Some African Kolas, in their Botanical, Chemical and Therapeutical Aspects.

(Abstract of a lengthy memoir read before the Union Scientifique des Pharmaciens de France (Journ. Pharm. et de Chimie, [5], vii, p. 553; viii, p. 81, 177.))


Among the vegetable products of the African soil, there is perhaps none more interesting and valuable than those which under the various names of "kola," "gourou," "ombéné," "nangoué," and "kokkorokou," are used as articles of consumption throughout tropical and equatorial Africa, as equivalent to tea, coffee, maté and cacao. Used under the form of seeds, probably from time immemorial, by the native tribes, these products are of varying botanic origin, and their history has been up to the present time imperfectly known; but the authors have been able to avail themselves of the observations of some recent travelers to clear up some obscure points.

The products which are included by the authors under the name ""kola" (the various synonyms quoted being special to particular countries) consist of seeds, yielded by two families of plants and differing very much in appearance. The kind most widely distributed, the "true kola," which by some of the natives is called the "female kola," comes from the Sterculiaceae; another variety, called by the author "false kola," is known among the negroes as simply "kola," or "male kola." Before the authors' researches only the "true" or "female" kola was known, and it had been ascertained to be yielded by the Sterculia acuminata, P. de Beauv. (Cola acuminata, R. Br.). To this Messrs. Heckeland and Schlagdenhauffen are able now to add information concerning the "male" kola, hitherto unknown, and to give reasons for believing that various other species of Sterculia, besides S. acuminata, yield kola seeds.

Dealing first with "female" kola, the authors describe at length Sterculia acuminata from specimens, the description agreeing with Oliver's description of var. a (Fl. Trop. Af., L, 220.) According to the best information, the tree—which is from 30 to 60 feet high, and in general aspect resembles the chestnut—grows wild upon the western coast of Africa comprised between Sierra Leone and the Congo or Lower Guinea, reaching into the interior about five or six hundred miles, where it appears to follow the limits of the palm. Upon the eastern coast it appears to be unknown in places where it has not been introduced by the English. Dr. Schweinfurth, speaking of the country of the Nyams-Nyams, near lake Nyanza, says that among the imposing forms of vegetation a Sterculia of the kola kind predominates and is called locally "kokkorokou." In the country of the Momboutous (24° E. long., 3° N. lat.), too, upon asking for kola he was supplied with the fruit in its rose-colored envelope; but the only information he could obtain there concerning it was that the nuts were found in the country in the wild state and were called "nangoué" by the natives, who chewed slices of it whilst smoking. Karsten, in his "Flore de Colombie," describes the plant as growing wild in the moist hot woods near the southern coast of Venezuela, but the authors believe it was probably introduced there about the same time as it was introduced into Martinique, and that it was sown by African negroes, who brought it into those countries in the same manner as they are known to have introduced S. cordifolia for the sake of its delicious fruit. It has also been introduced successfully by the English into the East Indies, the Seychelles, Ceylon, Demerara, Dominica, Mauritius, Sidney and Zanzibar, and by the French recently at Guadelope, Cayenne, Cochin China and the Gaboon. In all these stations the kola tree flourishes best in moist lands at the sea-level, or a little above. At Sierra Leone some fine trees are found at an elevation of 200 or 300 metres, but not higher than that.

The kola tree commences to yield a crop about its fourth or fifth year, but it is not until about its tenth year that it is in full bearing. A single tree will then yield an average of 120 lbs. of seed annually. The flowering is nearly continuous after the tree reaches maturity, so that a large tree bears flowers and fruit at the same time. There are two collections; the June flowering yielding the fruit in October and November, and that of November and December in May and June. When the fruit is ripe it takes a brownish yellow color. In this condition dehiscence of the capsule commences along the ventral suture, exposing red and white seeds in the same shell. It is at this period that they are gathered. It has been stated that there exist two varieties of kola, one yielding exclusively red seeds and the other white; but the authors have been repeatedly assured that this is not the case, and that one and the same capsule may contain fifteen seeds varying considerably in size, white and red together, without the white being considered less ripe than the red. The carpels are from 6 to 9 centimetres long and 3 to 5 thick and the spongy pericarp is about 2 or 3 millimetres thick. As many as five or six ripe carpels may result from a single flower, and these may each contain from five to fifteen seeds; but sometimes carpels are met with containing only a single seed. The seeds removed from their envelope weigh, according to their development, from 5 to 25 or 28 grams. The epiderm is the principal site of the coloring matter, and beneath it the cotyledonary tissue consists of a mass of cells gorged with large starch granules comparable to potato starch. It is in these that the alkaloids caffeine and theobromine are found in the free state.

The collection is conducted with great care and is made by women. The seeds are removed from the husk and freed from the episperm. In order to maintain their value among the negroes it is necessary to keep them in a fit state and in good condition. They are, therefore, carefully picked over, all damaged and worm-eaten seeds being removed, and the sound seeds are then placed in large baskets, made of bark and lined with "bal" leaves (Sterculia acuminata, Car., or S. heterophylla, Beauv.?); the seeds are heaped up and then covered over with more "bal" leaves which, by their thickness, resistance and dimensions, contribute not a little to the preservation of the seeds by keeping them from contact with dry air. Packed in this manner the seeds can be transported considerable distances, remaining free from mould for about a month, during which time it is not necessary to submit them to any treatment in order to preserve them fresh beyond keeping the "bal" leaves moist. But if it be desired to keep them beyond that time the operations of picking and re-packing have to be repeated about every thirty days; the seeds, being washed in fresh water and fresh "bal" leaves placed in the baskets. The baskets usually contain about 3 cwts. of seeds. It is in this condition that "kola" is sent into Gambia and Goree, where the principal dealings in the seeds are carried on. In Gambia they are sold in the fresh state to merchants traveling with caravans into the interior, who dry them in the sun and reduce them to a fine powder, which is used, mixed with milk and honey, by the tribes of the interior to make a very agreeable, stimulating and nourishing beverage. It most frequently arrives at Sokota and Kouka in the Soudan and Timbuctoo, where large sales of the seeds are made, in the fresh condition; from the Soudan markets it is carried by caravans to Tripoli, and from Timbuctoo into Morocco. As might be expected the value of the Kola increases as it makes its way into the interior of Africa, and the authors state that some of the tribes furthest removed from the sea pay for the dry powder with an equal weight of gold dust. Kola plays an important part in the social life of many of the African tribes, and the authors mention some of the occasions upon which it is used in terms almost identical with those in a paper read at an evening meeting of the Pharmaceutical Society eighteen years ago (Pharm. Journ., [2], vi., 450.) An interchange of white kola between two chiefs is indicative of friendship and peace, whilst the sending of red kola is an act of defiance. An offer of marriage is accompanied by a present of white kola for the mother of the lady; the return of white kola is. equivalent to acceptance of the suit, whilst red means rejection. The absence of a supply of kola from among the marriage presents would endanger the whole arrangement. All the oaths are administered in the presence of kola seeds; the negro stretches out his hand over them whilst he swears and eats them afterwards.

Fresh kola is used as a masticatory, as is also the dried powder, by the-tribes in the interior. When fresh the taste of the seeds is first sweet, then astringent and finally bitter. When the seeds become dry the bitterness diminishes, giving place to a sweeter flavor; but upon steeping them in water for a couple of days the original bitterness is nearly restored. Preference is given for mastication to seeds containing only two cotyledonary segments, it being asserted that they are less rough than those with four to six segments; but the authors did not find anything in their chemical examination to explain this preference. The practice of kola mastication, which is always accompanied by the swallowing of the saliva, does not injuriously affect the teeth, as is the case with the betel nut, but tends to render the gums firm, and exercises a tonic influence on the digestive organs. The seeds are reputed to clarify and render healthy the most foul waters, and to render tainted meat edible, and when chewed, either fresh or as a dry powder, and the saliva swallowed, to be a sure preventive against dysentery. They are also said, like Erythroxylon Coca, to possess the physiological property of enabling persons eating them to undergo prolonged exertion without fatigue, which is probably to be attributed to the caffeine they contain. Further it is said that kola exercises a favorable influence upon the liver, and that white people, living in those regions, who chew a small quantity before meals escape constitutional changes due to affections of that organ. They are also believed by the negroes to have aphrodisiac properties. With respect to the assertion that the pulp or powder of the seeds thrown into foul water has the property of cleaning it, an experiment made by the authors would appear to show that any action in this direction would be due to the formation of a kind of mucilage, which would act mechanically like the white of an egg.

It has been pointed out that the name "kola" is applied in Africa indifferently to several Sterculaceous seeds other than those of the two varieties of Cola acuminata, although these are the most valued in the native markets. It is probable that the African plants capable of yielding seeds resembling the true kola are Cola Duparquetiana, Baill., C. ficifolia, Mast., C. heterophylla, Mast., C. cordifolia, Cav., and perhaps Sterculia tomentosa, Hend. But the authors think it doubtful whether these seeds contain caffeine, otherwise they would be as much sought after as the true kola.

In order to determine chemically the composition of kola seeds, the authors made a large number of experiments; the details fill many pages in the original paper. The dry seeds were first operated upon, and the process which appeared to give the best results was to exhaust the dried powder successively with chloroform and alcohol. The chloroform percolate was a yellowish liquid; this was evaporated to dryness, and the residue treated with water, which separated a fatty substance with an odor recalling that of cacao butter and entirely saponifiable by caustic potash. The yellow liquid upon concentration after filtration, deposited silky needles of caffeine, but when the solution was rapidly evaporated and the residue treated with water, ether or chloroform it no longer completely dissolved without using a considerable quantity and boiling, and upon such a solution cooling a small quantity of a compound crystallized out in microscopic prisms and octahedra which proved to be theobromine. The substances separated by chloroform from the dry nuts, were—caffeine, 2.348 per cent.; theobromine, 0.023 per cent.; tannin, 0.027 per cent.; fat, 0.583 per cent.

The kola powder was then dried and exhausted with alcohol. A mahogany colored extract was obtained which when treated with boiling water dissolved entirely, but the solution on cooling deposited a large quantity of coloring matter. The aqueous solution was precipitated with triplumbic-acetate, the precipitate decomposed with sulphuretted hydrogen, and a liquid obtained, free from bitterness, containing a considerable quantity of a tannin giving an intense green color with persalts of iron, and a soluble coloring matter that formed lakes in contact with metallic solutions; the residue of the aqueous solution, after removal of excess of lead, was found to contain only glucose and a small quantity of fixed salts. The coloring-matter deposited upon the cooling of the boiling water used in dissolving the alcoholic extract differed in its nature from the soluble coloring matter It appeared to be an oxidation product from the tannin and presented considerable analogy to cinchona red; in order to distinguish it, therefore, the authors have named it "kola red."

The composition of the alcoholic extract from the dry nuts (5.826 per cent.) was found to be—tannin, 1.591 per cent.; kola red, 1.290 per cent.; glucose, 2.875 per cent.; fixed salts 0.070 per cent.

The entire composition of the kola nut is compared by the authors with that of tea, coffee and cacao as follows:

Cacao (Mitcherlich) Coffee (Payen). Green Tea (Peligot). Black Tea (Peligot). Kola (Author's)
Fat 53.00 13.00 0.28 ... 0.585
Proteid Matters 13.00 13.00 3.00 2.80 6.761
Theobromine 1.50 ... ... ... 0.023
Caffeine ... 2.25 0.43 0.46 2.348
Essential Oil 0.04 0.003 0.79 0.60 undct.
Resin ... ... 2.22 3.64 ...
Sugar 0.5 15.50 ... ... 2.875
Starch ... 33.754
Gum ... ... 8.58 7.28 3.040
Cellulose ... 34.00 17.08 26.18 29.831
Coloring Matters ... ... 17.24 19.20 2.561
Coloring Matters 5.00 ... 2.22 1.84 1.290
Extractive ... ... 22.80 19.88 ...
Tannin ... ... 17.80 12.88 1.618
Ash 3.60 6.697 5.56 5.24 3.395
Water 6.00 12.00 ... ... 11.909
100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00

These results, it is pointed out, differ somewhat from those obtained by Attfield (Pharm. Journ., [2], vi, 457,) especially in the recognition of the presence of a second alkaloid and of tannin. The proportion of caffeine is higher than that observed in any coffee, or, except in rare instances, in tea, and exceeds that of theobromine in cacao. The alkaloid exists in kola, as in tea, uncombined, but in coffee, according to Payen, it is present as chlorogenate of potassium and caffeine. It is worth mentioning that the authors report the presence of a considerable proportion of caffeine and some theobromine in the pericarp, but the material at their disposal was too scanty for an exhaustive investigation in this direction. The leaves, wood and bark were also examined for alkaloid, but gave negative results. As in the case of coffee, kola undergoes a considerable loss of caffeine (three-fourths) during roasting, while the quantity of essential oil present is augmented.

Some experiments have been made with this kind of kola in the treatment of the atonic diarrhoea to which Europeans are frequently liable in tropical countries. The results have been fairly satisfactory, and through the efforts of M. Heckel the medicine has been supplied to some French colonial stations for a systematic trial. The preparations used are an aqueous extract, an alcoholic extract and a wine. The alcoholic extract is made by exhausting fresh kola with 5 parts of 60° alcohol and the wine by macerating the same proportions of kola in a sweet white wine during a fortnight. Neither of these preparations, however, completely exhaust the kola, at least as far as the caffeine is concerned. The preparation of an aqueous extract presents considerable difficulty in consequence of the quantity of starch, which forms an unmanageable magma.

Concerning the "male kola" or "kola bitter," as before stated, nothing definite was known, and as recently as the year 1882, it was referred erroneously to a species of Sterculia. In the "Flora of Tropical Africa," Oliver says: "The kola bitter of Fernando-Po is the product of trees belonging to the Guttiferae. The authors were led by this remark to attempt to obtain from various parts of the eastern coast specimens of the plant yielding "kola bitter," and although the flowers did not reach them they received specimens of the branches, leaves and fruits, together with a sufficient quantity of seeds to allow of a complete analysis being made. All the specimens received from various places corresponded in their characters, and showed that the kola bitter is the produce of a single Guttiferous species and not of several. From the material at their disposal the authors refer it to a new species, Garcinia Kola, Heckel. (The plant yielding "bitter kola" was identified as a species of Garcinia by Dr. Maxwell T. Masters eight years ago, and was partly described and the fruit figured by him in the Journal of Botany for March, 1875.—Editor Phar. Jour., February 2, p. 610.) The plant is described as a tree of variable aspect, 10 to 20 feet in height, bearing towards the base of the branches large opposite leaves (12 in. long by 7 in. broad,) with short petioles, whilst at the extremity of the branches the leaves are much smaller (5 in. by 2 in.) The leaves are oval, slightly dilated at the base, mucronate at the apex, without stipules, full green on the upper surface and greyish underneath. The fruit is a berry the size of an apple, with a rugose epiderm covered entirely with rough hairs. It presents three or four divisions, each containing a large oval cuneiform seed, rounded on the external and angular on the internal face; the seeds are covered with an abundant sourish yellowish pulp, constituting a true arillus. The fruit has at the base the persistent calyx still adherent to the peduncle, and sometimes the persistent corolla, and at the apex the persistent stigma. The plant is reported to occur all along the eastern coast of Africa and of Senegal, intermixed with the Sterculia acuminata, flourishing under the same conditions, but less widely distributed. In its known characters the plant would appear to be closely allied with Garcinia Morella, which, however, is essentially an Asiatic species. The seeds present one convex and two plane surfaces, the former being towards the circumference of the fruit. They are covered by an apricot-yellow episperm, below which is a large yellowish-white macropodous embryo, devoid of cotyledons, and with numerous depressions on its surface. The tissue is denser and closer than that of true kola and crackles under the teeth; it consists of a compact mass of very homogeneous cellular tissue, interspersed here and there with laticiferous vessels of varying size containing resin, the cells constituting which are filled with starch granules larger than those occurring in true kola.

Upon chewing these seeds a strongly bitter, astringent and yet aromatic taste is perceptible, which is quite different from that of true kola, and approaches in its aromatic flavor that of green coffee; it is this aromatic flavor that is esteemed by the negroes. It is worthy of remark that although the use of these seeds does not produce any notable stimulant effects or ward off fatigue, they are as much sought after and fetch nearly as high a price on the eastern coast as the true kola. In the interior, however, they are unknown. The authors are of opinion that these seeds owe their properties to the resin they contain, which is slightly stimulant. By the negroes they are thought to exercise an aphrodisiac action, which the authors consider doubtful, and as a masticatory, they are said to be a valuable remedy for colds.

An examination of fresh male kola nuts for caffeine gave negative results, the chloroform, ether and alcoholic percolates being all free from alkaloid. Besides coloring matter, tannin and glucose, two resins were separated. One of these was brown, hygrometric and soluble in ether and melted at the temperature of the water-bath; the other was yellowish-white, soluble in ether, alcohol, acetone and acetic acid, insoluble in carbon bisulphide or petroleum spirit, and had a high melting point.

A large proportion of the paper is devoted to a study of the constitution of caffeine and several of its derivatives, in reference to the identification of the alkaloidal substances obtained by the authors from the female kola.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., Jan. 26, 1884, p. 586.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 56, 1884, was edited by John M. Maisch.