Wild coffee is native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. It is a shrub or small tree, which reaches up to 2 or 3metres, but can be as much as 10metres high. The leaves are oval from 5-15cm long and 3-7cm wide with tiny white, cream or greenish clusters of flowers bearing on a short stalk. The flowers smell like a mixture of honey and urine and bear small fruits, which have 3 seeds when they 'crack open'.
Wild coffee is not much used in Jamaica as a healing agent, but is used in South America, particularly Brazil and Bolivia. Its main use is against snake, dog and insect bites, for which it is proven effective. The herb has been used for sometime to treat stomach problems such as ulcers, diarrhoea, and food poisoning.
Wild coffee is also used in South America to purify the blood and for pain relief and in Bolivia it is valued for its ability to stop bleeding and reduce infection and inflammation in wounds. Wild coffee is also reputed to be effective in treating a variety of skin problems including eczema, burns, leprosy and herpes and is an ingredient in dental mouthwashes.
Modern Research & Uses
In the last twenty years, there have been a number of research projects, which have looked at wild coffee's anti-tumour and anti-cancer properties. Patents were taken out by Japanese researchers on isolated compounds called casearins, to treat various cancers. More recently, previously unknown casearins were discovered by American researchers, again as anti-cancerous agents.
Most of the research done on wild coffee has been carried out by Brazilians who have focused mainly on the pain relieving and anti-ulcer properties of the herb. A very recent study found that wild coffee had significant anti-microbial and anti-fungal activity. It seems that traditional uses of wild coffee have been borne out by various laboratory tests and animal studies.
The chemical compounds in wild coffee are still being isolated but so far they include: caprionic acid; alkaloids; saponins; casearin A-S; lapachol; caearia clerodane 1-6; casearvestrinA-C; hesperitin; vicenin and flavonoids.
A commercially made perfume in Brazil is based on the essential oil extracted from wild coffee leaves. Wild coffee is also an ingredient in a weight loss product produced in Brazil.
Due to wild coffee's proven anti-microbial and anti-fungal effects, it would be advisable to ensure that the natural flora in the gut is balanced by eating yoghurt or similar product, if using wild coffee for any length of time.