Kola Nut Information – Learn How To Use Kola Nuts
By: Teo Spengler
What is a kola nut? It is the fruit of various species of “Cola” trees that are native to tropical Africa. For more kola nut information, including tips for growing kola nuts, read on.
Kola Nut Information
So exactly what is a kola nut? Kola nuts are sometime called cola nuts. They grow as nuts on several trees in the Cola genus, including Cola acuminata and Cola nitida.
The kola nut is a symbol of hospitality and kindness in the communities in its native range in Africa. Plates of these nuts are offered as gifts or brought out when visitors arrive. Although they have little taste, they are chewed to help promote digestion.
Kola nut trees were first actively cultivated in West Africa. Later, the trees were brought to Brazil and the Caribbean by Africans in the slave trade. Today, the country of Nigeria is growing kola nuts commercially and produces 70% of the world’s kola nuts.
If the world “cola” sounds familiar, that’s because the famous American soft drink is related to the kola nut. This caffeine-rich nut was used in the original cola recipe to provide the caffeine kick – along with real coca leaves.
How to Use Kola Nuts
If you want to learn how to use kola nuts, you have many choices. Today, kola nut uses have expanded and they have many uses in herbal and natural medicine.
One of the main kola nut uses is as stimulants. In addition to caffeine, the nuts contain theobromine, the ingredient that is found in chocolate and reputed to bring a sense of well-being. This may explain the mild euphoria that’s often reported when someone chews the nuts.
In addition to being stimulants, eating kola nuts may help increase oxygen levels in the blood and promote better concentration. Kola nuts are also used in tinctures to help “drive” other herbs into the blood.
Other kola nut uses include fighting infection and clearing chest colds. Some even claim that kola nuts help people lose weight by reducing appetite.
Growing Kola Nuts
If you want to start growing kola nuts, you can start by planting a few nuts in containers. When they have germinated, transplant the seedlings outside. You can also try growing kola nuts from cuttings.
You must find an outdoor planting site with deeply rich and fertile soil with excellent drainage if you decide to try growing the plant out in the garden. This works best if you live on the coast in rainforest conditions.
Kola nut information says that the trees grow to 60 feet (18 m.). This is a project that may try a gardener’s patience. It can take a decade before the trees bear nuts.
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The term kola nut usually refers to the seeds of certain species of plant of the genus Cola, placed formerly in the cocoa family Sterculiaceae and now usually subsumed in the mallow family Malvaceae (as subfamilies Sterculioideae, Byttnerioideae etc.). These cola species are trees native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. Their caffeine-containing seeds are used as flavouring ingredients in beverages – whence the name ‘cola’, applied to various carbonated soft drinks, originates. 
The kola nut has a bitter flavor and caffeine content, and 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. Chewing kola nut can ease hunger pangs. 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 was originally used to make cola soft drinks, though today most of these mass-produced beverages use artificial flavourings. Some exceptions are Barr's Red Kola, Harboe Original Taste Cola, Foxon Park Kola, Blue Sky Organic Cola, Whole Foods Market 365 Cola, Sprecher's Puma Kola, and Cricket Cola, the latter being made from kola nuts and green tea. In 2007, United Kingdom supermarket Tesco introduced an American Premium Cola that uses kola nuts, spices and vanilla.
Outside of Africa, some species are cultivated for their nuts in Indonesia, Brazil, Jamaica and elsewhere in the humid tropics.
Kola nuts are often used to treat whooping cough and asthma. The caffeine present acts as a bronchodilator, expanding the bronchial air passages.
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Kola nut, caffeine-containing nut of Cola acuminata and Cola nitida, trees of the cocoa family (Sterculiaceae) native to tropical Africa and cultivated extensively in the American tropics. The evergreen tree grows to 18.3 metres (60 feet) and resembles the chestnut. The 5-centimetre- (2-inch-) long brown nut is hand-collected and dried in the sun for commercial use, mainly as an ingredient of soft drinks and medicine. American and European soft-drink manufacturers, however, do not use the kola nut instead, they manufacture synthetic chemicals that resemble the flavour of the kola nut.
Kola nuts are used locally as a medium of exchange. They are also commonly chewed by local labourers as a stimulant to diminish sensations of hunger and fatigue. Small pieces of kola nut chewed before meals act as an aid to digestion. In Brazil and the West Indies, the astringent-tasting nuts are used as a botanical drug to combat intoxication, hangover, and diarrhea. The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria employ the nut in various social rituals. The presentation of a plate of kola nuts is the central aspect of the visitation rituals practiced by the tribes.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Richard Pallardy, Research Editor.
Curious About the Kola Nut? Here are the Deets
The dark brown bubbly beverage beckoning from billboards actually has origins in a West African nut from the kola tree (Cola acuminata and Cola nitida). While Coca-Cola and Pepsi now use synthetic flavors in their sodas, the kola nut is still widely consumed for its caffeine content.
- Kola trees grow in the tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.
- Kola nuts are about the size of a chestnut.
- Some peeps chew kola nuts as a natural stimulant and appetite suppressant.
- The kola nut is considered a cultural symbol in West Africa.
- Kola nuts don’t really taste like soda. They’re described as bitter, but become sweeter as you chew.
Kola nuts are rumored to carry health benefits, but research is super limited. Here’s how it breaks down.
For the Igbo people of Nigeria, kola nuts are prized in cultural practices like community meetings, rites of passage, and ceremonies.
In the Western world, the term “cola” is most familiar as a carbonated soda flavor. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were born as health tonics in the 19th century — with kola nuts in the original recipe. Though less common today, it’s still used as an ingredient in some smaller soda brands.
Kola nuts are traditionally chewed to reduce hunger and fatigue, aid digestion, and remedy hangovers. They can also be dried and boiled to make a tea.
Though fresh kola nuts are widely available for sale in West Africa, in the U.S. you’re more likely to encounter it in the form of an extract.
Sourcing, and safety
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, kola nut extract is safe for human consumption. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) requires caffeine warning labels on products containing more than 5 milligrams of caffeine per serving.
Kola fruit, coffee, tea, guarana fruit, yerba mate leaf, and cacao seed require a caffeine label. Only the AHPA follows these labeling guidelines, so you may have to do some homework when sourcing your kola.
You should avoid caffeine-containing products if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or are under the age of 18.
With centuries of history as a traditional remedy in West Africa, the kola nut has amassed a long list of uses. Most of the rumored benefits of kola nuts should be considered folklore. Such claims suggest kola nuts:
- “sweetens stale water”
- treats fatigue
- numbs hunger pangs
- heals infections
- treats various skin diseases and ulcers
- relieves toothaches and sore gums
- treats headaches
- eases morning sickness
- aids difficult labor
- regulates menstrual cycles
- improves gastrointestinal health
- boosts mental health
- treats respiratory issues
Some of these health benefits are most likely due to caffeine content, which boosts energy and curbs hunger.
What the science says
While most of the claims listed above are unproven, a few studies have investigated the health impacts of the kola nut.
Kola nuts contain several compounds that could be linked to health benefits, including:
Here are the highlights of recent research on kola nuts:
Type 2 diabetes
In a 2019 study, rats with type 2 diabetes were given a hot-water extract of kola nut for 6 weeks. After treatment, the rats had lower blood glucose, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. Their insulin and “good” cholesterol levels were elevated.
Improved oral health
Because kola nuts are typically chewed, scientists have looked into their effectiveness in preventing cavities and treating oral infections. Research indicates they do have antimicrobial properties that fight dental pathogens and possibly other infections.
A 2019 study evaluated the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects the kola nut extract had on rodents. Kola nut extract was associated with reduced swelling, and had pain relieving effects.
Another study of rats investigated the diuretic effect of kola nuts. Diuretics help treat congestive heart failure, nephritis, hypertension, and pregnancy toxemia.
Researchers found kola nut was an effective diuretic. It increases urine output without causing electrolyte imbalance or damage to the liver and kidneys.
The main active compound in kola nuts is caffeine, it should be limited in the same way caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda are.
Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant and a diuretic. It also increases stomach acid production, leading to heartburn and stomach upset if consumed in large quantities.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, caffeine consumption of less than 400 to 500 milligrams per day is safe for adults. That’s equivalent to about 2 to 4 cups of coffee per day.
Watch out for energy drinks with herbal ingredients — they’re not required to list their caffeine content and may contain more than you expect.
Side effects of caffeine use include:
- rapid heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- impaired calcium absorption
To chew kola nuts, you will first need to break the seeds out of their star-shaped shell, or pod. Crack the pod by placing a knife on top of the nut on its flat side. Hold it steady with one hand and push down on the knife with the heel of the palm of your other hand. Then, chew on the seeds but do not swallow them.
The other way to consume kola nuts is by grinding the nuts into a powder, which can be placed in a liquid that you can drink. After following the first step for chewing kola nuts, put the nuts into a pestle.
Using the pestle, beat the nuts until they are turned into a fine powder, which should have a brown, nutty color. You can then put 1 teaspoon of the powder into coffee, tea or even water. You can also mix it with water, lime and/or honey. This will enhance the effects.
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