This genus of about 180 species of evergreen, woody lianas and climbing shrubs occurs mainly in tropical America. The fruits of Paullinia cupana var. sorbilis, a rainforest climber, are made into a stimulant drink, known as guaraná, which is as important to tribes in central Amazonian Brazil as tea and coffee are elsewhere in the world. This use was first noted by João Felipe Betendorf, a Jesuit missionary, in 1669. By the 18th century, the use of guaraná as an aphrodisiac, and as a protection against malaria and amebic dysentery, had spread widely in Brazil. Comercial plantations were established in the 1970's, and it is now a major cash crop, often grown with manioc to prevent scrub regeneration once the manioc is harvested. Seeds of P. cupana are dried, powdered, and pressed into a dough with water, and rolled into sticks, 12-20cm (8-15in) long, which are then dried. The sticks are grated into hot water to make guaraná. Unlike tea and coffee, which are highly water soluble, guaraná does not readily dissolve, due to its high content of fats, oils, and resins, leaving a nutritious film and sediment which is thought to slow the absorption of stimulant compounds. Traditional techniques of hand-processing guaraná by the Saterê-Mawé Indians gives a superior product to mechanized processing, since it avoids oxidation of compounds, which results in a dark, bitter drink that irritates the digestive tract. Guaraná contains 2.7-5.8 percent (dry-weight) of a compound that was first isolated in 1826 as guaranine. This compound is now known to be tetramethylxanthine, a xanthine derivative almost identical to caffeine, and often referred to as such. Also present in guaraná are alkaloids, such as theobromine, as found in Theobroma cacao (See, Cacao), tannins (5-6 percent), and saponins. Though the identity of plants grown as guaraná is usually given as the typical species, Paullinia cupana, this is rare in the wild and not in cultivation. Cultivated plants are in fact var. sorbilis; they adopt a shrubby habit when grown in the open. Stems of the closely related P. yoco (yoco) are used by the native people in Columbia, Ecuador, and N Peru to make a similar drink, and medicinally to lower fever and relieve biliousness following malaria.

A tropical plant native to Venezuela and northern Brazil, guarana produces a small red fruit with a high caffeine content. Many Brazilians enjoy chewing guarana seeds for the energy boost, or drinking fizzy, fruity guarana soft drinks, which are second in popularity only to cola drinks. Some people also claim that guarana is an aphrodisiac.

Woody, evergreen liana with angular stems and glossy, pinnate leaves, divided into 5 ovate, pointed leaflets, 20-25cm (8-10in) long, which have toothed margins and deep-set veins. Yellow, 4-petaled flowers are produced in spike-like panicles, to 10cm (4in) long, followed by obovates, segmented, orange-red capsules that split open when ripe to reveal 1-3 shiny, purple-brown seeds.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Brazilian cocoa, Guarana Bread, Paullinia, Zoom
Botanical Name:
Paullinia cupana var. sorbilis syn P. sorbilis
Native Location:
Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela
Moist, rich soil in partial shade.
By seed sown when ripe; by ripewood cuttings at the end of the growing season.
Seeds are collected when ripe, then roasted, ground, and stored as dried paste or powder.
10m (30ft)
Min. 18°C (65°F)
Parts Used:
A slightly bitter, stimulant, tonic herb that lowers fever and has astringent and diuretic effects. It is reputedly and aphrodisiac.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally to relieve fatigue, aid concentration, and lift the spirits; also for diarrhea, leucorrhea, migraine, and headache. May cause sleeplessness. Contraindicated in cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
To treat digestion problems, headache, fever, and dysmenorrhea; to ease fatigue, hunger, and thirst; as diuretic.
Typical Dose:
A typical dose of guarana is approximately 1 gm of the powdered form.
Possible Side Effects:
Guarana's side effects include restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, gastric irritation, and diuresis.
Drug Interactions:
Taking guarana with this drug may interfere with the action of the drug:
Alprazolam, (Apo-Alpraz, Xanax)
Taking guarana with these drugs may increase the risk of hypokalemia (low levels of potassium in the blood):
Bepridil, (Vascor)
Digitalis, (Digitek, Lanoxin)
Diltiazem, (Cardizem, Tiazac)
Dofetilide, (Tikosyn)
Flecainide, (Tambocor)
Insulin, (Humulin, Novolin R)
Quinidine, (Novo-Quinidin, Quinaglute Dura-Tabs)
Sildenafil, (Viagra)
Sotalol, (Betapace, Sorine)
Verapamil, (Calan, Isoptin SR)
Lab Test Alterations:
May cause a reduction in serum ferritin, hemoglobin, and/or serum iron concentration in those who are iron-deficient.
Food Interactions:
May increase therapeutic and adverse effecs of caffeine when taken together with caffeine-containing foods and drinks.
Culinary Uses:
Seeds are roasted, ground, and pressed into paste (pasta guaraná), which is dried into sticks and grated into water as a coffee-like drink; also fermented to make and alcoholic drink.
Economic Uses:
A source of caffiene and flavorings for the food and beverage industries. Extracts are added to diet and tonic foods. Sweetened paste, or "Brazilian chocolate", is used in soft drinks, candy, and liqueurs.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. Pp 303-304
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp.262-263