The Health Benefits of Guayusa Tea

An herbal infusion said to offer an energy boost

Guayusa Tea

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak 

Guayusa tea is a caffeinated herbal beverage commonly consumed in South America, particularly in Ecuador. The infusion is made from the leaf of a holly tree (Ilex guayusa) that is native to the Amazon rainforest. Often marketed as an alternative to coffee and energy drinks, guayusa is said to provide a healthier energy lift.

In fact, in Ecuador, locals have long sipped guayusa in order to increase their alertness, especially while working. Certain native tribes refer to guayusa as “the night watchman,” since the drink is sometimes used to help people stay awake through evening hours.

Some believe that guayusa also provides other benefits. It is touted as a top source of antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids. In addition, it contains such chemicals as theobromine, a substance also found in cocoa and thought to offer mood-enhancing effects.

Health Benefits

In addition to helping boost energy, some proponents suggest that sipping guayusa on a regular basis can reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease. It’s also suggested that drinking guayusa can help promote weight loss.

At this point, however, little is known about how drinking guayusa might influence health. Studies investigating the health properties of guayusa are extremely limited, and almost no studies have been performed on humans.

So far, most of the claims for the drink’s health effects come from anecdotal evidence.

Alertness

The caffeine content in guayusa and in coffee can vary greatly according to the way it is manufactured and brewed. However, the caffeine in one cup of brewed guayusa is said to be comparable to the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

When compared to other types of caffeinated beverages, however, guayusa is believed to provide mental alertness without negative side effects including jitters or a post-caffeine "crash."

One small study published in Clinical and Translational Science was performed on 12 adult males. Researchers compared subjects' responses to caffeine from a green coffee extract, a guayusa leaf extract, and a synthetic caffeine.

They determined that the guayusa leaf extract may be less stimulating to the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) compared with the green coffee extract and synthetic caffeine.

Antioxidant

Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent cell damage from oxidation in the body. Several studies have confirmed the antioxidant properties of the guayusa plant.

Researchers speculate that these compounds may provide some level of protection against cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, bacterial infection, and other illnesses, but more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these theories.

Possible Side Effects

Researchers who have investigated the chemical properties of guayusa have reported that it appears to present no greater risk to human health than existing teas such as green tea or yerba mate. However, they add that further investigation is needed.

Despite claims that guayusa triggers none of the side effects commonly associated with caffeine intake, any type of high-caffeine product can have a negative impact on your wellbeing when consumed in excess.

For example, consuming too much caffeine can aggravate conditions like anxiety and insomnia, as well as cause headaches and abnormal heart rhythms.

Pregnant and nursing women should limit their use of caffeine. Certain drugs and supplements may interact with caffeine-rich substances, such as guayusa.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

While many tea companies and online retailers sell guayusa tea, it is more appropriate to call it an herbal infusion. Technically, teas come from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), a guayusa beverages do not.

You are likely to find guayusa in loose-leaf form, rather than in tea bags. The dried leaves should be stored in an airtight container until used.

To brew, experts suggest that you bring fresh, cold water to a boil. Then pour eight ounces of water over about two grams of leaves and steep for up to seven minutes depending on how dark you like your brew. Guayusa can also be served iced.

Common Questions

How does guayusa differ from yerba mate?
Yerba mate comes from the Ilex paraguariensis plant. It, like Ilex guayusa, is a holly tree native to the rainforests of South America (mainly, Argentina).

Leaves from both plants are used to make teas that are often consumed as a coffee alternative. A key difference between guayusa and yerba mate is the flavor. Unlike yerba mate, which can bear a somewhat bitter taste, guayusa is regarded as smooth, earthy, and slightly sweet.

Does the farming and production of guayusa affect the health of the rain forest?
Since guayusa is typically grown on small family farms and cultivated according to environmentally friendly methods, it’s thought that increased demand for guayusa may support the sustainability of the rainforest as well as help farming communities thrive.

What are some other coffee alternatives that provide an energy boost?
A great variety of natural products can give you an energy lift similar to that of guayusa. Consider sipping classic teas such as black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea. Unlike guayusa, such teas have been found to offer a number of health benefits, including improvements in heart health.

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