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| What is it?
Kola nut (equally as often called Cola nuts) come from a large, evergreen tree that can grow to over 20 meters tall. The Kola tree is native to Western Africa and grows widely in the low-lying evergreen forests of Africa to this day. The nuts are a dark reddish brown, about 2-3 cms across and have a slightly bitter and astringent taste.
How has it been used?
In the late 1800s a chemist called John Pemberton combined extracts from Kola nut, Coca leaves and mixed them with sugar, flavourings and carbonated water and made the first batch of ‘Coca-Cola’... and so a global super-power was born!
In West Africa there are deep connections to Kola for everything from chewing them as an everyday pastime right through to their being potently religious symbols. In terms of medicinal action, Kola nut is especially regarded in this part of the world as being effective for restoring vitality and relieving hunger pangs.
Kola nuts have high amounts of the stimulating alkaloids caffeine and theobromine. Are they more stimulating to the central nervous system than their much more popular cousin the coffee bean? Probably yes, Kola nuts certainly contain a significantly higher percentage of the active stimulant ingredients compared to coffee.
In Western herbal medicine Kola nuts have had a strong traditional use for strengthening a weakened heart muscle and for depression, nervous debility and for exhaustion where some degree of stimulation is acceptable.
Kola nut has also been historically used to treat diarrhoea and bowel looseness where this is associated with nervous system exhaustion.
Kola has been classed as a bronchodilator (it opens up the airways) and so has also been used to assist in the treatment of asthma and whooping cough.
Safety of Kola Nut
Kola nut is best avoided by children and should not be taken during pregnancy or breast-feeding in any quantity. It is a safe herb in terms of adverse reactions but, like any caffeine containing plant, overuse will soon lead to a depletion of vital reserves and a loss of the benefit of the stimulating effect.
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When you latch on to one ingredient of a herb you tend to start thinking in an equally one-dimensional manner about what it does. Kola nut does have plenty of caffeine in it, and it clearly is a herb that stimulates the central nervous system but to stop there is to not much different to reading the cover of a book and assuming you therefore know what it inside. Caffeine, and theobromine, are only two of hundreds of ingredients that are contained with the whole plant, or extract, of the Kola nut. The effects may be most noticeable at the level of the mental stimulation but that does not mean they start and stop there.
I have mostly used Kola nut for people who are generally healthy but who need to lift their level of performance for a short period of time. For example students needing to cram for exams, athletes who are coming into a major event, or for people who are travelling and need to get into action soon after their arrival.
I have found it to be very efficacious on the occasions that I have had to use it however Kola nut is another herb where getting the right dose is critical to success. Too much Kola nut will be unpleasantly over-stimulating, too little just won’t have the desired effect. I won’t put a suggested amount here for anyone else to pick up on because I think this is one of those occasion where you need to know the preparation you are using (we make our own Kola nut extract) and have used it enough to know what it safe and what works.
If you are going to work with Kola nut my advice is to start small and build up to learn how much you need. A little goes a long way and too much Kola nut is not nice.
Kola nut combines perfectly with Oatstraw, Skullcap and Withania root. Even though those herbs are famously calming, gentle tonics to the nervous system they are certainly not what you would call sedative but the presence of one or more of them at the same time as taking Kola nut will help ensure it does not end up depleting the natural vitality through over-stimulation.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Kola nut is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B.
There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Kola nut can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
The action of kola has been compared to that of coffee and cocoa, but it differs even from these, and from that of the two principles—caffeine and theobromine—contained in it. Upon the stomach it appears to exert a tonic influence, improving digestion. It increases the functions of the cerebro-spinal system and sympathetic system. This is the effect of small and medium doses, rendering one capable of severe mental exertion, overcoming mental depression, and the tendency to somnolency. Large doses produce overstimulation, and thus tend to destroy the usefulness of the drug when given in proper doses.
Physical strength is augmented and sustained by kola, its action upon the muscular system, increasing contractility, being pronounced. Kola is undoubtedly of value in certain conditions, hinging chiefly on nervous depression. The guiding symptoms, after protracted illness, are mental depression, tendency to faintness, marked nervous irritability, poor appetite and digestion, and great muscular debility.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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