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Sterculiaceae, Cola nitida, Kola

March 3, 2008

The seeds, or nuts, of Cola have been chewed since ancient times in West Africa for their stimulant properties.

C. acuminata is indigenous to Congo, Nigeria, and Gabon, while C. nitida (photographed above) occurs naturally in Ashanti, the Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone. Cola nuts make up a very important product in regional West African markets. Historically, cola nut was also used to flavor cola soft drinks but are now largely supplanted by synthetic products. The embryo, seed, or “nut”, varies considerably in size and weight. A nut will typically contain 2 – 3 percent caffeine, to which the nuts stimulating effects are ascribed. Theobromine is also present in the nut in significant quantities.

As far as nutritional value, the cola nut is unimportant, as only small amounts are consumed. The nuts do, however, have some health benefits when used in moderation. Seed extracts are used to treat mental and physical fatigue, and are considered useful as a tonic (mild diuretic, secretion of gastric juices is stimulated). People suffering from ulcers or hypertension should restrict their intake of caffeine.

When cultivated, the tree is typically managed below 10 m high, with long lateral branches, like cacao. Cola acuminata is considered secondary to C. nitida.

Two lesser known species are bamenda cola (C. anomala), and owé cola (C. verticilla).

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