How does it feel?
If you have ever tasted cocoa powder or nibs, you will know that they are bitter. The tincture has a smell of chocolate with a bittersweet, rich and earthy taste.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of cacao’s key qualities below to learn more:
What can I use it for?
Cacao is a common food item, and can be found in many forms, raw or processed. It can be consumed this way as a nutritive plant, containing plenty of minerals and antioxidants.
It is best to consume it as dark chocolate or as a powder or nibs to get the most nutritional benefit.
Cacao may also be used to elevate mood and energy levels. It contains theobromine and small amounts of caffeine, which are both stimulants to the nervous system.
It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and may support libido.
Into the heart of Cacao
Cacao has long been used as a food and medicine by the people of Mesoamerica, with archaeological research finding evidence of use as far back as 1000 BCE.
It was mostly consumed as a beverage. It was not until the 16th century that cacao was brought to the Western World.
In the West, milk was added and it has become the delicacy that most of us know and love. Some evidence suggests that it is this positive cultural association with chocolate that is responsible for the elevation of mood, while others are investigating the possible biochemical explanations.
In addition to this, chocolate is full of polyphenols, which are beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
The Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec and Aztec claimed both nutritional and medicinal benefit from cacao prepared as a beverage. The tree was reportedly used as a source of materials for various objects that were central to daily life.
The Florentine Codex lists over 100 medicinal uses for cocoa. Some of these uses were as a more palatable delivery mechanism for other medicines, and others are with cacao as a main medicinal agent. These remedies are for the spitting-up of blood, stomach complaints, bringing down milk in new mothers, fever, shortness of breath, and more.
In Central America, the seed has been used as a heart and kidney tonic, and to treat the pains of childbirth, fevers and coughs.
Cacao was brought to the Old World in the 16th century, where it was also toted for its medicinal qualities. Eventually, milk was added to the drink to make it more palatable, which led to its commonly known form of confectionery.
What practitioners say
Nervous system: Chocolate is well known for bringing good feelings to those who consume it, just look at how often it is given as a gift on special occasions! Cacao is stimulating to the nervous system as it contains both caffeine and theobromine. The caffeine is contained in small amounts, and theobromine is considered a mild stimulant by comparison, so the stimulation that cacao offers is generally considered low. Additionally, many people have positive memories associated with its familiar taste and aroma, and there is ongoing research into the mechanisms of how it improves mood. Thus, cacao can be a fantastic herb to elevate mood and energy gently.
Cardiovascular system: While stimulating to the overall nervous system, cacao also has an effect on the heart. It is used in ceremonial settings as a medicine for the spiritual heart. The chemistry of the bean has been shown to be protective of the cardiovascular system, and the consumption of cocoa is linked to healthy cardiovascular parameters. Although perhaps not a primary cardiovascular remedy, cacao is helpful as part of a formula for the cardiovascular system. However, its stimulating effects and contraindications need to be taken into account when considering including it in a remedy.
Integumentary system (skin): Cocoa butter is a wonderful ingredient as it is very gentle and is a solid fat at room temperature. It also smells very pleasant. This is a perfect vehicle for adding infused oils and making pessaries, suppositories, creams, and thick body butters. All dry skin and mucous membranes can benefit.
Did you know?
Theobroma means “Food of the Gods”
Calming Hot Chocolate
- 1/2 tsp powdered Ashwagandha
- 2 tsp powdered cocoa or cacao
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- Add sweetener to taste
- Blend powder with small amount of hot water to make a paste.
- Add hot milk of choice and stir.
Aphrodite’s aphrodisiac tea
This tea reaches deep into the reproductive system, nourishing our procreative and sexual energy. Use it when preparing for a family or for nurturing your love life. For men and women, this elixir feeds sex hormone release, improves egg/sperm quality and enhances orgasmic experiences.
- Shatavari root 4g
- Ashwagandha root 2g
- Licorice root 2g
- Cinnamon bark 2g
- Milk (any type) 250ml (9fl oz)
- Damiana leaf 2g
- Cacao powder 1 tsp per cup
- Maca root 1 tsp per cup
- Flower pollen ½ tsp per cup
- Vanilla essence a dash per cup
- Honey (or Amaretto) a drop per cup
Makes 2 cups of the most amorous elixir.
- Put the shatavari, ashwagandha, licorice and cinnamon in a saucepan with the milk and 250ml/9fl oz cold filtered water.
- Cover, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and add the damiana leaf.
- Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
- To each cup, add the cacao, maca, flower pollen, vanilla essence and honey. Then top with the tea and stir.
Bliss of the gods hot chocolate
Theobroma cacao is known to us as cocoa (or once there’s some sugar and at in there, chocolate). Theobroma means ‘food of the gods’ – and with good reason. Try this elixir for an entirely new and extremely decadent experience.
- Unsweetened chocolate 100g (3.5oz)
- Water or nut milk 100ml (3.5 fl oz)
- Vanilla bean essence 1–2 drops to taste
- Honey to taste
This will serve 2 small cups of bliss-inducing nectar.
- Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie before stirring in the water or nut milk.
- Add the vanilla bean essence and honey to taste then pour into small coffee cups.
- Play around with this recipe. Add a drop of orange essential oil or some rose water to transform it into
Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
Cacao and chocolate can aggravate migraines, or cause headaches in some people. It is advised to proceed with caution when giving cacao to those with IBS and GERD, as it can aggravate GI distress. Toxicity may occur with high doses of cacao and may present similarly to having too much caffeine. Symptoms may include restlessness, anxiety, increased breath and heart rate.
It is not recommended to have cacao with medications that affect blood clotting, such as anti-coagulants, anti-platelets or aspirin.
Western herbal actions are
- Emollient (butter)
The cardiovascular benefits of the polyphenols found in cacao have been well researched. They have been shown to promote the body’s synthesis of nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and thus reduces blood pressure. Nitric oxide prevents leukocyte adhesion, smooth muscle proliferation and platelet aggregation and adhesion. If there is a deficiency in nitric oxide, the risk of atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome and hypertension increases. A meta-analysis of clinical trials found that chocolate and cocoa ingestion increased vasodilation, lowered blood pressure, and reduced serum insulin levels.
A meta-analysis concluded that short-term consumption of dark chocolate lowered LDL cholesterol. In several studies, however, chocolate consumption has had no effect on lipid profiles, or has increased HDL cholesterol.
Cocoa increases cerebral blood flow through these same mechanisms. The phenolic compounds have also been observed to activate cascade pathways that play a role in synaptic function, neuronal growth, memory, and the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders. Cacao also contains N-acylethanolamines which act as cannabinoid mimics, and increase anandamide levels. This may be one of the ways it is responsible for improving mood and sexual arousal. However, some studies have determined that the effect on mood is due to the taste, rather than the chemical constituents.
The antioxidant activity of chocolate is of interest for its potential anti-carcinogenic effects. In vitro and animal studies have demonstrated reduced tumour size and increased chemosensitisation. The antioxidant activity may also contribute to protective benefits for the skin. One study determined that high flavanol chocolate decreased UV-induced erythema (sunburn).
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
There is no strict dosage as cacao is a food.
The process of fermenting and drying the beans is critical in releasing its pigments. The polyphenolic compounds undergo a series of reactions, which alters their overall content in the product. Dried and roasted beans contain approximately 380 different chemicals.
- Alkaloids: caffeine, theobromine, phenylethylamine
- polyphenols (10%): proanthocyanidins and catechins
- minerals: potassium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium
- fat: cocoa butter (40-50%), oleic acid (33%), palmitic acid (25%), stearic acid (33%)