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The term “kola nut” can be used in two instances. First, it can be used to refer to an evergreen tree from the Sterculiaceae family, which grows approximately 40 feet (12 m) high. Second, it can be used to refer to the seeds produced by that tree, which are used as stimulants, tonic, and breathing aids.
Kola nut trees are indigenous to West and Central Africa. Today, various species can also be found in the West Indies, Brazil, and Indonesia. It is believed that they exist in these places because they were introduced by slaves. The trees are most notably used for their seeds, which are sometimes referred to simply as kola. Inside of the star shaped fruit the tree produces is a white shell, which generally protects about 12 of these seeds.
When kola nut is fresh, it is white and may have a very astringent taste. For this reason, it is sometimes called bitter nut. As it ages and dries, its flavor dissipates and it will begin to change colors to become shades of red, pink, or magenta. In some places, it is common to find people chewing the raw seed. The reason why they do this tends to vary from one culture to another.
Kola nut generally contains a significant amount of caffeine, although the quantity can vary from one species to another. The seeds also contain theobromine, another stimulant. Chewing of the seeds is, therefore, done in many cases to achieve stimulating effects that can help to counteract conditions such as fatigue. According to Healthline Plus, the Journal of the American Medical Association advocates the use of kola over other stimulants because it is not addictive and does not cause depression.
It has been found that kola nut can have several other effects on the body. For example, kola has been used to treat migraine headaches because the seed appears to have the ability to increase blood flow in the head. It has also been used in the treatment of conditions such as asthma because of its ability to affect bronchial flow.
The seed can have an impact on the gastrointestinal system. One way it does this is by promoting gastric acid production, which makes the seed an effective digestive aid. It is also believed that some cultures chew kola because it is an appetite suppressant. Furthermore, chewing the seed reportedly improves the flavor of food when it is eaten before a meal.
Kola nut is not always eaten fresh. It may also be used to make a liquid extract or a tincture. It is sometimes used as a general tonic, and in some instances, the seed is powdered and used to treat external conditions such as cuts or bites.
There are some people for whom kola nut is not recommended. Due to the caffeine content, pregnant women are advised not to consume the nut. Healthline also discourages those who suffer from insomnia, heart disease, or seizures from using the nut. Consumption, especially when used heavily or when used for an extended period of time, has been noted to result in several possible kola nut side effects. These include oral blisters, nervousness, and gastrointestinal problems.