The seeds of Sterculia acuminata, Palisot de Beauvais (Cola acuminata, Robert Brown). It has many other synonyms. (See Kola, Monograph No. 5, of Frederick Stearns & Co.)
COMMON NAMES: Kola, Kola nut, Female kola, Cola (Bissy-bissy, Guru, Vernacular).
ILLUSTRATIONS: Kola, Monograph No. 5, of Frederick Stearns & Co., Figs. 3, 5, 6 and 11; Kola Illustrated, by Johnson & Johnson.
Botanical Source.—This is a tree from 40 to 60 feet high, somewhat resembling the common chestnut tree. The trunk is erect, smooth, and cylindrical. The bark is green and thick. The leaves are alternate, entire, slightly revolute, smooth, green, and oblong-acuminate, from 8 to 6 inches long by 1 to 2 inches broad. They are borne on petioles from 1 to 3 inches long. The younger leaves are pubescent. The flowers are polygamous, and borne in both terminal and axillary cymose panicles, beset with stellate hairs. The flowers are greenish-yellow or white and purple at the margins of the petals. The fruit is composed of follicles, containing from 1 to 10 oblong obtuse seeds, with a cartilaginous, purplish testa. The cotyledons are generally 2 in number (may be 3 to 5), red or greenish-yellow, flatly ovate, or auriculate, compressed, and thick.
History.—The kola tree grows in a somewhat limited locality, comprising that portion of western Africa between Sierra Leone and the Congo and Lower Guinea. It thrives at about or a little higher than the sea level, in hot and moist situations. When conditions of soil and climate are favorable, it grows inland from the points mentioned 500 or 600 miles. It has been found elsewhere, though undoubtedly introduced, as in Jamaica, where it was distributed by slave traders. The English and French have introduced it into many of their possessions, and the gulf and Pacific coast districts of the United States are said to possess the required climate and soil for its growth in this country. The travels of Leo Africanus (in the 16th century) referred to this tree as the Gora or Guru, and he wrote concerning its bitter nut. Clusius (1591) described and illustrated the seeds. J. Bauhin first referred to its medicinal use, noting its employment by the natives in fevers. Kola seeds have been used by the African natives from time immemorial as a necessity and a luxury. It figured as an indispensable necessity in many ceremonials—social, political, and religious. It was used as a declaration of war (red nut), and as a symbol of peace (white nut). It figured in courtship and marriage, compacts of friendship, as a mark of hospitality, and was put into the graves of the dead to nourish them on their long journey. The natives masticated kola to allay hunger, prevent thirst, promote digestion, and sustain strength. Like the so-called Indian clearing nut, it was accredited with the property of purifying and sweetening water. The natives prefer it over tea and coffee, and innumerable are the fabulous virtues ascribed to it. In civilized countries kola was known chiefly as a curiosity until quite recently. In 1883, Heckel and Schlagdenhauffen published a detailed monograph concerning it, entitled "Sur les Kolas Africains." It now has an extensive commerce in this country. (For exhaustive and instructive matter concerning kola consult "Kola," by Frederick Stearns & Co., and Kola Illustrated, by Johnson & Johnson; see also an interesting illustrated paper by F. B. Kilmer, on Bissy nuts, the Kola of the West Indies, in Amer. Drug., 1894, p. 356.)
Description.—Kola nuts, so-called, are the cotyledons of the seeds, deprived of their purplish, cartilaginous testa. The irregular seeds, owing to close nesting in the follicle, have a compressed, somewhat triangular and subtetragonal shape, and bear considerable resemblance to the horse-chestnut. The cotyledons, which may number from 2 to 5, are fleshy and thick, and about 1 inch in length. They have, when fresh, a bitterish, somewhat astringent taste. When dried, however, they possess a mild and faintly aromatic taste, and an odor that has been compared to that of nutmegs. There are two varieties of kola nut—the white kola, which is more nearly "a pale greenish-yellow," and the red kola—both being yielded by the same species, and often occurring in the same pod.
Chemical History and Composition.—O. Dapper, in his description of Africa (Amsterdam, 1670), states that the kola nut, "as experience teacheth, eaten in the evening, hindereth sleep" (J. O. Schlotterbeck, in "Kola," published by F. Stearns & Co.). That this effect was due to the presence of theine (caffeine), was ascertained, in 1864, by Dr. Daniell, a noted traveller in West Africa, who also supplied Dr. Attfield with the drug for the purpose of analysis. Beside theine (caffeine) (2.13 per cent), starch (42.5 per cent), ash (3.20 per cent), volatile oil, fat, albuminoids, gum, and sugar were found by the latter chemist (Pharm. Jour. Trans., 1864, Vol. VI, p. 450).
More recently, Heckel and Schlagdenhauffen (Sur les Kolas Africains, 1883), discovered, in addition, small quantities of theobromine (C7H8N4O2), the chief alkaloidal principle of cacao (Theobroma Cacao); tannin, a substance not recorded by Attfield; and a residual, peculiar and physiologically active substance, called kola-red. E. Knebel, in 1892, concluded that the kola-red of these French chemists was an impure glucosid, to which, in its pure form, he gave the name kolanin. According to Knebel, kolanin is a combination of equal molecules of caffeine, glucose, and kola-red proper, a body closely allied to the tannins. It is decomposed into its constituents by drying the drug, or by the action of diluted acids, or a certain diastatic ferment, which he succeeded in isolating. The gradual decomposition and consequent liberation of caffeine would account for discrepancies observed in the analyses on record. In this connection, see an interesting paper on kola and kolanin, by F. B. Kilmer, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1896, p. 96. The recent exhaustive researches of James W. T. Knox and A. B. Prescott (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1896, p. 136; and 1897, p. 131) have shown, however, that the caffeine compound, called by Knebel kolanin, is simply a kola-tannate of caffeine, the kolatannic acid itself being free from sugar, thus differing from caffeotannic acid.
Kolatannic acid (kolatannin) exists in kola both free and in combination with caffeine, and was obtained in pure form by abstracting it by repeated shakings with acetic ether, after removing the alkaloids with chloroform. (For the details of this painstaking process, as well as the description of its acetyl and bromine derivatives, prepared in order to clear up the constitution of this compound, consult the original paper.) The formula for kolatannin is C20H10O8. It is completely soluble in water, alcohol, acetone ethyl ether; sparingly so in ether; and insoluble in chloroform and benzin. Fusion with caustic potash yields protocatechuic acid (C6H3[OH]2.COOH) and phloroglucin (C6H3[OH]3). Boiling with diluted acids converts it into an insoluble red body of variable composition; the filtrate yields to ether protocatechuic acid. Kolatannin is to be classed with the oak tannin group, as contradistinguished from the gall tannin group (Trimble), the former group yielding with ferric salts a green (the latter a blue) solution and precipitate, with calcium hydroxide a light-pink precipitate, turning red, then brown (the gallotannic group forming a white precipitate, turning blue), and with bromine water a yellow precipitate, turning brown, while the latter group yields no precipitate.
The question of assay methods seems to be still a matter of some controversy. For a résumé of the methods of J. Jean (1896), F. Carles (1896), and the method of Knox and Prescott (1897), see the paper of these chemists herein referred to; also see K. Dieterich, Pharm. Centralhalle, 1897, p. 675.
A. R. L. Dohme and H. Engelhardt (1896) found specimens of African kola to yield more caffeine (2.24 per cent) than Jamaica kola (1.93 per cent).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The action of kola has been compared to that of coffee and cocoa, but it differs even from these, and from that of the two principles—caffeine and theobromine—contained in it. Upon the stomach it appears to exert a tonic influence, improving digestion. This it does either by increasing secretion or by acting upon the circular fibers of the stomach (Monnet). It increases the functions of the cerebro-spinal system and sympathetic system. This is the effect of small and medium doses, rendering one capable of severe mental exertion, overcoming mental depression, and the tendency to somnolency. Large doses produce overstimulation, and thus tend to destroy the usefulness of the drug when given in proper doses. Physical strength is augmented and sustained by kola, its action upon the muscular system, increasing contractility, being pronounced. It must not be forgotten, however, that while kola has considerable power in warding off physical and mental depression and exhaustion, that statements regarding its action in this respect are largely overdrawn. Kola is a tonic to the heart, regulating its contractions and increasing its power. Under a weakened state of the heart, kola causes the pulsations to become fuller and less frequent. Arterial tension is increased by the drug, diuresis augmented, an especial increase of the watery portion of the urine having been observed. Tissue waste is retarded under its administration, the excretion of urea being diminished.
Kola is undoubtedly of value in certain conditions, hinging chiefly on nervous depression. Hysteria and neurasthenia, with mental gloominess and forebodings, have been relieved by it. In melancholia it appears sometimes useful, particularly if that condition be associated with phthisis. The neurasthenic conditions following exhaustive discharges, or following typhoid and other fevers, is a field for its exhibition. It is very useful in cerebral anemia. The guiding symptoms, after protracted illness, are mental depression, tendency to faintness, marked nervous irritability, poor appetite and digestion, and great muscular debility. To these may be added the diarrhoea of debility. It has been administered in pneumonia and typhoid fever, when great nervous irritability was present. Its reputation as a remedy for the alcohol habit has not been sustained, though there is good reason to credit the statement that it quickly overcomes acute alcoholism. Evidence is not wanting that it sustains the nervous system in one attempting to break from the tobacco habit. C. W. Hamilton, M. D. (Brit. Med. Jour., 1890, Vol. I, p. 1067), claims it an effective remedy in sea sickness. Certain forms of atonic dyspepsia are benefited by it, while for the cure of obstinate chronic diarrhoeas, it has long had a reputation. It has been asserted that its action in this respect cannot be well understood, as the amount of tannin in the drug is so small. May it not be due to relieving irritation, and not to its astringent action? That form of dyspepsia, attended with pyrosis, eructations, and sick headache, is amenable to kola. The vomiting of pregnancy is said to be arrested by it. It has also appeared useful to check Asiatic cholera, and has been used in the various forms of diarrhoea prevalent in the tropics.
Kola may be used in feeble conditions of the heart, especially cardiac irritability, the cases being those in which caffeine is useful. Difficult breathing, irregular action, and valvular deficiency are the indications for its use. It forms a good vehicle for the exhibition of other cardiac stimulants. It is said to be of marked value in smoker's heart. Kola has given good results in migraine, and in those forms of neuralgia of debility in which caffeine and like agents have proven useful. Dose of powdered nut, 5 to 30 grains; fluid extract, 5 to 30 drops; solid extract, 1 to 6 grains. Various proprietary fluid preparations are upon the market. The best form for administration is kola in bulk, the drug to be slowly masticated and the salivary solution swallowed.
Substitutes and Adulterations.—The seeds of several plants have been used either wholly as a substitute for, or as adulterants of, true kola. All of these, however, are wholly destitute of the characteristic principles of that drug. Among these plants may be mentioned the following:
Garcinia Kola, Heckel. Nat. Ord.—Guttiferae. The fruit of this plant is rarely found as an adulterant of kola, as their external features are entirely different. However, it bears the names of False kola, Male kola, and Bitter kola. False kola does not enter commerce, but it is highly esteemed by the natives of Africa, though devoid of marked stimulant properties. Aphrodisiac effects are accredited the seeds by the Negroes, and, as a masticatory, they employ them in common colds. They contain tannin, coloring matter, and a brown and a yellowish-white resin, but no alkaloids (see also Garcinia Mangostana).
Heritiera littoralis, Aiton. Nat. Ord.—Sterculiaceae. An orbicular-shaped seed of a chocolate color, which ought not to be mistaken for kola, its characteristics being sufficiently different. Admixture with the smaller seeds of kola is possible. This plant grows in India, Africa, Australia, and the Philippines. It contains none of the characteristic principles of kola, excepting a tannin similar to kolatannic acid. It contains, however, 10 times as much fat.
Pentadesma butyraceae, Don. Nat. Ord.—Clusiaceae. Kanya. Tree growing along west coast of Africa. Found by Heckel and Schlagdenhauffen as a frequent adulterant of kola, which it closely resembles in appearance and color, and from which its differentiation is difficult. No starch or alkaloids are present, but the seeds contain an abundance of fat—kanya butter—and a peculiar, odorless, and tasteless resin, of a yellowish color, and possessing toxic properties.
Napoleona imperialis, Beauvais.—The reniform, reddish seeds of this species constitute a false kola, which has a taste closely resembling that of true kola. The external appearances, however, are entirely different. Saponin is present in large amounts, according to Heckel and Schlagdenhauffen.
Lucuma mammosa, Griesebach. Sapote. Nat. Ord.—Sapotaceae. According to Helbing the seeds of this plant have been offered as kola. The dried seeds are said to evolve a strong odor of prussic acid. On account of their aroma, the seeds, which contain a large quantity of fatty oil, are said to be used its a condiment by the natives of the West Indies.
Dimorphandra Mora (Mora excelsa) a leguminous tree, is the probable source of a false kola, from St. Domingo (West Indies), which was offered in 1896 in the English market. It appears to contain no caffeine (Pharm. Jour. Trans., 1898, p. 287).
Related Species.—Abroma augusta, Linné. Nat. Ord.—Sterculiaceae. A common shrub in Bengal, where it is known as Ulat kambal, and cultivated as Olak-tambol in Bombay gardens. The shrub has velvety branches, and the flowers are of a handsome red color. The leaves are ovate-oblong, and the seeds are contained in a cottony envelope. Sircar (Ind. Med. Gaz., 1872) announced the bark of the root as an efficient emmenagogue. It is also reputed serviceable in dysmenorrhoea, particularly when accompanied with congestion or with neuralgic pain. One-half drachm of the white, viscid juice found in the bark of the root is administered in combination with black pepper (see Dymock, Mat. Med. Western India).