Updated 18 February 2013

Kola nut

The kola nut herb, as the name suggests, is related to the world’s most popular drink, Coke Cola, as well as to many other soft drinks.


The kola nut herb, as the name suggests, is related to the world’s most popular drink, Coke Cola, as well as to many other soft drinks.

Kola nut used to be the flavourant in Coca Cola, but today has been replaced by a petrochemical imitation to mimic the taste. Kola nut is a caffeine-containing nut of two evergreen trees of the cocoa family, which are native to North Africa and cultivated in the tropical regions of Brazil, Java, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and South America.

In this day and age, kola nut is used as a medium of exchange in the tropical regions but also widely administered for medicinal purposes. Used medicinally, kola nut is usually chewed to abate hunger and fatigue, to improve digestion and to counteract intoxication, hangover, and diarrhoea.

Although the name suggests that the by-product of this herb is a nut, it’s the inner fleshy seeds that are consumed and despite containing more caffeine than coffee and less than guarana, are not considered habit forming. Kola nut seeds are also used as a symbol of hospitality in West African ceremonies such as marriages, births, and funerals, where they are prayed over before being shared.

Kola nut is a relative of the Sterculiacea plant family and is often referred to as cola, guru nut, bissy nuts and kola Seeds. Its biological name is cola vera. The plant grows to approximately 13 metres with leaves that stretch up to eight inches long. The herb is decorated with bright yellow flowers splotched with purple markings.

There are some 125 different species of the plant, all of which are indigenous to tropical West Africa, however the cola vera is most generally used and preferred for medicinal purposes.

Historically the herb was believed to boost physical performance by stimulating the heart and also for treating debility, weakness, apathy and seasickness. Kola nuts were also used as a substitute for alcohol in the treatment of alcoholism. Although kola nut is still used to treat a variety of these physical and mental ailments, the FDA cautions those who wish to take to herb due to many reported adverse reactions.

Parts used

Seed kernels


  • Caffeine with traces of theobromine (in the fresh seeds)
  • Glucoside
  • Kolanin (mixture of kola red and caffeine)
  • Starch
  • Fatty matter
  • Sugar
  • Oils
  • Tannins
  • Protein
  • Additional phenolics and anthrocyanin are likely to provide antioxidant activity

Medicinal uses of kola nut

Available varieties in South Africa

Kola Nut powder


Infusion: l-2 teaspoons of powdered nuts in a cup of water, bring to boiling then simmer for l0-l5 minutes and drunk when needed.
Tincture: l-2 ml three times a day.


Little information is available of the safety of kola nut and related remedies, however there have been reported reactions ranging from serious conditions like irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, seizures and psychosis, to relatively minor conditions including dizziness, headache, and gastrointestinal distress.

These conditions are associated with caffeine intake and caution should be taken in cases where caffeine is contraindicated. A health care professional should be consulted before taking and kola nut products during pregnancy or nursing.

(Zaakirah Rossier/ Health24/ updated October 2010)


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