Ilex guayusa

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Ilex guayusa
View of Ilex guayusa from above.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: I. guayusa
Binomial name
Ilex guayusa

Ilex guayusa (/ˈlɛks ˈɡwjuːsə/ or /ˈlɛks ˈwjuːsə/) is a species of tree of the holly genus, native to the Amazon Rainforest.[1] One of three known caffeinated holly trees, the leaves of the guayusa tree are dried and brewed like a tea for their stimulative effects.[2]


Photo of cultivated Ilex guayusa treelet

Ilex guayusa is an evergreen dioecious[3] tree which grows 6–30 meters tall.[4] The leaves are ovate, elliptic, oblong or lanceolate; 7–22 cm long, 2.5–7 cm wide; with serrate or dentate margin.[4] The flowers are small and white, arranged in thyrses.[4] The fruit is spherical and red, 6–7 mm in diameter.[4]

Distribution and Habitat[edit]

A tall tree native to the upper Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru, and southern Colombia, between 200–2000 meters of elevation.[1][4] However, it has also been collected in Bolivia in 1939.[5] It is present in evergreen or deciduous premontane forests, especially ones dominated by Dictyocaryum palms.[4] Guayusa has been collected only rarely in the wild by botanists and is known almost exclusively as a cultivated plant (especially in the Ecuadorian provinces of Napo and Pastaza).[6]

Vernacular names[edit]

Wayusa (pronounced "Why-you-sa") is its name in the indigenous Kichwa (or Runashimi, the northern variant of Quechua), one of the many languages spoken by indigenous nations in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In the Shuar language, it is called "Wais".[7]


The earliest evidence of human utilization of this species is a 1,500-year-old bundle of guayusa leaves found in a medicine man's tomb in the Bolivian Andes, far beyond the natural range of the plant.[5]


Leaves of Ilex guayusa

Leaves of Ilex guayusa are used to make an infusion with medicinal and stimulant properties.[4][6] After harvest, leaves are dried, which allows flavor to develop.[6]

Jivaroan peoples in Ecuador and Peru, also prepare a drink from the leaves to be drank in large amounts during pre-dawn ceremonies that involve the vomiting of the excess drink to wash out the stomach and small intestine and avoid consuming too much caffeine.[4][6]

In 2015, Runa Foundation carried out an extensive study on the uses and history of the plant amongst various indigenous groups throughout Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru which was published in Economic Botany in 2016,[8] and which concludes with:

"In relation to the therapeutic uses of guayusa, we acknowledge that available museum records and accounts have not always been verified to ensure they actually refer to I. guayusa, or to a different species with similar uses. Meanwhile, I. guayusa’s stimulating and medicinal properties will continue to position it as a valued species of the Andean–Amazonian interface, especially given intensification of market–oriented guayusa production in recent years."[8]

Chemical composition and properties[edit]

Guayusa yields xanthines such as caffeine. Other holly species with significant caffeine content are Ilex paraguariensis, or yerba mate, and Ilex vomitoria, or yaupon holly.

In addition to caffeine, guayusa also contains theobromine, commonly found in chocolate, and L-theanine, a glutamic acid analog also found in green tea.[9][unreliable source?]

Chemical analyses in 2009 and 2010 have shown caffeine content in guayusa of 2.90-3.28% by dry weight.[10][unreliable source?][11][unreliable source?]

Health benefits[edit]

A growing body of evidence suggests that guayusa has a variety of health benefits:[12]

Dried leaves of Ilex guayusa.


Guayusa is a potent source of antioxidants. These help protect the body against the negative consequences of oxidative stress. This protective effect is essential to healthy aging and helps reduce the risks of various forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease. Antioxidant laden tea consumption in particular has been associated with reduced incidences of digestive tract cancers [13] and better cardiovascular health.[14][12]

Weight Loss[edit]

The caffeine in guayusa helps suppress appetite and thereby promote weight loss. With slightly more caffeine than black tea, but a lower amount than regular coffee, guayusa provides the benefits of caffeine without the negative effects of excess.[15][12]

Digestion and Immunity[edit]

Guayusa has a long history of being used as a digestive aide and in medicinal brews.[16] This is primarily due to the high levels of naturally occurring compounds known as methylxanthines. Chief among these are theobromine and caffeine. When consumed in large enough quantities, guayusa helps to keep the digestive tract running smoothly and prevents infections from occurring.[17][18][12]

Myths and legends[edit]

Michael Harner, the founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, describes how “the Jivaro say guayusa is so habituating that before it is offered to a visitor, he is warned that once he drinks it, he wil always return to the Ecuadorian Jungle.”[19]

The Kichwa people claim that guayusa induces dreams that foretell whether hunting expeditions will be successful.[20]

See also[edit]

  • Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) - South American caffeinated holly species used to make Mate.
  • Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) - southeastern North American caffeinated holly species used to make the Black Drink.
  • Kuding (Ilex kudingcha) - Asian holly species used with Ligustrum robustum for Chinese kǔdīng chá tea.


  1. ^ a b "Tropicos | Name - Ilex guayusa Loes.". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Shemluck, Melvin (1979). "The flowers of Ilex guayusa" (PDF). Botanical Museum Leaflets. Harvard University Herbaria. 27 (5/6): 155–160. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Loizeau P.-A.; G. Barriera (1 March 2007). "Aquifoliaceae of Neotropics Ilex guayusa Loes.". Monographia Aquifoliacearum. Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Schultes, R. E. (1972). "Ilex guayusa from 500 AD to the present". In Wassén, H.; et al. A medicine-man's implements and plants in a Tiahuanacoid tomb in highland Bolivia. Etnologiska Studier. 32. Goteborgs Etnografiska Museum. 
  6. ^ a b c d Lewis, WH; Kennelly, EJ; Bass, GN; Wedner, HJ; Elvin, L (1991). "Ritualistic use of the holly Ilex guayusa by Amazonian Jivaro Indians". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 33: 25–30. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(91)90156-8. 
  7. ^ "Guayusa - Patrimonio Alimentario". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-07-14. 
  8. ^ a b Duenas, Juan; et al. (February 2016). "Amazonian Guayusa (Ilex guayusa Loes.): A Historical and Ethnobotanical Overview". Economic Botany (XX(X) 2016): 1–7. 
  9. ^ "Lab Number:056939". Advanced Botanical Consulting & Testing, Inc. Retrieved 2011-07-21. 
  10. ^ "Lab Number:056939". Advanced Botanical Consulting & Testing, Inc. 
  11. ^ "Componentes Quimicos Guayusa 19Oct09". 
  12. ^ a b c d "Guayusa - Research and Health Benefits". Menos Canada. 
  13. ^ Higdon, JV; Frei, B (2003). "Higdon JV, Frei B: Tea Catechins and Polyphenols: Health Effects, Metabolism, and Antioxidant Functions.". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 43: 89–143. PMID 12587987. doi:10.1080/10408690390826464. 
  14. ^ Kuriyama, S (August 2008). "Kuriyama S: The Relation between Green Tea Consumption and Cardiovascular Disease as Evidenced by Epidemiological Studies.". J. Nutr. 138: 15485–15535. PMID 18641205. 
  15. ^ Kovacs, EM; Lejeune, MP; Nijs, I; Westerterp-Plantenga, MS (March 2004). "Kovacs EMR, Lejeune MPGM, Nijs I, Westerterp-Plantenga MS: Effects of green tea on weight maintenance after body-weight loss.". British Journal of Nutrition. 91: 431–437. PMID 15005829. doi:10.1079/BJN20041061. 
  16. ^ "Duenas JF, Jarrett C, Cummins I, Logan-Hines E: Amazonian Guayusa (Ilex guayusa Loes.): A Historical and Ethnobotanical Overview.". Economic Botany (70): 85–91. 2016. 
  17. ^ Peters-Golden, M; Canetti, C; Mancuso, P; Coffey, MJ (2005). "Peters-Golden M, Canetti C, Mancuso P, Coffey MJ: Leukotrienes: underappreciated mediators of innate immune responses.". J Immunol. 174: 589–94. PMID 15634873. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.174.2.589. 
  18. ^ "Edwards AL, Bennett BC: Diversity of Methylxanthine Content in Ilex cassine L. and Ilex vomitoria AIT.: Assessing sources of the North American Stimulant Cassina.". Economic Botany (59): 275–285. Autumn 2005. JSTOR 4256992. 
  19. ^ Harner, Michael The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing. Harper & Row, 1980. ISBN 0-553-20693-1
  20. ^ Spruce, R. (1996). Notas de un botánico en el Amazonas y los Andes. Quito, Ecuador: Colección Tierra Incógnita. 

External links[edit]