Bitter Kola: The Traditional Medicine Of West Africa


In Africa, bitter kola has been used by different tribes and cultures for centuries. In West Africa, it is offered to elders as a symbol of respect, hospitality and good health to their age. Although the values of bitter kola differs in many cultures and tribes. Due to its attributes to good health, both young and older people chew bitter kola in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

Bitter Kola (Garcinia Kola) is an ellipsoid, odorless, bitter tasting, nut/fruit whose tree grows in the tropical rain forest of west Africa. The cherry shaped fruit can either be green or red in color, while the nuts (inside 3-5 cm) are light/deep brown in a thin bark, which is removed to show the pale porous textured nut. It has low water content and retention, which makes it as dry as coconut and so, it is mostly chewed raw.

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Garcinia Kola

Locations of Bitter kola in West Africa

Bitter kola is found in the subtropical or tropical moist low land forest of west African countries such as; Gabon, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Liberia and Nigeria.

In Nigeria, bitter kola is very popular and very important among the three major tribes because of its many healing powers as well as the very widely believed myth about its repellent properties towards snakes, scorpions and all such crawling insects that are dangerous to man.

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Healing Powers of Bitter Kola 

The bitter Kola even more than the ordinary kola nut itself, is believed to posses rare healing properties that make it very valuable to locals in places where it grows. For instance, it has been confirmed by herbal doctors that eating a piece of bitter kola daily can aid in the treatment of some ailments such as;  arthritis, low libido, low sperm count, erectile dysfunction, eye pressure and even hangovers. It can also help in improving lung function, knee osteoarthritis and many more illnesses which it is yet to be tested in their treatment procedures.

A study carried out and recently published in The Science Journal of Microbiology showed that bitter kola has an antibacterial effect on the bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever and is equally very efficacious for the treatment of hepatitis. The stem, bark and the nuts are used to relief acute fever, inflammation of the respiratory tract and throat infections while chewing the nut helps to relieve hoarseness of voice, sore throat and cough.

In traditional medicine also, the nut is used in the treatment of liver disorder, dysentery and diarrhea. The leaves are used to cure stomach ache/pains and serves as a good remedy for typhoid fever. Besides it’s antibiotic and antioxidant effects which detoxifies the body system, It is also taken to provide an antidote against Strophanthus poisoning.

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bitter kola

Other Health Benefits

In some parts of Africa, Bitter Kola is offered to guests in traditional ceremonies in place of the usual kola nuts.This is mostly because it is believed that it can repel witches and keep evil people at bay. Even though there are no concrete instances that give substance to the believe, there have been testimonies from people who insisted they used to have attacks from witches until they began chewing bitter kola before bed and dropping it in every corner of their room. Bitter kola has been indicated in the treatment of laryngitis, general inflammation, bronchitis, viral infections and diabetes. It has been branded by many as an energizer, aiding weight loss, improving thirst for lots of water which is good for the body as well as suppressing hunger for food.

Side Effects of Bitter Kola  

According to a Nigerian physician, Emeka Amechi, the likely effects of bitter cola can only be incurred by a patient who is on “English” medication, because of it antidote properties. This means that Bitter Kola is not supposed to be taken when one is one a medically prescribed medication using lab produced drugs. This only shows how strong the effect of bitter Kola is since it can nullify the effects of other drugs.

Bitter Kola is a valuable commercial product sold across west African countries, mostly found in local food stuff markets and other small markets at any price desired by the consumer.

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