What is Guayusa Tea¿?¿ It is not!
The titles are misleading and confusing. Sorry. Tea is a species of plant called Camellia Sinensis. Guayusa is not that plant, so technically it is not a tea.¿ ‘Ilex Guayusa’, pronounced ‘Gwhy-you-sah’, is a perennial evergreen tree from the same family that includes holly and yerba maté (ilex paraguensis). Like maté, it has a caffeinated leaf and is brewed in a similar way to tea. It grows 200 to 2000m above sea level in the Amazonian rainforest. It grows natively from southern Colombia to northern Peru. The Kichwa indigenous group based in Ecuador have have used it for 1000s of years for its energizing effects, it is sacred to them and they say that they couldn’t survive the the harsh rainforest without it.
The high caffeine leaves are brewed every morning at 3am to give the people the strength and energy they need for the day. They use it before hunting to improve their focus, they use it when they are on night-watch to stay alert – its effectiveness has even earned it the nickname “the Night Watchman”.
Because it strangely makes the person alert and calm at the same time, they even use it to promote lucid dreaming, so they are alert enough to have vivid dreams, but not so anxious that they can’t get to sleep. (We wouldn’t advocate this personally, because we feel deep sleep is just too important)
It Sounds Great! Why Haven’t I Heard of It?
Because it wasn’t legally available in the UK until December 2017 when the EU approved it as a novel food. The last time people tried to sell Guayusa tea internationally was when the Jesuit Missionaries discovered Guayusa in the 1800s, although that all ended when the Jesuits were expelled from Ecuador in 1867.*1 If they hadn’t, Guayusa might have become as widespread as tea and coffee are today.
It hasn’t been here for long, but we fully expect that its popularity will grow. In some parts of the USA where Guayusa has been around for 5 years it is already out-selling redbull 3:1!*2
Past Usage and Origin Stories:
There are a couple origin stories from the Kichwa Community that I’ve found worth sharing:
1. “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.”*3
2. “Guayusa has been used for a long time, but at first, guayusa was unknown to anyone. At that time, the forest was very aggressive with people, and they were always sleepy and couldn’t do anything. They were tired and weak all the time. This was the biggest problem facing the first people in the Amazon.
One day a man was hunting in the forest when a heavy rainstorm came. He took shelter under a nearby tree to wait until the rain stopped, and as the hours passed, he started to feel sleepy and eventually fell asleep under the tree. Suddenly, he heard a female voice calling to him, “Take me so you won’t be sleepy.” The man listened attentively to find out where the voice was coming from, but he didn’t see anyone around. There was nothing but trees. A few moments later, he realized it was the tree itself that was speaking to him, so he grabbed a leaf and chewed it. He ate the leaf and immediately felt relieved. He was no longer tired or sleepy and felt full of energy and strength.
After experiencing the effects of the guayusa leaf, he harvested a few branches and took them to his family. He first shared the leaves with his family and then told all the neighbors about his experience and urged them to consume it so they would not feel lazy or tired but have lots of energy. From that moment on, people started to plant guayusa all over. They discovered that it was good for your health, for sleepiness, fatigue, laziness, body aches – a very powerful medicinal plant.”
Francisco Grefa Salazar cited in (Jarrett et al., 2013, p. 33-35)*4
Other Interesting Facts
- The Achuar Indians daily drink vast quantities of guayusa tea before daybreak for about an hour or less and then vomit so as not to absorb too much caffeine. *5
- Guayusa also is traditionally used for a range of ailments from gastritis, headache, body pain and female infertility in southern and eastern Ecuadorian provinces. It has even be used to wash one’s teeth, reduce muscle pain and deter snakes!*6 Not to say that all of these have been proven by any science.
- Guayusa may be useful for helping to treat diabetes*7. Since Guayusa contains Ursolic Acid which is known to help with the prevention and management of diabetes and metabolic syndrome because of its involvement in the regulation of energy expenditure and insulin sensitivity. (This is not medical advice and should not be treated as such)
This graph (data taken from this article) shows the results from 12 interviewees asked about the different uses of Guayusa, most of Kichwa and some of ‘Mestizo’ origin.
Why does it get to be called a ‘Super-Leaf’?
Actually the only reason it gets to be called a super-leaf is because it works great in our marketing, I’m not kidding.
Ahem, well, super-leaf isn’t a scientific term in the same way superfood isn’t a scientific term. But when we say super-leaf, we mean to say that this leaf has nutritional properties that are unique, powerful, and overwhelmingly good compared to other leafs that we consume or brew as teas. If green-tea gets to be called a superfood, then I stand tall with indignation to anyone who suggests we can’t call Guayusa a superfood, I mean super-leaf.
Plus, you would be hard pressed to say Guayusa is an ordinary leaf, Guayusa works in mysterious ways, to learn more see our article.
So, what nutritional properties was I talking about earlier? It contains amino acids, minerals, polyphenols, Vitamins C, D, chlorognenic acids and a bunch of other polyphenols. ORAC scores are also very high, which no matter what anyone says, are a pretty decent way to measure the nutritional punch of a food.
A brief discussion on the ORAC score of Guayusa tea
There is a lot of skepticism about how relevant ORAC scores are for a food these days. See here for a quick read to learn more about what an ORAC score is, and here for a review of pros and cons behind the ORAC score. The general rule is not to get too obsessed with the ORAC score, expecially since it only measures the anti-oxidant capacity of a food in a test-tube, not in the body, where things can get a lot more complicated. That said, I think it would be interesting to share what score Guayusa got:
The ORAC score for Guayusa is measured as 154.03m M/100g.*8 For those who have forgotten their chemistry, that’s 154.03 milli moles per 100g, which translates to 154,030 micro moles per 100 grams or 154,030 μmol/100g, which allows for easy comparison to other high ORAC foods on this website.
I mean, ORAC scores may not be everything, but turmeric and cocoa have a score above 100,000 and red bull, beer and fast foods like a McDonald’s cheese burger are all under 200. It certainly says something.
Dried tea leaves gets a score of 62714, less than half of Guayusa, not an overly big deal. However roasted coffee gets a score under 3000, which is a rather significant difference. so I’m feeling quite strongly that Guayusa has something more to give compared to coffee.
So with an ORAC score higher than turmeric, a load of nutrients, a remarkable effect on the body and a history of medicinal use; we think Guayusa is worthy of the title super-leaf.
What does Guayusa tea taste like?
Remarkably smooth and slightly sweet. A little like green-tea, but less bitter; more earthy and grassy. You won’t need to add sugar or a sweetener, so you can keep your teeth strong and white.
1* “Internationalization of guayusa really ended when Jesuit priests were expelled from Ecuador [in 1867],” From this press release.
2* Not sure were the ratio 3:1 comes from, or in which places, but I’ve seen it a few times, including in this story.
5* A Pubmed pubished study of the Ritualistic use of the holly Ilex guayusa by Amazonian Jívaro Indians
6* A study highlighting a Strategy of Sustainable Development with Guayusa using food tourism.
8* Pubmed published study looking at the ORAC score of Guayusa. And for comparing ORAC scores between different foods: Orac scores of foods list