressure, stress, panic attacks, insomnia, nausea, and heart palpitations. Guarana is also used to reduce fevers and cure the flu, as an astringent herb for diarrhea, for pain relief similar to aspirin especially in cases of nerve pain. Several Rainforest tribes have used guarana mainly as a stimulant, astringent and for the treatment of chronic diarrhea.
The word guarana comes from the Guaraní word guara-ná, which has its origins in the Sateré-Maué word for the plant, warana, that in Tupi-Guarani means “fruit like the eyes of the people”. Guarana is an important plant in Tupi and Guaraní Paraguayan culture; according to a myth attributed to the Sateré-Maué tribe, the domestication of guarana’s originated when a deity killed a beloved village child. A more benevolent deity sought to console the villages by plucking the left eye from the child and planting it in the forest, from which grew forth wild guarana. Then the benevolent deity plucked the right eye from the child and planted it in the village, giving rise to domesticated guarana. The Guaranís make an herbal tea by shelling, washing and drying the seeds, then pounding them into a fine powder. The powder is kneaded into a dough and then shaped into cylinders known as guarana bread, which are grated and then immersed into hot water along with sugar. The drink is used traditionally as an aphrodisiac as well as a treatment for headache, fever and cramps. Guarana started to become available as a commercialized drink by the late 1950’s.
1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of water, but individuals sensitive to caffeine should start with even smaller doses.