Bitter Kola

Ark of taste
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Bitter Kola is a wild plant that is found growing in primary and secondary forests in the eastern, southern and some northern parts of Sierra Leone. This plant is found growing predominantly in forests with high rainfalls and temperatures throughout the year, especially by riverbanks. The bitter kola differs from other types of kola nut in that the nuts are always white in color and are smaller in size. The plant is also more pest resistant, and is only found in the wild, unlike cultivated kola nuts. Their lower moisture content means bitter cola nuts can also be more easily dried.   It is evident that the use of the nuts was first discovered by the Kono, Limba, Mende, Themne people, and its use later spread to the coastal areas of the Sierra Leone where it does not grow at all. The bitter cola nuts are now in use all over Sierra Leone, either by directly chewing the plant or using it to create an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. The plant produces fairly round pods that contain the bitter kola nuts.   The seeds or nuts of bitter kola are processed like other kola nuts, by opening the pods with a knife and removing and fermenting the seeds for a period of three to four days. The fermented nuts are washed in clean water, leaving them covered with only the endocarp. The bitter kola seeds are white in color and can be used immediately or dried completely for later use or sale. For immediate consumption, the bitter kola nuts are chewed, at any time during the day. To store the fresh nuts for a short period, they are wrapped in freshwater mangrove leaves (called eabop in the Themne language or popeh in Kuranko). The thick leaves are ideal for keeping the nuts fresh and soft for chewing.   The nuts can also be transformed into a drink popularly called “bitter kola,” which can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic. They are usually sold in 2 or 3 liter bottles. The alcoholic version is more generally consumed by younger people, and older people or Muslims tend to consume the non-alcoholic version. They are particularly popular with men, who believe the bitter cola can improve their sexual potency. Women also consume the bitter kola nuts and drinks to ease abdominal pain. Locally, the bitter kola has created a source of income with the establishment of factories that manufacture the drinks.   However, it is at risk of being lost for various reasons. The bitter cola tree grows wild and is not cultivated; therefore it is not under the care of any specific people. This provokes the incidence of erratic harvesting or overharvesting of the fruits, which may lead to a decrease in the yield or even its overall population in the ecosystem. The rapid expansion of grasslands and deforestation of the landscape is a threat to these forest loving plants. The crude method of harvesting by cutting down the branches of the trees is a hindrance to the health of the plants and the maximization of the plant yield performance.

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StateSierra Leone


Other info


Fruit, nuts and fruit preserves

Indigenous community:Kono, Limba, Mende and Themne