If you were asked where caffeine comes from, does your mind conjure an image of coffee beans? I used to think that way as well. However, what if I told you that there are certain herbs that contain caffeine?
The 5 herbs that contain caffeine are: 1) Guarana (Paullinia cupana, P. sorbilis), 2) Cacao Beans (Theobroma cacao), 3) Tea Leaves (Camellia sinensis), 4) Kola Nut (Cola acuminata, C. nitida), and 5) Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis).
Isn’t it surprising to learn that plants could contain caffeine? Let’s find out more.
Herbs With The Highest Caffeine Content
Table of Contents
- 1 Herbs With The Highest Caffeine Content
- 2 Caffeine in Plants?
- 3 Natural vs Synthetic Caffeine
- 4 Herbs That Are Caffeine Free
- 5 Sources
In this section, we will not only list down the herbs with caffeine but we will also list the caffeine content in coffee for comparison.
The amount of caffeine in coffee depends on how the coffee is prepared.
Brewed Coffee: 1 cup (8 oz) has 70-140 mg of caffeine
Espresso: 1 shot, 30-50 ml (1-1.75) contains 63 mg
Decaf: Its caffeine content is between 0-7 mg/cup (3 mg). Despite its name, decaf is not truly caffeine-free.
The next sections describe the herbs with caffeine.
Guarana (Paullinia cupana, P. sorbilis)
Guarana is the herb with the highest caffeine content. It contains 4.5 g caffeine per 100g of guarana.
Guarana is native to the Brazilian Amazon where warrior natives drunk it prior to going on a hunt. They thought that it assists concentration, fight drowsiness, and stimulate the central nervous system.
It is also believed that drinking this guarana makes your satiety last longer and boost metabolism with the same amount of caffeine, promoting weight loss. This is why many weight-loss products have this plant as an additive.
Cacao Beans (Theobroma cacao)
Every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of (unsweetened) cocoa powder, contains 230 milligrams of caffeine. According to the USDA 1 oz of dark chocolate contains 12 mg of caffeine. Many are of the opinion that this value refers to commercial “dark” chocolate which only has 45% cacao. True dark chocolate has 75-90% cacao.
Preparations of Cacao: Cacao nibs (a chocolate product made from crushed cocoa beans), cacao butter, and dark chocolate.
Theobroma means “food of the gods.” The word cacao was used by the Mesoamericans to name the plant.
Tea Leaves (Camellia sinensis)
Tea leaves have 3.5% caffeine but commercial teas have around 3%. This is because leaves used in commercial tea undergo a decaffeination process using a chemical wash.
Most commercial teas go through this process. The caffeine content of decaf tea is between 1-8 mg while ordinary black tea is 30-60 mg and green tea has 25-50 mg.
Is There A Difference Between Caffeine-Free And Decaffeinated Tea?
Caffeine-free tea refers to tea from plants that do not have natural caffeine, an example of this is peppermint tea or jasmine tea. While decaffeinated teas are those whose leaves went through a chemical wash to lessen the caffeine content.
Kola Nut (Cola acuminata, C. nitida)
The kola nut comes from the kola tree which is indigenous to West Africa. The two main varieties are Cola acuminata and Cola nitida. Nigerians like to chew this bitternut that starts to taste sweet while chewing.
The nut contains between 2-3.5% caffeine. It is used as a remedy for common ailments such as headaches, cough, tuberculosis, diarrhea, and bacterial infection. It is a stimulant, a weight supplement, and improves the health of the cardiovascular system.
The negative effects of kola nuts are linked to high caffeine consumption. People react to caffeine differently, the average that the body can tolerate is 400mg of caffeine per day. When it comes to chewing nuts, side effects depending on the number of nuts consumed.
Preparation Of Kola Nut: Chewed fresh or flavoring for energy drinks and additives to food.
Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis)
Maté contains caffeine between 1% to 2% of dry weight.
Compared to other herb-based stimulant drinks, there is very little research about the yerba maté. Unfortunately, what research exists are epidemiological studies that pointed at yerba maté as the cause of the high incidence of esophageal cancer in places where it is regularly consumed.
In the 90s, the first paper regarding the antioxidants in maté was the catalyst for the interest in the herb. Maté has the folllowing health benefits: anti-fatigue and stimulates the central nervous system, anti-diabetic, improves digestion, affects weight loss.
Preparation Of Yerba Maté: the leaves and stems are dried over fire and then steeped in hot water to make tea. Yerba maté is traditionally consumed out of a hollow gourd using a special straw called bombilla.
First, boil some water then fill your gourd with maté powder. Cover the opening of the gourd with your palm and shake vigorously. Push the larger stems to the bottom and bring the smaller ones to the top.
Pour a little bit of cold water (preparation for infusion). Pour hot water up to the brim. Share and enjoy. The gourd can be refilled with hot water multiple times.
Caffeine in Plants?
Despite a large amount of research done on caffeine, scientists are still unsure why and how plants create it. What they are certain though is that this is the outcome of millions of years of plant evolution.
For the longest time, it was thought that plants had to evolve in this way in order to maximize their chances of survival. Caffeine in the plant’s system acts as a natural pesticide, warding off insects that may devour and kill them.
This theory appears to fit the special case of Robusta (Coffea canephora) and Arabica (Coffea arabica). The former has twice as much caffeine as the latter and grows at lower elevations, which is where most insects flourish.
Scientists did genomic sequences on coffee plants in 2014 and revealed that caffeine in coffee plants evolved differently from the caffeine in cacao plants. Convergent evolution describes how plants that evolved along separate paths eventually arrived at the same destination; in this example, producing caffeine.
Scientists added two more possible explanations why some plants have caffeine: a) remove the competition and b) attracting pollinators.
A – Remove The Competition
When the leaves of a caffeine-producing plant fall to the ground, they decay and contaminate the soil with caffeine and make the soil poisonous thus preventing seeds of other plants nearby from germinating.
B – Attracting Pollinators
When bees and other pollinators connect floral aroma with food, they are more likely to return to the flowers that emit similar scent signals. This activity has 2 outcomes: a) improved feeding and pollinating efficiency of the pollinators and b) increased pollinator visits in plants.
Natural vs Synthetic Caffeine
Chemically, natural and synthetic caffeine are indistinguishable. The difference lies in how each one was produced (and by what).
Natural caffeine is sourced from coffee plants such as coffee beans, cacao beans, tea leaves, Yerba mate, guarana, and kola beans.
Synthetic caffeine is made from urea combined with methyl chloride and ethyl acetate. Depending on where caffeine will be used, it is sometimes easier and cheaper to use the synthetic form. This is why caffeine is in a lot of products: bottled drinks, energy drinks, teas, etc.
Another difference is that natural caffeine is not the only compound present in the plant. Vitamins and methylxanthines help regulate the delivery of caffeine in the human body for gradual release.
Synthetic caffeine on the other hand is quickly absorbed by the body thus producing a faster energy spike and consequently a faster crash.
Does Mint Have Caffeine?
Although mint is one of those popular plants that is prepared as herbal tea, it does not contain any caffeine. It is a stress reliever, helps with gastrointestinal issues, and is a breath freshener.
Herbs That Are Caffeine Free
Natural stimulation can also be obtained through the following herbs that are caffeine-free. This is perfect for those who want to cut or eliminate caffeine completely from their life.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
The mild stimulant in cardamom is called cineole. It is used in herbal preparations and also in sweet and savory dishes.
This herb has been used for hundreds of years in Chinese medicine. This plant has been a subject of numerous studies that look into its effects on mood, memory, cognition, and alertness.
This is composed of a combination of herbs: chamomile, cinnamon, peppermint, chrysanthemum, parsley, red clover, and rose hips to name a few.
Indian kudzu (Pueraria tuberosa)
In Chinese medicine, this plant has been used to treat alcohol dependence. This is an important medicinal plant in Indian Ayurvedic medicine (Indian Traditional Medicine). It provides improved alertness that lasts between one to one and a half-hour.
Candyleaf (Stevia rebaudiana)
This is a natural sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Researchers discovered that this plant stimulates a protein that is involved in the release of insulin after a meal and is necessary for our experience of flavor.
Stevia stimulates a protein channel in the mouth called TRPM5 which is responsible for the release of adequate insulin by the pancreas. This discovery has led to new opportunities for diabetes treatments.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.))
Withania somnifera (L) also known as Indian ginseng is another important plant in Ayurvedic practice. It has been used to treat some diseases for hundreds of years.
It is a stimulant that helps boost energy levels and helps your body better manage stress. Other uses for the plant: tonic, aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, anthelmintic, astringent, antiasthmatic, thermogenic, and wound healing
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is native to Peru and has been cultivated for 2000 years. Aside from being a stimulant, studies have shown that maca increases sperm count and motility positively affects memory and learning, and may improve sexual desire.
Gale of Wind (Phyllanthus niruri)
A tropical shrub that grows in subtropical and tropical regions that are used as an energy booster and traditional medicine.
Indian Bael (Aegle marmelos)
Another one of those herbs is used in Ayurveda. The fruit juice of this plant gives a boost of energy.
It is used for heart problems, urinary problems, and asthma.
Arctic Root (Rhodiola rosea)
An herb that has the following health benefits: protects the heart, has anticarcinogenic properties, relieves stress, fights fatigue, improves physical performance and mental fitness.
- Natural and synthetic caffeine is chemically indistinguishable and does not affect the body at the same rate.
- Caffeine from plants is rarely found by itself, often they are found with vitamins and other compounds; each compound seems to help in the delivery of the coffee to the body.
- Herbs that have stimulants without caffeine are a great alternative for people who want a natural stimulant drink without caffeine in it.
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