Bitter kola, scientifically known as Garcinia kola, is a common plant found across Central and Western Africa.
The early blends of Coca-Cola contained the plant, explaining the similar name, while the current formula of the world-famous drink is no longer flavoured with actual bitter kola.
Bitter kola has been used in traditional African medicine for centuries and is considered to have many beneficial properties, including being able to help fight bacterial and viral infections.
In terms of taste, the plant is well named! The edible seeds have a notably bitter taste, while there is also a slight sweetness to them. When consumed, bitter kola offers many nutrients, and studies have shown that the plant is high in carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamin c, calcium, potassium, iron and caffeine.
Health benefits of bitter kola nut
The aphrodisiac credentials: Traditional medicine considers bitter kola to be an aphrodisiac, so it’s believed to increase sexual desire, pleasure and performance.
The nuts may be a remedy for osteoarthritis: An osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis. It’s characterised by the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone, causing pain and stiffness, especially in the hip, knee, and thumb joints. The causes of osteoarthritis can include joint injury, obesity, ageing as well as hereditary factors.
Researchers at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria tested bitter kola on the symptoms of osteoarthritis and concluded that bitter kola may significantly reduce the inflammation and pain associated with the condition. The plant also increased joint movement in patients.
Bitter kola has antibacterial qualities: A study published in the Science Journal of Microbiology has shown that both the bitter kola seeds and leaves have antibacterial properties. Bitter kola was tested against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Salmonella typhi and Escherichia coli, and the plant was able to inhibit these microorganisms. The antibacterial activity was found to be due to the presence of bioactive components in the extract such as tannin, and saponins.
The nuts may improve the function of the lungs: Results from research conducted in conjunction with several Nigerian universities showed that bitter kola has a positive effect on the lungs and can improve ventilation levels.
Extracts of the plant have also been studied in relation to asthma, and there is the suggestion that bitter kola may have some protective effects against the respiratory disorder.
Bitter kola nut may improve the immune system: Bitter kola has a high concentration of antioxidants, which is a term for any compound that counteracts free radicals. While environmental stressors such as tobacco smoke, ultraviolet rays and air pollution cause free radical production, they are also produced by many normal processes in the body including exercise and our immune response.
Free radicals damage DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells. So, as well as being essential assistance for important functions in the body, antioxidants also support the immune system.
It may be an antimalarial agent: Bitter kola contains the antioxidant kolaviron, which according to research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, shows positive results for antimalarial properties. Traditional healers have for many years prescribed bitter kola for the treatment of malaria infections, and now, scientific studies are starting to support their beliefs.
Bitter kola may help to fight glaucoma: Glaucoma is a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing a gradual loss of sight, and can result in permanent blindness if left untreated.
A study in the Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology showed that bitter kola is useful for reducing the pressure in the eye for newly diagnosed patients, and was as effective as more conventional treatments.
It is important to note that you must follow professional medical advice and treatment if you have glaucoma, even if the condition is newly diagnosed.
Side effects of bitter kola
It is important to take any supplement or traditional medicinal product in moderation. Bitter kola has a number of known side effects.
It can increase blood pressure: If you’re suffering from hypertension, avoid bitter kola, because as reported by Medical News Today, the nut contains a stimulant with properties that increase blood pressure.
Bitter kola can cause insomnia: Due to the presence of caffeine in kola nut, you may find it difficult to sleep after consumption. Caffeine increases alertness, which may make falling asleep more difficult for some people.
It can cause tremors (involuntary movements): It has been reported that bitter kola nut can have a negative impact on the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system, which can lead to shakiness, anxiousness, and shivering.
Bitter kola can be eaten on its own, uncooked, like many other nuts. Keep in mind, however, that it’s called “bitter” for a reason. Bitter kola can be an acquired taste.
You can sometimes find drinks made or flavoured with bitter kola at African markets and online stores. If you don’t like the taste but want to introduce bitter kola to your diet, these drinks may be a good option.