Aromatic Herb from the Heart of Africa

There I was…watching the African savanna change into jungle before my eyes.

I stood on the northern side of Lake Victoria and started the day looking at a straw-colored landscape. There’s an occasional acacia tree, and little patches of green here and there. The clumps and ribbons of green show where the rivers and lakes are.

Traveling through southwestern Uganda was so beautiful I sometimes forgot to take photos. I would stop and stare. Here was one of my first glimpses of Bwindi’s Impenetrable Forest.

As I drove south and west – crossing the equator and heading toward the heart of tropical Africa – there were more and more green patches.

I started to gain elevation, and then see rolling hills. The foothills go on for a hundred miles or so, and the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains are off in the distance.

But then the road curves and I found myself approaching the mountains of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Suddenly I was in one of the densest areas of vegetation on the planet. It made the savanna feel like a distant memory.

In Bwindi, there’s no flat area anywhere unless you’re at the top of a river. It’s all just peaks that come down one on top of the other. The slopes are so steep and so covered in thick greenery that there was nowhere to put my foot when I climbed.

But just where the mountains start to rise up I turned and got a glimpse… the coffee fields.

There are no huge plantations like in Central America. And Africans don’t cut down all the trees and plant new coffee crops up and down the hills.

In Uganda, it’s all done in small patches that kind of blend in with the landscape. You’ll see an area where they grow bananas, then potatoes and yams, then tea, and then the coffee. It’s done side by side, so you see the Arabica plants spotted all over the mountain slope.

I brought back 12 boxes of the stuff because that’s what everyone asks for when they hear I’m going to Uganda. People all over the world rave about it.

Coffee grows wild in my yard in Florida. This kind is called Psychotria nervosa. The kind you drink at the coffee shop is Coffea arabica.

I don’t drink coffee too often, but I had to taste it. With the first sip, I was struck by the distinct, earthy flavor… and the aroma is nothing like the Arabica you smell when you walk into a Starbucks.

Coffee grows in tropical locations all over the world now, but it’s native to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Did you know it grows wild in Florida too? I have some just on the other side of my driveway at home.

What we call a “bean” is actually the seed. It grows in little green berries that turn red as they ripen. They’re mildly hallucinogenic, and maybe that’s why the birds and butterflies seem to like them.

When the berries are red like that, you can just pick them, grind up the seeds, and make your own coffee-like drink out of them. The wild variety doesn’t have caffeine, and it won’t taste like the beans you’re used to.

But here’s the thing about coffee – and the reason I don’t drink it too often: It interferes with the neurotransmitters in your brain.

In fact, if you drink coffee, here’s a little test:

How do you feel right now? If you’re tired, that means your brain is releasing a neurotransmitter called adenosine. You can think of it as your natural “sleep signal.” It tells your cells to slow down, that you need to recharge.

When you drink coffee to reverse this, two things happen:

  1. The caffeine binds to your adenosine receptors and blocks your brain from sensing your “sleep signal.”
  1. The caffeine also tells your brain to release a burst of acetylcholine. That’s the brain chemical responsible for high-speed thinking and laser-like focus.

Pretty soon, your coffee buzz is in full swing. You snap to attention. Your senses are heightened and you feel alert. You get an artificial “second wind.”

But you can’t fool your body forever. When your brain realizes that something is blocking your sleep signal, it will release more and more adenosine. Pretty soon the extra adenosine will overwhelm you and you will “crash.”

That’s why I recommend my patients follow these two simple steps to avoid this “peak and crash” cycle:

Step One: Release acetylcholine with guarana. Guarana is an herb that works like caffeine, only better. It releases acetylcholine like coffee does, but it’s a slower release. The energy boost is better. I tried it for the first time when I was visiting the Guarani tribe in the Amazon rainforest. They’ve been using it to fight fatigue and increase physical endurance for thousands of years.

But this can also deplete you after a long while, unless you take…

Step Two: Regenerate your reserves. You need the nutrient choline to accomplish this. Here are the best food sources:

Food Sources
Serving Size
Beef liver
3 ounces
362.1 mg
1 large
125.5 mg
3 ounces
102.9 mg
Lean beef
3 ounces
74.7 mg
Cod (Atlantic)
3 ounces
54.9 mg
3 ounces
41.37 mg
Shiitake mushrooms
3 ounces
30.9 mg

I advise getting your choline from food, but you can also take it as a supplement. Take it after the guarana, or take them both at the same time.

To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
Al Sears, MD