Latin: Theobroma cacao
Family: Malvaceae (Sterculiaceae)
Parts Used: Seed
Taste/Energetics: Heating, spicy, bitter
Properties: Diaphoretic, Stimulant, expectorant, antidepressant, aphrodisiac
Actions: Cacao is the active ingredient to make chocolate, one of the most loved and consumed foods in the world. Besides containing caffeine, cacao has long been known to elicit feelings of pleasure and joy that are attributed to it containing the constituent theobromine. This alkaloid mimics caffeine in having stimulating qualities, increasing vasodilation and diuresis. Though theobromine is a powerful constituent, cacao actually has hundreds of compounds that work synergistically to give it its magical effect.
Cacao has numerous health effects that have been documented such as improving cardiovascular health due to anti-inflammatory flavonoids. It stimulates digestive processes, helps act as a circulatory stimulant and improves cognitive function such as alertness and memory.
In terms of mental health, cacao has no parallel. Its hard to be sad after receiving a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. For temporary relief of sadness and glooom, cacao can be a marvelous ally. For moody irritability often associated with pre menstrual tension, chocolate has long been known to be a good friend. Cacao stimulates, heightens awareness, promotes joy, creativity and play. It warms the heart and acts as an aphrodisiac for those who want to stoke that fire. Like all stimulants it can wear a person out eventually and should be used with some moderation.
On a larger ecological level, we need to be very concerned where we source our chocolate. The cacao industry- 2/3rds of our cacao comes from West Africa and it is a 90 billion dollar industry that is largely fueled by child slave labor. Like all herbs we need to think about their provenance but this is even more the case with cacao and chocolate. There are a number of places where we can source cacao from organic growers who use healthy labor practices.
Cacao has been traditionally been revered as one of the most important deities to certain Mayan groups. Cacao is still an important part of spiritual traditions in modern indigenous cultures in Central and South America. Its key to think of this plant in terms of that lineage of traditional indigenous usage.
Dosage: Hmmm…what is too much chocolate? Generally I like to add 1-3 tsp of cacao powder to one pint of milk. Add honey to taste and whisk well to make a good cup of hot chocolate. Add a sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of vanilla extract to spice it up.
Cacao is usually mixed with sweetener and a fat such as butter or coconut oil to produce sweet tasting chocolate. Raw cacao nibs can also be added to smoothies but are fairly bitter to eat alone.
Contraindications: What? You don’t like chocolate?
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Homemade Chioccolate Recipes for Decadent Herbal Chocolates by Christina Anthis
How to Make Chocolate…Hey, its Herbal by Rosalee de la Foret
Hawthorn herbal Chocolate Natural Herbal Living
Cacao Herbal Monograph by Stephany Hoffelt