What Are Ten Effective Natural Stimulants?
Many of these stimulants may have other important medicinal properties
Plants provide people with numerous herbs with medical properties, including the ability to stimulate the central nervous system. Some of these natural substances can be grown in one’s backyard or easily purchased, while others can’t. In fact, some are illegal to consume, possess or sell in one country or another. Nevertheless, the usage of such restricted or prohibitive substances may be an integral aspect of a nation’s cultural fabric going back many thousands of years.
The following is a list of some of the most effective and popular natural stimulants and is written in no particular order.
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1. Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola, also known as Asiatic pennywort or Centella asiatica, is a medicinal herb that grows throughout Southeast Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. Gotu Kola is considered one of the primary herbs of Ayurvedic medicine. It is also used in traditional Chinese and African medical applications. Specifically, the leaves of Centella asiatica can be used to make a tangy, green-colored drink. Gotu Kola, not to be confused with the kola nut, is also used as a spice is many foods and is considered very nutritious. Gotu Kola may in fact have numerous medical properties, though none have been validated by close scientific inquiry.
Beware, since Centella asiatica is an aquatic plant, it can be contaminated if grown in polluted water, so be careful where you buy it.
Hoodia is a genus of flowering plants that are generally known as cacti. The major species with purported medical properties is Hoodia gordonii, a cactus that grows in the Namib Desert of Africa. This cactus is also considered a garden plant, by the way. Widely known as an appetite suppressant and stimulant, particularly by the Bushmen of southwest Africa, who use it to survive in harsh desert conditions, these days Hoodia is a popular dietary product.
As many people may know, herbs and other substances that suppress the appetite are often ones that also work as stimulants. Interestingly, the TV program 60 Minutes investigated Hoodia and provided generally positive feedback, particularly as it relates to Hoodia’s ability to reduce thirst and appetite and boost energy. By the way, Hoodia is widely available in supplements.
Caffeine is the most popular psychoactive substance in the world. People consume about 120,000 tons of caffeine per year – that’s one serving per day for everyone on the planet! Found in plants, caffeine is a natural pesticide and herbicide, which generally assures the survival of the plant in which it’s found. Found in coffee, tea and seemingly countless other beverages, caffeine is downright hard to avoid in the modern world.
Unfortunately, caffeine usage has many side effects and it can be habit-forming - or addictive - given one’s point of view on the subject. At any rate, what would people do without their beloved caffeine?
Khat, spelled Qat in Arabic countries, is a leafy plant (Catha edulis) that grows throughout parts of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Khat contains an alkaloid called cathinone, which has the properties of a stimulant, a strong enough of one to be considered a controlled substance in many countries, including the United States. Usage of Khat is considered habit-forming, though reportedly not as bad as that of nicotine or alcohol.
In Arabic countries, Khat is often consumed by chewing the leaves of the plant, much in the same way that the native peoples of South American imbibe in coca leaves.
Ephedra, derived from the plant Ephedra sinica, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for 5,000 years. Fascinatingly, Ephedra may have been Soma, the famous ritual beverage of Indo-Iranian, Indo-Asian and Persian mythic stories. The Ephedra plant contains an alkaloid that stimulates the central nervous system and also suppresses the appetite. Native Americans brewed tea from Ephedra.
Long used as a dietary supplement in countries such as the U.S., Ephedra use in supplements has been banned because of reported adverse side effects, including sudden cardiac arrest. Athletes have also used Ephedra as a performance enhancing drug, though studies have not proven its effectiveness as such.
6. Coca Tea
If you don’t mind it’s association with cocaine, from which coca leaves is made, coca tea is a pleasant stimulant similar in effect to drinking a cup of coffee or green tea. Coca tea contains alkaloids from the coca plant which grows in South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. (Alkaloids contain mostly nitrogen atoms, by the way.) Interestingly, the native people of South America, when trekking through the Andes Mountains, chew coca leaves to alleviate fatigue and altitude sickness.
Unfortunately, usage of coca tea is not legal in all countries. In the U.S., for example, coca tea cannot be purchased unless it has been decocainized. Also of interest, ingesting coca tea can make a person flunk a drug test.
Taurine, often called an amino acid even though it is not, is a sulfonic acid found in animal tissues, particularly meat and seafood, and is considered essential to cardiovascular health. Moreover, its usage may lower blood pressure as well. It’s also supposed to be an excellent antioxidant.
Be that as it may, Taurine is often included in energy drinks such as Red Bull, because of its putative stimulating effects. Provided in these beverages in doses of 1,000 to 2,000 mg, Taurine is supposed to give one a noticeable boost, though studies have not proven this amount can cause therapeutic effects or, for that matter, adverse ones.
Betel is another plant that produces a leaf people like to chew for its stimulating effects. Scientifically known as Piper betle and grown in Southeast Asia over thousands of years, Betel leaf is often consumed with areca nut, which contains Arecoline, a drug often compared to nicotine. To this concoction slaked lime is added and sometimes tobacco, producing what is called betel quid, a chewable wad that seems to be quite habit-forming. At times, spices such as cardamom may be added as well, according to taste. Curiously, it appears betel leaf is never consumed by itself.
Chewing an addictive substance seems bad enough, but betel quid stains the teeth a dark red or black color and may cause oral cancer.
Ginseng is one of the primary herbs in Chinese traditional medicine and is considered by many to be a panacea. There are many different species of Ginseng, all of which contain ginsenosides, which seem largely responsible for Ginseng’s medicinal efficacy. Moreover, Ginseng is often consumed in drinks, particularly tea or as a kind of coffee and is often included as an ingredient in popular energy concoctions.
Often used as a mild stimulant, Ginseng consumption may have many possible uses as an aphrodisiac and for treatment of sexual dysfunction and type II diabetes. Unfortunately, Ginseng usage may cause deleterious effects as well, including insomnia, nausea and headaches. Nevertheless, ingesting large amounts of Ginseng at any one time seems tolerated by most people.
10. Rhodiola Rosea
Grown in cold regions of the world, Rhodiola rosea, also known as arctic root and king’s crown, is another herb with reported medicinal effects, including the ability to fight fatigue. Touted these days on TV shows such as Dr. Oz, Rhodiola rosea is found in many herbal supplements and may also be effective treating diseases and conditions such as cancer, anxiety, influenza, bacterial infections and migraine headaches. Its use may also improve mental and physical performance.
But, as is the case with many purported herbal remedies, proven scientific evidence is lacking for the medical effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use to fight any disease. Be that as it may, scientists have identified 140 different compounds in Rhodiola root, so much testing and research could be performed in the coming years on this promising herb.
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© 2014 Kelley Marks