Common Names

ola nut aka Cola nut, Guru nut
Botanical Name
Cola nitida

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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.

King's Dispensatory writes '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'

~ There are over 150 published studies and articles on Kola nut , a PDF showing their titles, authors and when and where they were published can be found here

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.

General safety note on herbs

Therapeutic substances, and this certainly all includes all medicinal herbs, can do good and, therefore, also have the potential to do harm. The maxim that 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us and the ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. So, not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs but, equally, we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this old, proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities and medical publications that no so long ago decried herbal medicines as ineffectual have now taken up a different kind of adversarial position. That they are dangerous substances that should not be taken for a long list of reasons and really should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. It is absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver, and fear has also been long proven to be effective when used to manipulate and control others.

I realise that the reader who comes to a page like this is unlikely to be swayed by such misinformation, but I nevertheless want to remind you that the reason that herbs cannot be patented or owned by any individual or corporation is that they are the people's medicine. They belong to us all and it is my great hope that you will learn how to use them safely and wisely for yourself and the people you care for. Be safe but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

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.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

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.


Constitutional note

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?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Kola nut can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd