All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which has two main varietals: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Guayusa tea is not ‘technically’ tea as it is made from the leaves of the Ilex guayusa tree, a relative of the holly plant. However, it is accepted in the product category of tea and is consumed as such.
The first section gives a brief overview of the general flavour of guayusa, preparation and health benefits. The second section outlines my product recommendations, while the third section consists of a more in-depth discussion about guayusa, including its origins, role in Amazonian culture, and health benefits. The fourth and final section is a summary of all the key points.
Flavour, Preparation, and Benefits of Guayusa.
Flavour Profile of Guayusa.
The flavour of guayusa is somewhat similar to the South American drink, yerba mate. However, unlike yerba mate, guayusa doesn’t have a bitter taste - it has a more grassy, mildly sweet, fruity flavour.
How To Brew Guayusa.
To brew guayusa properly, pour boiling water on guayusa leaves and steep for four to seven minutes, or longer if desired. Guayusa can be drunk hot or chilled and paired with sugar and lemon (Hagestedt, 2018).
Summary of the Health Benefits of Guayusa.
Guayusa has several nutrients and health benefits. Some of the benefits are increased energy, improved digestion, fights free radicals, improved heart health and potentially helps with weight loss.
Tea Recommendations and Personal Thoughts.
Founder of The Tea Tribe
Guayusa tea is not easy to find, and the scarcity perplexes me. At the time of writing this, Steepster has only 52 types of guayusa tea reviewed, compared to 242 different kinds of yerba mate tea reviewed. In light of the limited options, I recommend starting your guayusa journey with Queen of Tarts, by DavidsTea.
In many ways, I prefer guayusa to yerba mate; it is less bitter, smoother, and is like drinking a lush shadowed meadow.
Comprehensive Discussion of Guayusa.
Cultivation of Guayusa.
Guayusa tea is made from the leaves of the Ilex guayusa tree, a relative of the holly plant. Guayusa is native to South America and indigenous to the regions of the upper Amazon - Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia (García-Ruiz, 2017). While the tree is native to these countries, it is not common and is now almost solely a cultivated plant (Lewis, 1991). It primarily grows in Ecuador in the provinces of Hapo and Pastaza.
The Ilex guayusa tree can grow up to 30 meters tall, although most guayusa trees get pruned to roughly waist height. Regular trimming promotes the growth of new guayusa leaves and ultimately makes hand-harvesting easier.
Guayusa is closely related to yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). Guayusa, yaupon holly, and yerba mate are the only three holly trees known to produce caffeine. Guayusa has a high caffeine concentration; leaves from the guayusa plant are dried and brewed for their stimulative effects (Weissmann, 2017), and often consumed in the morning (Lewis, 1991).
Guayusa has been cultivated and consumed since ancient times by Amazon indigenous tribes for health benefits (García-Ruiz, 2017). The earliest records of guayusa’s use was a bundle of 1,500-year-old guayusa leaves found in the Bolivian Andes in a medicine man’s tomb - far beyond the plant’s natural habitat. Anthological findings show that guayusa has been used and traded in the Amazon for over 2,000 years.
In Ecuador and Peru, the Jivaroan people prepare and drink guayusa in pre-dawn ceremonies. In Ecuador, the Kichua people incorporate guayusa into social gatherings and local festivals and have a ritual where a guayusa infusion is used to have foretelling dreams for successful hunting. Both of these cases demonstrate how closely guayusa has been woven into the social fabric of the respective cultures (Wikipedia, 2019).
In many South American cultures, guayusa is still consumed the traditional way - from a gourd (cup) and a bombilla (straw). However, in the North American and European markets, drinking guayusa from a gourd is not common, although using a bombilla straw is slightly more common, especially among tea drinkers.
Health Benefits of Guayusa.
Plants of the Ilex genus mainly contain polyphenols and alkaloids, both which have various health benefits (Gan, 2018). Polyphenols are antioxidant micronutrients that can improve digestion, weight management, and diabetes. Polyphenols also help against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (Gotter, 2017). Guayusa tea also contains high amounts of amino acids, vitamins, and caffeine (Kapp, 2016).
Elasticity and Appearance of Skin.
Unlike all other caffeinated plants, guayusa and yerba mate contain high amounts of pentacyclic triterpenoid acids (Chianese, 2019). Pentacyclic triterpenoid restores collagen structure and helps maintain elastin in your skin. This therapeutic effect means that the compounds in guayusa or yerba mate tea may help preserve a youthful appearance.
Guayusa can boost mental clarity and physical energy, primarily due to the presence of caffeine. Guayusa contains 12.38 mg of caffeine per fluid ounce, higher than black tea, but less than a cup of strong coffee. Some energy drinks now contain guayusa as one of the energy-boosting ingredients - a much healthier option than the other synthetic energy-boosting ingredients that are added to energy drinks.
Guayusa tea contains caffeine but it also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps to release caffeine more evenly. Therefore, drinking guayusa tea can avoid the caffeine crash often associated with coffee consumption, and provides a steadier source of energy than coffee. Guayusa also contains theobromine and theophylline, both of which are alkaloids compounds. These two compounds are stimulants known to sharpen concentration and increase energy.
Contains Amino Acids and Antioxidants.
Guayusa has a high antioxidant capacity (García-Ruiz, 2017), antimicrobial effect (Gamboa, 2018) and anti-inflammatory properties (Pardau, 2017). Young guayusa leaves may be a particularly potent health food (Villacís-Chiriboga, 2017), and research indicates guayusa is safe to consume (Wise, 2019).
Guayusa contains vital amino acids that improve mood and cognition (Schuster, 2019), as well as relaxation. Guayusa also has twice as many antioxidants as green tea, including polyphenols, saponins and flavonoids. Studies have found that polyphenols reduce bodily inflammation, while saponins improve the immune system. Flavonoids help promote longevity, weight management, and cardiovascular disease prevention. Antioxidants in guayusa help remove free radicals from your body (Lobo, 2010), and they also boost digestion and support intestine and kidney health.
Weight Loss and Muscle Building.
The flavonoids in guayusa tea are associated with weight loss through the combination of caffeine and theobromine (Kapp, 2016). One study found that the consumption of guayusa tea reduced body weight and improved triglycerides levels (Kapp, 2016). Another study examining the impact of guayusa on weight loss found it increased the fat burning process and lowered triglycerides and lipid levels (Castañeda, 2016).
Guayusa tea also contains 15 amino acids, the protein building blocks used in our bodies. One of these amino acids is leucine, which is crucial in building and repairing muscles. Our body is unable to make leucine, and therefore it must be consumed from an outside food source, making guayusa tea an ideal source for obtaining this vital amino acid.
For female readers, take note: guayusa tea can help manage period pain. Guayusa also decreases stomach inflammation, which can reduce stomach cramps and bloat.
Guayusa is not technically tea, but consumers refer to it as a type of tea. Guayusa tea is made from one of three plants in the holly family containing caffeine, with yerba mate being guayusa’s closely related counterpart. The two share a similar flavour profile, but guayusa is less bitter and has a more grassy, sweeter taste.
Guayusa has a rich cultural history in South America and mainly grows in Ecuador. It is still a popular drink in South America but is less popular and harder to find in North American and European markets.
Traditionally guayusa is drunk using a gourd (cup) and a bombilla (straw). Modern tea drinkers in North America and Europe may skip the gourd but still use the straw.
To make guayusa, pour boiling water over the dry leaves and allow the drink to steep for at least four to seven minutes, or longer if preferred. Guayusa tastes good hot or cold and can be consumed straight or with lemon or honey.
Guayusa has many health benefits, including energy boost, antioxidants, and weight management.
Unfortunately, not many tea blends use guayusa, and it is less discussed than its counterpart, yerba mate. If you have a favourite product, please share in the comments.
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Chianese, G., Golin-Pacheco, S., Taglialatela-Scafati, O., Collado, J., Munoz, E., Appendino, G., & Pollastro, F. (2019). Bioactive triterpenoids from the caffeine-rich plants guayusa and maté. Food Research International, 115, 504–510. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2018.10.005
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Kapp, R. W., Mendes, O., Roy, S., Mcquate, R. S., & Kraska, R. (2016). General and Genetic Toxicology of Guayusa Concentrate (Ilex guayusa). International Journal of Toxicology, 35(2), 222–242. http://doi.org/10.1177/1091581815625594
Lewis, W., Kennelly, E., Bass, G., Wedner, H., Elvin-Lewis, M., & W., D. (1991). Ritualistic use of the holly Ilex guayusa by Amazonian Jivaro Indians. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 33(1-2), 25–30. http://doi.org/10.1016/0378-8741(91)90156-8
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Schuster, J., & Mitchell, E. S. (2019). More than just caffeine: psychopharmacology of methylxanthine interactions with plant-derived phytochemicals. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 89, 263–274. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.09.005
Villacís-Chiriboga, J., García-Ruiz, A., Baenas, N., Moreno, D. A., Meléndez-Martínez, A. J., Stinco, C. M., … Ruales, J. (2017). Changes in phytochemical composition, bioactivity and in vitro digestibility of guayusa leaves (Ilex guayusa Loes.) in different ripening stages. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 98(5), 1927–1934. http://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.8675
Weissmann, E. (2017, August 28). Ecuador's "Superleaf" Tea: Could It Replace Your Afternoon Coffee? Retrieved August 22, 2019, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/7/140703-guayusa-ecuador-amazon-health-foods-tea/
Wikipedia. (2019, August 21). Ilex guayusa. Retrieved August 22, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilex_guayusa
Wise, G., & Negrin, A. (2019). A critical review of the composition and history of safe use of guayusa: a stimulant and antioxidant novel food. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1–12. http://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2019.1643286