What Exactly Is Guayusa? Health Benefits + How To Add It To Your Diet
Guayusa, originally popular in Ecuador, is now gaining in popularity in the U.S. as a naturally caffeinated ingredient. But what exactly is guayusa, and how do you use it? Experts share what you need to know about this tropical ingredient and whether or not it's a healthy swap for your daily cup o' joe.
What is guayusa?
Guayusa is a type of holly tree native to the Amazon rainforest. "Guayusa is typically grown on a small family farm and is hand-picked," says plant-based registered dietitian Amy Gorin, M.S., RDN. "The leaves of this tree are caffeinated." And even though guayusa may be a new and upcoming ingredient in the States, the use of guayusa leaves is no new discovery.
"Guayusa has long been consumed by Amazonian Indigenous tribes and historically used for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties," says registered dietitian at Kemtai, Melissa Nieves, R.D. It's hugely popular in Ecuador, where it is commonly steeped in water to create a beverage meant to improve mood and alertness—similar to our use of coffee stateside. One tribe in Ecuador even nicknamed the caffeinated drink "Night Watchman" because they believed it helped to keep workers awake through night shifts.
How do you consume guayusa?
Historically, guayusa was most commonly consumed as a tea. "The leaves are picked, dried, and brewed to make an herbal tea that is often used as a coffee alternative," Nieves says. Today, you may find it as an ingredient in some natural energy drinks or sold as a caffeinated tea (such as Runa). It's also available to purchase in powder form.
Gorin says that Indigenous families in Ecuador would often wake up as early as 3 a.m. to sit around a fire and drink guayusa tea from gourds until the sunrise.
As for the taste? If you've ever tried yerba mate, it's a similar flavor but significantly less bitter. It can even offer a slightly fruity taste profile.
How to make guayusa tea.
If you're interested in brewing your own tea at home, it's as simple as three steps:
- Bring fresh, cold water to a rolling boil.
- Once it has come to a boil, pour the water over guayusa leaves. Gorin suggests using 2 grams of loose-leaf guayusa per 8 ounces of water.
- Steep the leaves for 4 to 7 minutes and remove leaves from the tea. You can serve hot or over ice.
What are the potential benefits?
In addition to a boost in energy and alertness—thanks to caffeine content that's comparable to coffee—Gorin says that guayusa also contains theobromine, an alkaloid that may be linked to enhancing your mood.
The most-researched benefit of guayusa, however, is its rich antioxidant levels. Studies indicate the plant is high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial activity. One research review also found that guayusa, among other benefits, may be rich in polyphenols, which are powerful brain-protective antioxidants.
But scientists do believe more research is necessary to confirm if guayusa can have significant health impacts. In short: There's a lot more to learn about the benefits of incorporating guayusa into your diet.
Are there any side effects?
"From what we know about guayusa so far, it appears to present no greater risk to health than other commonly used teas like green or yerba mate," says Nieves. "However, since guayusa does contain caffeine, it's important not to overdo it with caffeinated beverages." Excess amounts of caffeine may cause symptoms like nervousness, insomnia, and anxiety, Nieves says.
Gorin adds that pregnant and nursing mothers should limit their caffeine intake, too.
Guayusa is becoming more popular stateside and can be a good option for a boost in energy and alertness, but it's important to drink the caffeinated beverage in moderation.
It's easy to brew your own guayusa tea at home, and, thanks to its high antioxidant levels, it may even help reduce your risk for some diseases.
Overall, the research on guayusa has just begun. There's so much more to learn about this energy-boosting tea.
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