Paullinia cupana
(Sapindaceae) 

Common Names 

English: guarana

Spanish: guaraná, cupana

Portuguese: guaraná 

 

Origin and Distribution 

Native to the Amazon basin of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.  Cultivated sporadically in other tropical regions.

 

Botanical Synonyms 

Paullinia sorbilis. 

 

Description

Guarana plants are woody climbing shrubs to 10 feet (3 m) in height, becoming more vinelike under shade.  Leaves bright green, alternate and compound, with five leaflets.  Plants monoecious, with small white male and female flowers, found together on axillary racemes.  The fruit is a bright red-orange capsule, about an inch (2-2.5 cm) long, containing two to three black seeds.  The seeds are partially covered with a white aril, leaving the tip exposed, which gives them the appearance of eyes.  

 

Propagation and Culture

Propagated by seed, cuttings, air layers or grafting.  Seeds lose viability after 3 days, and must be planted fresh.  Germination occurs from 80 to 180 days after planting.

Seedlings should be grown under 50% shade, even after planting in the field.  After 6 months to 1 year in the field, they can be exposed to full sun.  Gurarana grows best in deep, well drained soils, and responds well to regular fertilization.  Plants should be pruned to promote abundant branching, as flowering occurs on new shoots.  Well maintained plants produce an average of 2.2-4.4 pounds (1-2 kg) of dry seeds per year.

 

Cultivars and Related Species

There are no named cultivars of Paullinia cupana, but research organizations in Brazil and Peru have germplasm collections of hundreds of different guarana clones.

There are nine species of Paullinia.  Another edible Paullinia species is P. pinnata, called apgi or barbasco.  The aril and sweet fruit of apgi are consumed, as well as the flowers and leaves.  Paullinia yoco, the other species used as a stimulant, is found along the Putumayo River between Colombia and Peru.

 

Uses

Fruits are fermented for 2-3 days to remove the fleshy aril, then are washed and sun or oven dried.  The seeds are then ground, and the powder or extract used for flavoring soft drinks, and marketed as sticks, syrups and in capsules.   

The traditional method of preparing guarana is to roast and grind the seeds with a little water, then roll the resulting paste into sticks, which are smoked for 30-60 days, which hardens them and provides a long shelf life.  For consumption, the sticks are ground with a grater, traditionally the raspy tongue of the pirarucu fish, and the resulting powder is mixed with water to make a refreshing drink.

Gurarana contains the alkaloids caffeine and theobromine, in higher concentrations than coffee (Coffea sp.), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), tea (Camellia sinensis), cola (Cola acuminata) or mate (Ilex paraguariensis), reaching caffeine levels as high as 10%.

 

Caffeine and theobromine percentage in guarana and other natural plant products      

Plant Product Caffeine Theobromine
Guarana 4.3 - 5.4 1.2
Tea 2.4 - 4.9 0
Cola 2.8 0
Mate 0.3 - 1.5 0
Coffee 0.8 - 1.3 0
Cocoa 0.4 1.0

Gurarana is important to the Amazon Indians, used as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac and also believed to extend life.  A Maué Indian legend explains why the fruits resemble eyes:  "Onhiamuacabê was a beautiful Indian girl who gave birth to a baby sired by a mysterious being. As a punishment for eating forbidden nuts, the child was put to death.  At his grave, a guarana bush grew from his eye, and this bush brought forth a child, from whom the Maué tribe descended."

Guarana has many medicinal applications, including use as a stimulant, aphrodisiac, analgesic, diuretic, appetite suppresant, and in the treatment of headache, migraine and diarrhea. 

 

More information on guarana

Raintree Nutrition Tropical Plant Database
Excellent resource for medicinal uses of guarana.

 

Species of Paullinia with Economic Potential
From the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) book "Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective."

 

 

 

   

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