Kola Nut

Background & General Info

Kola nuts have become culturally noteworthy chestnut-sized nuts whose therapeutic reputation mostly comes from being allegedly able to dismiss several diseases. [1] These nuts are obtained from the kola tree, or Cola nitida, a dicotyledonous native species of the equatorial rainforests of West and Central Africa. An evergreen tropical tree, Cola nitida can be found as either “red” (alba) or “white” (rubra) subspecies. [2]Cola acuminata, a species closely related to Cola nitida, is sometimes also called kola nut, and both of these species’ seeds are utilized similarly. These two species of Cola are labeled “true kolas” because of their superior seeds for chewing; seeds of other Cola species are considered inferior for chewing and are known as “false or monkey kolas”. [3]

Kola Nut - Botany

Cola nitida is an evergreen tree that can grow up to approximately 20 meters and boasts a spreading, open canopy. Borne alternately on the stem, its oval leathery leaves have pointed ends and a shiny upper surface. Its star-shaped, off-white to cream flowers consist of five petals and a blotched, reddish-purple center with a prominent stigma and are usually pollinated by flies. The large, knobbly fruits are green pods that split into two equal halves to expose four to eight smooth, red or white seeds (kola nuts). [3]

Kola Nut - History & Traditional Use

Tired laborers and village men of West Africa under the heat often chew on bitter, astringent kola nuts, which are highly valued throughout the West African region as a powerful cultural symbol. These nuts are frequently offered as a sacred endowment to a village elder or marabout (a Muslim religious leader) to demonstrate respect and are a crucial part of community meetings where they are incorporated into a number of rites of passage and ceremonies to reinforce treaties and contracts. In Nigeria, the prophet Muhammad was believed to delight in kola nuts and present them as gifts, with his wealthier followers offering them also as alms during high festivals. [1] While Cola acuminata is more accepted by the Ibo and Igedde tribes of the Eastern and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria, respectively, Cola nitida on the other hand is more preferred by the Hausa-Fulani tribes of northern Nigeria. [2]

Kola Nut - Herbal Uses

Despite the bitter taste, raw kola nuts are chewed as a stimulant and are ingredients of some soft drinks. [3] Over several centuries, kola has been asserted by the Africans as a “sweetener of stale water” and as traditional treatment and reliever of fatigue, hunger pangs, infections, skin diseases and ulcers, toothaches and sore gums, morning sickness, difficult labors, irregular menstrual cycles, colic and other intestinal diseases, headaches, depression, flagging libidos, severe coughs, asthma, a range of eye diseases, and both dysentery and constipation. [1] In western African and Anglo-American herbal medicine, the seeds of both Cola nitida and Cola acuminata are also used as an antidepressant and remedy for migraine and diarrhea. Across the African regions, the bark of Cola nitida is applied on wounds and swollen body areas, whereas the bark from the plant’s pods is combined with other indigenous ingredients to lessen labor pains. [3]

Kola Nut - Constituents / Active Components

Kola nuts contain xanthines and their derivatives, including caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, which are the same group of alkaloids found in tea and coffee. [2] Employing gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS), Salahdeen et al. (2014) determined the total caffeine content of kola nut extract to be 51%, although it was said to be 96% pure from GC–MS analysis. [4]

Kola Nut - Medicinal / Scientific Research

Locomotor Activities:

Through direct ethological observations, an earlier 1990 research had been performed on how fresh kola nut extract affected the locomotor activity of male laboratory mice. Intraperitoneal injection of kola nut extract to experimental mice at medium dose (5 mg/kg) and high dose (10 mg/kg) led to significantly increased and depressed locomotor activities, respectively. This finding indicated a dose-and time-dependent induction of biphasic changes in locomotor activity of mice by the kola nut extract. [5]

Findings from a 2000 research indicated that orally administered aqueous extract derived from kola nuts promotes exploratory locomotor activity of rats in a Y-maze because of its caffeine content but does not improve habituation. In this study, the number of entries into all arms of the maze and the frequency of rearing after the extract was provided to rats were verified over a period of 20 min. This was repeated a day later but without the aqueous extract being administered. At a concentration of 400 and 800 mg/kg, the kola nut extract significantly increased the number of entries into the arms but decreased the frequency of rearing. [6]


The study results of Salahdeen et al. (2014) suggested that the activity of kola nut extract is likely linked to its caffeine content. Wistar albino rats that orally received kola nut extract and caffeine for six weeks had significantly reduced body weight and considerably increased mean arterial blood pressure. Rats correspondingly consuming decaffeinated kola nut extract and caffeine had significantly decreased contractile response to norepinephrine and higher potassium solution. Such consumption of both caffeine and kola nut led to a decrease in relaxation response to acetylcholine and sodium nitroprusside. [4]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

A 1981 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology pointed out several overt neurotoxicological signs in male albino rats orally administered with kola nut extract, including a reduction in total body weight and significant decrease in serum total and conjugated bilirubin levels. Following 18 weeks of administration, absolute weights of the liver, kidney, brain, and testis increased and these organs’ total protein, RNA, and DNA were described to be significantly depressed. Induction of activity of beta-glucuronidase and beta-galactosidase was observed only in the kidney, brain, and testis of treated animals. [7]

Since kola nuts contain xanthines known to stimulate secretion of gastric acids, patients diagnosed with peptic ulcer are advised not to consume kola nuts. [2] Results from the study of Ojo et al. (2010) suggested that Cola nitida at dose of 600mg/kg body weight can cause gastric lesion in experimental animals, which can become pronounced if administration of kola nuts persists for days. Histological analysis of tissues of sacrificed Wistar rats that received Cola nitida crude extract via oral intubation revealed necrotized surface epithelium, degenerated gastric mucosa, and loss of glandular elements in the stomachs. To prevent gastrointestinal-related complications, this study hence advised caution on taking Cola nitida. [8]


[1] D. Starin, "Kola nut: so much more than just a nut," Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 106, no. 12, p. 510–512, 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3842857/

[2] J. Ibu, A. Iyama, C. Ijije, D. Ishmael, M. Ibeshi and S. Nwokediuko, "The effect of cola acuminata and cola nitida on gastric acid secretion," Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 124, p. 39–45, 1986. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3508643

[3] "Cola nitida (Vent.) Schott & Endl.," Plants of the World Online. https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:822755-1

[4] H. Salahdeen, A. Omoaghe, G. Isehunwa, B. Murtala and A. Alada, "Effects of chronic administration of ethanolic extract of kolanut (Cola nitida) and caffeine on vascular function," African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, vol. 43, no. 1, p. 17–27, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25335374

[5] J. Ajarem, "Effects of fresh kola-nut extract (Cola nitida) on the locomotor activities of male mice," Acta Physiologica et Pharmacologica Bulgarica, vol. 16, no. 4, p. 10–15, 1990. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2130624

[6] R. Ettarh, S. Okoosi and M. Eteng, "The influence of kolanut (cola nitida) on exploratory behaviour in rats," Pharmaceutical Biology, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 281–283, 2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21214476

[7] F. Ikegwuonu, T. Aire and S. Ogwuegbu, "Effects of kola-nut extract administration on the liver, kidney, brain, testis and some serum constituents of the rat," Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 1, no. 6, p. 292–294, 1981. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6193164

[8] G. B. Ojo, P. U. Nwoha, D. A. Ofusori, et al., "Microanatomical effects of ethanolic extract of Cola nitida on the stomach mucosa of adult Wistar rats," African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines, vol. 7, no. 1, p. 47–52, 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005387/

Article researched and created by Dan Ablir for herbshealthhappiness.com.
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