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Cola nuts have about a dozen seeds within the fruit. The seeds are approximately walnut sized, creamy white when fresh, turning pink to reddish brown when dry. The nut has sweet, rose-like smell but is quite bitter to the taste. Flavor tends to decrease in bitterness with chewing. The teeth, lips and gums of the person chewing cola nuts will turn orange.
The cola tree flowers for three months, and then fruits for three months. The dried nuts are available year round.
Cola nitida is a tropical evergreen tree from West Africa. The cola tree can grow up to 25 meters tall. Its pale yellow flowers have purple stripes, and the leaves of the tree are shiny and light green. The nuts within the star-shaped woody fruit contain caffeinated seeds (cola nuts). The seeds of the cola nut are very important in West African culture and medicine.
Cola nuts have many applications: as a stimulant, an antidepressant, to treat wounds and swellings, to reduce labor pains, to suppress hunger and thirst, to prevent dysentery, to treat fever, as an aphrodisiac, and as a painkiller for migraines and other ailments. The bitter, raw seeds are chewed both ceremoniously and recreationally. The bark is used as a tooth-cleaning stick. Cola nut extract is used to this day in some soft drinks, and was an original ingredient in Coca Cola. The nuts are harvested mechanically or by hand and dried.
Cola nuts are used extensively in West Africa and are a very important part of social and ceremonial life. They are offered to guests and presented to chiefs as a sign of respect. They are consumed at social events and at the beginnings of political and spiritual meetings. They were used in Africa for centuries, and by westerners for as a flavor and stimulating ingredient in commercial cola drinks.
Cola nitida is native to West Africa and has also been introduced to Central Africa, India, Brazil and Jamaica. It is grown both commercially and found in the wild. It prefers a hot, humid climate but can also grow in well-irrigated areas or where there is a high ground level. Cola nitida plays an important role in Western history as well as its great significance in Africa. Coca-Cola was originally made with a blend of cola nuts and coca leaves by John Pemberton in the 1880s. These days, natural cola extract has been replaced with a synthetic caffeine ingredient, but cola is still used in other soft drinks around the world.