Indigenous to Western Africa, the cola tree is cultivated today in many tropical climates, including Central and South America, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Cola nuts are actually seeds removed from their seed coats. Traditionally, they are chewed raw or taken in pulverized or liquid extract form. Of the various species of cola nuts, the two most commonly edible kinds are Cola acuminata and Cola nitida.
Cola contains caffeine and related chemicals, and for this reason is a stimulant. For thousands of years, people in Africa have chewed the seeds to enhance mental alertness and fight fatigue. Centuries ago, Arabs traded gold dust for cola nuts before starting out on long treks across the Sahara.
Cola nut has been used in folk medicine as an aphrodisiac and an appetite suppressant, and to treat morning sickness, migraine headache, and indigestion. It has also been applied directly to the skin to treat wounds and inflammation. The tree's bitter twig has been used as well, to clean the teeth and gums.
Cola is ingested daily by millions as one of the main ingredients in cola soft drinks. It is also used in diet and "high-energy" products such as food bars and as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins, and puddings.2,3 However, the caffeine-containing cola nut, used in original recipes for Coca-Cola should not be confused with gotu kola.
Because of its caffeine content, cola nut would be expected to increase urination, stimulate the heart and lungs, and help analgesics such as aspirin to function more effectively.
Germany's Commission E recommends the following daily dosage of cola: 2 to 6 g of cola nut, 0.25 to 0.75 g of cola extract, 2.5 to 7.5 g of cola liquid extract, 10 to 30 g of cola tincture, or 60 to 180 g of cola wine.4
Although comprehensive safety studies have not been performed, moderate amounts of cola nut are generally regarded as safe. The Council of Europe and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved it as a food additive. The typical side effects associated with cola nut are those of caffeine, including nervousness, heart irregularities, headaches, and sleeplessness.
1. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs, Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:113–114.
2. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley; 1996:332–333.
3. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:84.
4. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs, Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:113–114.
5. Ibu JO, Iyama AC, Ijije CT, et al. The effect of Cola acuminata and Cola nitida on gastric acid secretion. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1986;124:39–45.
6. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:84.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015