The cola nut tree is native to West Africa. It has been naturalized to South America, Central America, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Related to cocoa, cola nut is the source of a stimulant, and contains the methylxanthine alkaloids that occur also in coffee, cocoa, tea, maté, and guarana. Of the 40 known species, Cola acuminata and C. nitida bear the nuts most readily available in the United States and Europe; other species frequently used in commerce include C. verticillata and C. anomala (Trindall, 1997).
West Africans have been chewing cola nuts for thousands of years. Its stimulant effects are its predominant application in the United States and Europe. Commission E approves cola nut during conditions of mental and physical fatigue. In Africa, however, cola nuts have been used as an appetite and thirst suppressant, enabling soldiers who chewed them to travel long distances without much food. Cola twigs, with an extremely bitter taste, are used to clean the teeth and gums (Trindall, 1997).
Cola maintains strong cultural significance in West Africa, partly due to the fact that cola is a valuable commodity. It has been traded to other countries since at least the fourteenth century and it is used particularly by Islamic people, who, according to their religion, cannot drink alcohol, but desire a 'social lubricant' (Trindall, 1997). Today, cola nut is exported worldwide. It is used in the manufacture of methylxanthine-based pharmaceuticals. Methylxanthines (caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine) are used to treat pre-term infant apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and especially asthma. Pharmacologically, these alkaloids relax bronchial smooth muscle, stimulate the central nervous system and cardiac muscle, and are diuretic (Goodman et al., 1990). However, the most active alkaloid in regard to asthma is theophylline, not present in cola nut (Schulz et al., 1998). Caffeine is sometimes given in conjunction with other analgesics to produce stronger and quicker pain-killing actions (Goodman et al., 1990). These alkaloids have adverse side effects; it is not advisable for an asthmatic to drink copious amounts of any beverage containing significant amounts of methylxanthines: 3-10 g of caffeine can be lethal (Schulz et al., 1998).
Cola nut is also used in non-pharmaceutical preparations, including (at least formerly) cola-based beverages such as Coca Cola®. It is on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list for food additives in the United States (Leung and Foster, 1996).
Cola nut consists of the endosperm freed from the testa of various Cola species Schott et Endlicher, particularly C. nitida (Ventenat) Schott et Endlicher [Fam. Sterculiaceae], and its preparations in effective dosage. The preparation contains at least 1.5% methylxanthine (caffeine, theobromine).
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Constituents include caffeine (1.5-2.5%), alkaloids (xanthines), and tannins (catechins) (Bradley, 1992; Newall et al., 1996). Other constituents include betaine, cellulose, enzyme, fats, a glucoside, protein, red pigments, and sugars (Newall et al., 1996). Caffeine, which stimulates the central nervous system, accounts for the pharmacological activity of the cola nut (Steinegger and Hänsel, 1992). In addition to being a central nervous system stimulant, thymoleptic, antidepressant, diuretic, and antidiarrheal effects have been observed with its use. Peripheral actions on the heart, circulatory system, skeletal muscle, and autonomic functions are attributed to the caffeine content (Bradley, 1992).
The Commission E reported, from animal experiments, analeptic and lipolytic activity, as well as stimulation of the production of gastric acid and an increase in motility. In humans the herb can be compared to methylxanthine, however caffeine is a weaker diuretic and positively chronotropic.
The Commission E approved the use of cola nut for mental and physical fatigue. It is also indicated as a supportive treatment for depressive states (Bradley, 1992).
Gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Sleep disorders, over-excitability, nervous restlessness, and gastric irritations may occur.
Use During Pregnancy and Lactation
No restrictions known.
Interactions with Other Drugs
Strengthening of the action of psychoanaleptic drugs and caffeine-containing beverages.
Dosage and Administration
Unless otherwise prescribed: 2-6 g per day of powdered cotyledon and other galenical preparations for internal use.
Dried powder: 1-3 g, two to three times daily.
Decoction: 1-3 g in 150 ml water, two to three times daily.
Dry extract: 0.25-0.75 g (Erg.B.6).
Fluidextract: 2.5-7.5 ml (Erg.B.6).
Tincture: 10-30 ml (Erg.B.6).
Cola wine: 60-180 ml (Erg.B.6).
Bradley, P.R. (ed.). 1992. British Herbal Compendium, Vol. 1. Bournemouth: British Herbal Medicine Association.
Goodman, L.S., A. Gilman, A.G. Gilman. 1990. The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 8th ed. New York: Pergamon Press.
Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster. 1996. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Newall, C.A., L.A. Anderson, J.D. Phillipson. 1996. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press.
Schulz, V., R. Hänsel, V.E. Tyler. 1998. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. New York: Springer.
Steinegger, E. and R. Hänsel. 1992. Pharmakognosie, 5th ed. Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.
Trindall, R. 1997. Ethnobotanical Leaflets: The Culture of Cola: Social and Economic Aspects of a West African Domesticate. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Herbarium.
Maillard C., A. Babadjamian, G. Balansard, B. Ollivier, D. Bamba. 1985. Study of caffein-catechin association in lyophilized fresh seeds and in stabilized extract of Cola nitida. Planta Med (51):515-517.
List, P.H. and L. Hörhammer (eds.). 1973-1979. Hagers Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, Vols. 17. New York: Springer Verlag.
Ibu, J.O. et al. 1986. The effect of cola acuminata and cola nitida on gastric acid secretion. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl 124:39-45.
Morton, J.F. 1992. Widespread tannin intake via stimulants and masticatories, especially guarana, kola nut, betel vine, and accessories. Basic Life Sci (59):739-765.
Wren, R.C. 1988. Potter's New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd.
This material was adapted from The Complete German Commission E Monographs—Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. M. Blumenthal, W.R. Busse, A. Goldberg, J. Gruenwald, T. Hall, C.W. Riggins, R.S. Rister (eds.) S. Klein and R.S. Rister (trans.). 1998. Austin: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications.
1) The Overview section is new information.
2) Description, Chemistry and Pharmacology, Uses, Contraindications, Side Effects, Interactions with Other Drugs, and Dosage sections have been drawn from the original work. Additional information has been added in some or all of these sections, as noted with references.
3) The dosage for equivalent preparations (tea infusion, fluidextract, and tincture) have been provided based on the following example:
Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g per day of [powdered, crushed, cut or whole] [plant part]
Infusion: 2 g in 150 ml of water
Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2 ml
Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 10 ml
4) The References and Additional Resources sections are new sections. Additional Resources are not cited in the monograph but are included for research purposes.
This monograph, published by the Commission E in 1994, was modified based on new scientific research. It contains more extensive pharmacological and therapeutic information taken directly from the Commission E.
Excerpt from Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs Copyright 2000 American Botanical Council Published by Integrative Medicine Communications Available from the American Botanical Council.