An Aid to Concentration
Many use Guayusa as a coffee substitute as it contains similar amounts caffeine. As well as caffeine, the alkaloid theobromine is also present, the same alkaloid that is found in cacao. The ensuing stimulant effect of these two combined helps with concentration and could result in a more positive frame of mind. It's easy to see why South Americans favour this drink as an every day beverage.
Guayusa in its unfermented form has a great many antioxidants and is touted to be as rich as green tea. The leaves contain mostly polyphenols and alkaloids which help in reducing oxidative stress and free radicals. There are several types of polyphenol antioxidants called catechins that are thought to help combat heart disease, diabetes and inflammation.
Folklore and history
Guayusa is thought to have been traded as early as 500 CE. Today, Guayusa is farmed and harvested by South American cooperatives and small holders throughout Ecuador and Peru. These communities use the ancient cultivation methods, inherited through the generations, to pick leaves from Guayusa trees that are a part of large ‘chakras’, or forest gardens. Each garden mimics planting that can be found in nature, making the farm gardens incredibly diverse without the use of mono-cropping.
The origin story of Guayusa from the Amazonian Kichwa people is that the plant was received from their ancestors when two twins had a prophetic dream. They scaled a ladder leading to the heavens and their ancestors gifted them with the Guayusa plant. After waking, the plant was still in their hands. From this origin story the plant has been a staple source of trade income of Kichwa people for as long as they can remember.
The Guayusa tree is native to the Atlantic rainforest and has been recorded in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, but is cultivated mostly in Ecuador. This dioecious species comes from the same family as Holly, or the Ilex family. An evergreen that can reach up to 30 meters in height, with dark green leaves that are oval and glossy.
We known that Guayusa has been used by the Jivaroan peoples of Northern Peru and Eastern Ecuador for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. From the writings of missionaries who visited Amazonian rainforests, there are many references to how Guayusa was used. One such observation was that Guayasa was made as a hot drink several times a day and was brewed with lemon to calm the stomach. As a tea, it is considered smooth and sweet in comparison to Yerba Mate that has more of a bitter edge.
Typically brewed as a hot tea and drunk throughout the day.
Caffeine, theobromine, dimethylxanthines, L-theanine, gallic acid, guanidine, isobutyric acid, nicotinic acid, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, choline, pyridoxine, triterpenes, chlorogenic acid and sugars.