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Cola acuminata (Abata Cola)

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description

Cola acuminata is a species in the genus Cola, of the family Malvaceae [although see the more detailed information below regarding name changes], which produces the Cola or Kola nut, the caffeine containing nut used as an ingredient in the drink cola.


Common name: Abata Cola

Synonyms: Kola nut

Correct botanical name: Cola acuminata (Sterculiaceae)

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Eudicots

Clade: Rosids

Order:  Malvales

Family: Malvaceae

Genus: Cola

Species: C. acuminata


The 5-centimetre- (2-inch-) long brown nut is hand-collected and dried in the sun for commercial use, mainly as an ingredient of soft drinks and medicine.  Kola nuts are also used locally as a medium of exchange.

Kola nuts are used to make the drink cola.  As can be seen from the description below, the original cola drink contained extracts from this nut, spices, caramel, coca leaves, lemon juice or citric acid, and was made up using sparkling water.  Sadly, today’s commercial cola drinks are an extremely poor substitute for the original drink. 

American and European soft-drink manufacturers these days do not even use the kola nut; instead, they manufacture synthetic chemicals that resemble the flavour of the kola nut.

Cola [plant genus] Written By: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Cola, genus of tropical trees of the chocolate family (Sterculiaceae, order Malvales) that bear fruits enclosing large kola, or cola, nuts containing caffeine, tannin, and theobromine. ….. the dried kola nuts being used in manufacturing the popular soft drink called cola. The cola drink consists of flavouring extracts of kola nut, spice oils, and other aromatics (and sometimes of coca leaves); caramel colouring; sugar and other sweeteners, singly or in combination; phosphoric acid or citric acid; carbon dioxide for effervescence; and water (86 to 92 percent by volume). In diet cola drinks, artificial flavourings and sweeteners may predominate, and the water content may near 100 percent.


Though native to Africa, two species especially, Cola acuminata and C. nitida, are grown commercially in various tropical regions around the world, and cultivated extensively in the American tropics.


Cola Schott & Endl. (Sterculiaceae) is a genus of about 125 species of trees indigenous to the tropical rain-forest African region (Ratsch, 2005). Phylogenetic information reveals that the genus was formerly classified in the family Malvaceae, subfamily Sterculioideae and was later transfered into the separate family Sterculiaceae. Cola is one of the largest in the family Sterculiaceae and is related to the South American genus Theobroma. It comprises of evergreen moderately sized trees often growing to a height of 20m with glossy ovoid leaves up to 30cm long. Cola species are found mostly in the relatively dry parts of the rain forest, although Cola millenii and Cola gigantea are widely distributed in wet and dry forest environments (Kuoame and Sacande, 2006; Olorode, 1984).

According to Russell (1955), the systematics of Cola species was in a state of “indescribable confusion”. In an attempt to resolve this confusion, Chevalier and Perrot (1911) created the Subgenus Eucola containing five species of edible kolanuts

  • Cola nitida (important for trade),
  • Cola acuminata (important for socio-cultural values),
  • Cola ballayi,
  • Cola verticillata and
  • Cola sphaerocarpa.

The latter three species are not known to be cultivated

The evergreen tree Cola acuminata may grow to over 60 feet high, and resembles the chestnut.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Mature kola trees may reach 12 to 20 m (40 to 65 feet) in height and grow best in sandy loams at low-lying elevations. These evergreen trees have oblong leathery leaves, yellow/white flowers, and star-shaped fruit. The podded seeds in the fruit are fleshy, about 2.5 to 4 cm (1 to 1.5 inches) long, and mottled white, brown, or reddish gray and have a bitter taste, though they become aromatic after aging.

Medicinal uses

In Africa kola nuts are chewed locally as a stimulant. In medicine the refined extract is used as a cardiac and central-nervous-system stimulant.

Kolanuts are also used  for their euphoriant qualities. They have effects similar to other xanthine containing herbs like cocoa, tea etc. However, the effects are distinctively different, producing a stronger state of euphoria and well being (Benjamin et al., 1991).

Kolanuts are often used to treat whooping cough and asthma. The caffeine present acts as a bronchodilator, expanding the bronchial air passages.

Kolanuts are also employed in the treatment of malaria and fever (Odugbemi, 2006). It is worth noting that Odugbemi (2006) also reported that the leaves of Cola millenii  are used in the treatment of ringworm, scabies, gonorrhoea, dysentery and opthalmia. Traditionally, the leaves, twigs, flowers, fruit follicles and the bark of Cola nitida and Cola acuminata are used to prepare a tonic as a remedy for dysentery, coughs, diarrhoea, vomiting and chest complaints.

As long ago as the 12th century, an Arab physician recommended kola for the relief of various stomach complaints and by the 16th century, it was incorporated into the matière médicale of Islamic science. Slave traders carried kola nuts on their ships ‘as a medical prophylactic agent or as an ordinary article of food, to avert, as far as practicable, those attacks of constitutional despondency to which … Negroes were peculiarly liable’ (Attfield quoted in Abaka).

In Victorian Britain ‘kola chocolate’, a preparation made from kola, sugar and vanilla, was dispensed to invalids and recommended to travellers to ‘allay hunger and relieve exhaustion’ while ‘kola champagne’ was advertised as a tonic and nerve stimulant.

And, of course, in 1886, it was used to create a ‘brain tonic’ known as Coca-Cola and a few years later, Pepsi-Cola was created and marketed as a medical tonic to relieve peptic ulcers and dyspepsia.


References and further reading

  • Jayeola O C. Preliminary studies on the use of kolanuts (Cola nitida) for soft drink production. J Food Technol Afr. 2001;6(1):25–26.
  • Kubmamwa D, Ajoju G A, Enwerem N N, Okarie D A. Preliminary phytochemical and Antimicrobial Screening of 50 Medicinal Plants from Nigeria. Afr J Biotechnol. 2007;6(14):1690–1696.
  • Odugbemi T. Outlines and Pictures of Medicinal plants from Nigeria. Vol. 10. University of Lagos Press; 2006.
  • Kim K. Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 2001;22:203–204.
  • Burkill H M. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. 11. Vol. 3. Kew. London: Royal Kew Botanical Gardens; 1995
  • Irvine F R. Wood Plants of the Ghana. Vol. 17. Oxford University Press; 1961

see also Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical database to obtain up-to-date lists of the  chemical, bioactivity, and ethnobotanical activity of this plant using scientific or common names. Search results can be downloaded in PDF or spreadsheet form. Of interest to pharmaceutical, nutritional, and biomedical research, as well alternative therapies and herbal products.

Cola [plant genus] Written By: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Kola nut Written By: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica


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