Indigenous to Western Africa, the cola tree is cultivated today in many tropical climates, including Central and South America, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Cola nuts are actually seeds removed from their seed coats. Traditionally, they are chewed raw or taken in pulverized or liquid extract form. Of the various species of cola nuts, the two most commonly edible kinds are Cola acuminata and Cola nitida.

Cola contains caffeine and related chemicals, and for this reason is a stimulant. For thousands of years, people in Africa have chewed the seeds to enhance mental alertness and fight fatigue. Centuries ago, Arabs traded gold dust for cola nuts before starting out on long treks across the Sahara.

Cola nut has been used in folk medicine as an aphrodisiac and an appetite suppressant, and to treat morning sickness, migraine headache, and indigestion. It has also been applied directly to the skin to treat wounds and inflammation. The tree's bitter twig has been used as well, to clean the teeth and gums.

Based on the cola nut's caffeine content, Germany's Commission E has approved its use for the treatment of fatigue.1

Cola is ingested daily by millions as one of the main ingredients in cola soft drinks. It is also used in diet and "high-energy" products such as food bars and as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins, and puddings.2,3 However, the caffeine-containing cola nut, used in original recipes for Coca-Cola should not be confused with gotu kola.

Because of its caffeine content, cola nut would be expected to increase urination, stimulate the heart and lungs, and help analgesics such as aspirin to function more effectively.