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Garcinia kola - Heckel

Common Name Bitter Kola
Family Clusiaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats An understorey tree of dense rainforest, often in wet situations, riverine and swamp, found at elevations up to 1,200 metres[332 ].
Range Tropical Africa - Sierra Leone to S Nigeria and on into Zaire and Angola.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Garcinia kola Bitter Kola

Roger Culos - wikimedia.org
Garcinia kola Bitter Kola


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Bitter Kola or Garcinia kola is an evergreen flowering tree with a heavy, spreading crown and can grow up to 30 m in height. It can be found in tropical Africa. The trunk is straight with brown bark. The leaves are leathery. The flowers are greenish-white. The seeds can be eaten raw. The reddish-yellow fruits are extremely sour but is edible. In Nigeria, these are eaten as a cure for body pains. Plant parts such as bark, fruit, seeds and nuts have been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various conditions like coughs, fever, gonorrhea, wounds, malignant tumors, chronic urethral discharge, stomach pains, pulmonary and gastro-intestinal conditions, and general body pains. The tree is also planted as shade tree in cocoa plantations. The bark yields a resinous gum that has water-proofing capacity. The wood is durable and somewhat resistant to termite attacks. The roots are used as chew sticks.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Garcinia kola is an evergreen Tree growing to 12 m (39ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Garcinia akawaensis Spirlet; Garcinia bergheana Spirlet; Garcinia giadidii De Wild.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Seed
Edible Uses: Gum

Seed - raw[301 ]. They have a bitter, astringent, aromatic flavour; somewhat resembling that of a raw coffee bean[301 , 332 ]. This is followed by a slight sweetness (or lingering pepperiness)[332 ]. The seeds are chewed along with the seeds of the true cola (Cola spp.). They are thought to enhance a person's enjoyment of the cola as well as allowing for consumption of larger quantities without indisposition[301 , 332 ]. The extremely sour fruits are sometimes eaten[301 ]. They are orange-sized, and contain a yellow pulp surrounding four seeds[332 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antibacterial  Antidote  Antitussive  Aphrodisiac  Astringent  Bitter  Cancer  Cytostatic  
Diuretic  Dysentery  Purgative  Stomachic  Tonic  Urinary  Vermifuge

Bitter kola is widely used in traditional medicine in Africa with most parts of the plant being used and a wide range of ailments being treated[332 ]. Several medically active compounds have been identified. Tannins, a reducing sugar and traces of an alkaloid have been detected in the bark; flavonins are also present, the whole being extremely bitter, resinous and astringent[332 ]. A number of pharmocological actions have also been demonstrated. Extracts of stems, roots and seeds have been shown to have strong anti-hepatotoxic and hepatotropic activity[332 ]. Petroleum ether and acetone extracts were found to be markedly anti-microbial[332 ]. The bark contains an abundant sticky resinous gum[332 ]. This is taken internally in the treatment of gonorrhoea[332 ]. Externally, the gum is applied to skin-infections and used to seal new wounds[332 ]. The bark is said to be aphrodisiac, galactagogue[332 ]. A decoction is used to treat female sterility and to ease child-birth, the intake being daily until conception is certain and then at half quantity throughout the term[332 ]. It is also used to induce the expulsion of a dead foetus[332 ]. The powdered bark is applied externally to malignant tumours, cancers, etc.[332 ]. A tea of the bark, combined with the bark of Sarcocephalus latifolius, has a strong reputation as a diuretic, urinary decongestant and treatment for chronic urethral discharge[332 ]. The bark, combined with Piper guineense and sap from a plantain stalk (Musa sp.) is used to embrocate the breast for mastitis[332 ]. The seed and bark are taken to treat stomach-pains[332 ]. The leaves and bark are used in the treatment of pulmonary and gastro-intestinal troubles[332 ]. The root and bark are used as a tonic for men 'to make their organs work well'[332 ]. The leaves have a bitter taste. A leaf-infusion is purgative[332 ] The fruits are eaten in Nigeria as a cure for general aches in the head, back, etc., and as a vermifuge[332 ]. The seeds are said to be antidote, antitussive, aphrodisiac, astringent and vermifuge[332 ]. Mastication of the seeds is said to relieve coughs, hoarseness, and bronchial and throat troubles. They are taken dry as a remedy for dysentery. They are said to provide an antidote against Strophanthus poisoning[332 ]. The active principle, or principles, in the nut remain enigmatic. Caffeine, which is present in the true kola, is absent. A trace of alkaloid has been reported in Nigerian materials, but absent in other samples. Tannins are present which may contain the anti-bacterial compounds morellin and guttiferin[332 ]. Activity may also lie in resins which are as yet unidentified[332 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Gum  Insecticide  Kindling  Lighting  Tannin  Teeth  Waterproofing  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: The tree is used to provide shade in cocoa plantations[325 ]. Other Uses: The bark contains an abundant sticky resinous gum that has water-proofing properties[332 ]. It can be used to protect powder in the priming pans of flintlock guns from rain[332 ]. The gum in the bark is incendiary, the twigs burning brightly and therefore used as tapers[332 ]. The bark is used in tanning, and has at times been exported as a tanning material[332 ]. The leaves have a bitter taste and are used as a deterrent to fleas[332 ]. The sap-wood is creamy white, the heart-wood yellow, darkening to brown at the centre, hard, close-grained, finishing smoothly and taking a good polish[332 ]. It is durable and fairly resistant to termites[332 ]. The principal application of the wood is for chew-sticks[332 ]. They are said to whiten the teeth and clean the mouth, and are widely used in western Africa[332 ]. Smaller trees are more commonly used and are specifically felled for this purpose, the wood being cut and split into pencil-sized pieces[332 ]. The roots are also used as chew sticks, sometimes in preference to the wood[332 ]. They are believed to prevent dental caries, though tests have shown no anti-biotic activity[332 ].

Special Uses

Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Plantation cultivation can be successfully carried out: three year old stump-planting under shade is recommended, but sowing the seed in situ by a stake is possible[332 ].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - it has a short viability and so should be sown as soon as possible. The fresh, mature seeds are dormant but viable, creating difficulties with rapid and uniform germination within seed lots. The thin leathery seed cover is not a barrier to water penetration in the embryo, however, de-coating or ethanol treatments (soaking in 70% ethanol solution for 1 to 2 hours) can increase germination to more than 90% after about 5 months[325 ]. Germination of intact, fresh seeds is about 50%, starting after about 3 months at ambient temperature (25 - 28°c) and most seeds will have germinated 7 - 8 months after sowing (in river sand)[325 ]. However, in nursery trials, the seeds continued to germinate for 18 months, reaching a final germination level of 75%[325 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Agambo, Akara, Akbatuwe, Akilu, Aouolie, Bolele, Ebon gagnagne, Edun, Efiat, Goro, Mbongo, Ngadjadja, Ngbwel, Onale, Ondale, Onie, Orogba, Orogbo, Oyale, Tweapea, Umbongo, adi, akara-inu oglu, aki-unu, akilu, akilu aki-inu, akra-inu, bitter kola, edum, edun, efi ari, efi at, efiari, efiat, false kola, male cola, mijin-gworo, ogolu, okan, okan., orogbo.

Native Range

AFRICA: Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Benin, Côte D Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Angola.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Vulnerable A2cd

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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