Kola is a dense, evergreen tree in the Sterculiaceae family found growing wild in Western Africa, and cultivated in tropical South America, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and parts of the Caribbean that can reach up to 65 feet in height. It has large, shiny acuminate oblong leaves with entire margins, tiny purple-spotted five-petaled yellow flowers, star shaped compound fruit, and yellowish-brown woody seed pods that contain between six to ten red or white seeds. They do not thrive outside the tropics, and the seeds loose viability after about a week of exposure.
Kola nuts are a diuretic herb and act as a mental stimulant and cardiac tonic, enabling the mind to stay alert for long periods of time. The nuts contain theobromine and more caffeine than comparable amounts of coffee beans; they stimulate the heart and nerves, and provide a similar euphoric satisfaction to that of chocolate. The caffeine can ease headaches, pain from neuralgia, and depression, work as an appetite suppressant and digestive improver, and are said to be useful during recovery from alcoholism. It is also prescribed for children with asthma, as the caffeine can help with easing, and the pleasant, chocolate like taste is pleasing to a child’s palate. Kola nuts can be used during times of nervous debility, nervous diarrhea, depression, and weakness.
In West Africa, Kola nuts have been used for thousands of years to treat fever and as a stimulating beverage. The seeds were often chewed when long, laborious work days were in store. It was and is also used to make a red dye. It was introduced to the Americas and Caribbean by slaves, where it became used as a folk remedy for diarrhea, water retention, digestive problems, fatigue, and heart problems. It was also believed to be a aphrodisiac. After the civil war, Kola arrived in the United States, where it was prescribed by early eclectic physicians for overcoming mental depression and exertion, as well as relief from diarrhea, pneumonia, typhoid fever, migraines, seasickness, morning sickness, and those wishing to quit smoking. According to legend, a pharmacist in Atlanta mixed kola nut with coca leaves, added some sugar and carbonated water, and marvelously invented a refreshing, pick-me-up beverage that he dubbed “Coca-Cola”. He sold this formula a few years later to a business man, who through extensive marketing, created America’s first national soft-drink in 1895.
Typically 1-2 teaspoons of powdered kola nuts decocted in 1 cup of water, simmered for ten minutes, drunk up to three times daily. Individuals sensitive to caffeine and children should start at one third the dose. Pregnant women should avoid large doses. Kola combines well with oatstraw and oats, damiana, and skullcap.
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