After doing some research on what additional local “crops” we should have growing, we decided to go for the amazonian guayusa tree (Ilex guayusa).
While guayusa is endemic to the Upper Amazon regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia, it is estimated that over 98% of the guayusa trees in the world are located in Ecuador.
Guayusa Tea is much better than coffee and in Ecuador it’s used to replace Yerba Mate’, which is a powerful stimulant that’s popular in Argentina & Paraguay. Guayusa drink consumption resembles that of yerba mate ( Ilex paraguariensis A. St. – Hil.), although guayusa is boiled in a separate pot and only the water mixture is served, rather than being prepared in the gourd as is common with yerba mate.
The Guayusa taste
The flavor is similar to mate tea, but with a more plush, fruity flavor and a complete lack of bitterness. Tasting invites comparison to green tea, but the flavor is less tannic and the texture is more creamy (much more so than other herbal teas I’ve tried). Actually you can brew guayusa like any other herbal tea.
Guayusa Superfood – Superleaf
Guayusa Tea is also called a Superfood because it contains an amazing amount of powerful antioxidants. Only raw cacao powder has more antioxidants than Guayusa tea. In fact Guayusa contains more antioxidants than acai berries, goji berries, black berries, blue berries, and even kale. And Guayusa Tea even has 50% more antioxidants than green tea and is full of polyphenols, flavonoids, and saponins. These compounds in guayusa offer a range of holistic health benefits from calming the nervous system to cardiovascular health.
Guayusa also contains theobromine which is also found in chocolate which is a powerful antioxidant and a vasodilator which opens up the lungs… and it’s a stimulant and a diuretic. Theobromine itself works to stimulate the body in a similar way to caffeine – but is less intense. Theobromine has also been recognized as a something that can suppress coughing and help with the symptoms of asthma. The fact that guayusa also contains theobromine also helps reinforce in our minds what a special plant it is. It is understood that the stimulative affects from theobromine, while less intense than caffeine, last longer and also work in way that decreases blood pressure – while unbalanced or pure coffee / caffeine acts to increase it. Perhaps this is why guayusa feels so unlike coffee in that you get the energy but with out the intensity – and that energy is much more drawn out over time. The theobromine acts to create an equilibrium with caffeine’s more intense effects.
L-theanine is a amino acid (mostly found in green tea), relaxes and reduces stress without causing drowsiness. L-theanine also works great in counteracting the jitters and increased heart rate from caffeine. Making L-theanine and caffeine a super effective combo.
The Guayusa leaf contains caffeine, less than coffee, and more than green tea.
The Guayusa plant
Guayusa belongs to the only extant genus of the family Aquifoliaceae that contains 600 species, of which ca. 300 species can be found in the Neotropics.
Nearly all records for guayusa are associated with current or abandoned cultivation sites.
Domesticated guayusa individuals can grow to an average of 10 meter high and present a multitude of stems that measure 2 to15 cm at breast height. When mature and if unmanaged, guayusa individuals can reach a height of approximately 25m and a stem diameter of approximately 50 cm at breast height. Guayusa is a dioecious species.
Despite the presence of seeds, guayusa is only known to reproduce asexually by human planting of the leafless hardwood stem cuttings extracted from the base of a stock plant. Like several other species within the genus, guayusa leaves have been found to contain alkaloids (e.g., caffeine and theobromine).
History and origin of the Guayusa
Guayusa was collected more than 1000 years ago by the natives of the Ecuadorian Amazonian rainforest, today it is considered the best natural energizer without causing secondary effects in humans.
In ancient times, people prayed for a plant that would teach them how to dream… These twins canoed down a river on a quest to find this plant, woke up in the middle of the night, and this spirit village had manifested on the other side of the river. They went to this palace and went up a staircase to the heavens, where they saw all of their ancestors, generation after generation. These ancestors gifted them this plant and said, “This is a plant that can help your people and connect you to the dream world.” When they woke up in the morning, they still had the physical plant. They took it back to their community and guayusa became a central part of their culture.
Guayusa is one of three caffeinated holly trees that exist in the world, and is a distant cousin of Yerba Maté (ilex paraguariensis). Guayusa leaves have a smooth ribbed edge, similar to the distinctive shape of a holly tree leaf (but without the spikes). Very large in size, guayusa leaves can reach over 15 cm in length (about as long as your hand). Guayusa trees can reach a height of over 10 meter and live to be over 100 years old. They tend to produce lots of small trunks on one bush, and therefore are full of leaves (perfect for harvesting).
Colonials and the Guayusa
Guayusa also appears in numerous colonial accounts. Father Juan Lorenzo Lucero noted in 1682 that Jivaroan groups consumed Banisteriopsis caapi (a hallucinogenic vine known as yagé or ayahuasca ), B guañusa, and tobacco in infusions (Schultes 1979). In the 18th century, Father José Berrutieta, the head priest at Santa Rosa mission in Colombia, noted multiple beneficial health qualities of guayusa drink, including its use as a remedy for venereal diseases, B cleansing the blood, ^ improving digestion and appetite, and strengthening the body.He also observed that women drank guayusa with honey to increase fertility. The Jesuits also transported guayusa leaves from their missions and sold them as medicine in Quito. Indeed, guayusa use appears to have declined significantly after the Jesuits were expelled in 1766 (Patiño 1968).