Bissy is the weapon of choice in many Jamaican households when common remedies don’t work against an ailment. It’s our super soldier, able to snap you back to life when everything else seems to fail. Fight fire with fire and poison with poison...
Bissy (Cola acuminata) is the term used in Jamaica to describe the Cola Nut, native to West Africa. Cola acuminata is a relative of the cacao family, as an evergreen tree that can grow in some of the most dry & arid conditions.
Cola nuts have been used across the African continent to gain a quick energy boost and help in digestion for centuries. The nut also plays a role in practices of the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa traditions in religious rites such as weddings, namings and prayers. During spiritual divinations, specific nuts can be read by specialists to unveil hidden life meanings. Cola nuts were even used as a form of currency at points in time in the West African region and are still presented to guests today in Igbo homes as a sign of hospitality.
You can read briefly about a Nigerian Cola nut ceremony in the fictional Igboland in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Their journey to the west began as the Atlantic slave trade trafficked West Africans to the Caribbean, Cola Nuts were taken along the voyage. There are a few theories about how plants from Africa came to the Caribbean. Theory 1: Before leaving their homelands, some slaves would smuggle the nut on their person.Theory 2: As slaves were seen as property and weren’t allowed to have possessions of their own, the seasoned captors would have known the nuts benefits and took them along on the voyage. It’s also been said that the nut came to Jamaica on a slave ship from Guinea in 1680 (Olive Senior, A-Z of Jamaican Heritage).
On the plantations, slaves fashioned their prized plant to be a source of medicine in case of poisoning (a broad term used to categorise various ailments at the time), stomach aches, headaches, diarrhoea, swelling of any form, as well a stimulant.
In 2016, Coca-Cola officially stopped using Cola Nut extract in their recipe. Opting instead for a synthetic version
The soda got it’s name from its main ingredients at the time, Coca and Cola Nut extracts.
Uses & Active Ingredients
Poison: Cola Nuts are famous as antidotes to poison as they contain Caffeic acid- an antihepatotoxic, hepatoprotective as well as Betaine, a hepatoprotective.
Belly/ Stomachache: It’s cure for “Belly” stomachaches as it contains Caffeine, an anti-emetic; Betaine: an anti gastric, hepatoprotective & Caffeic acid- an antihepatotoxic, hepatoprotective. Bissy has a similar use in Turkey for this purpose.
Fever: Caffeic acid- an analgestic
Headache: Caffeic acid- an analgesic
Examples of home remedies in Jamaica:
Preventing/ treating allergic reactions
Treating Chikungunya; symptoms include severe joint pain, fever, rashes & headaches
Counteracting poisons e.g. bee/wasp stings, ingesting toxic foods
Treating ailments which initial home remedies seem to be ineffective
Theobromine is found in Cola Nuts, similar to chocolate, which is lethal to dogs but isn’t poisonous to humans. It also contains caffeine which we’re used to in our coffees & sodas. However too much caffeine can be toxic to humans, anything over ~500mg a day for adults.
In Jamaican households there’s often no exact measurement to brew Bissy tea which makes it easy to accidentally brew an extremely high dose and induce unwanted side-effects. This is probably where Bissy gets its “poison fi poison” title.
Doctor’s Opinion: Dr. Knight @adventureswithelle
Bissy has anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful in speeding up recovery from viral illnesses and allergic skin reactions, so it’s a very useful alternative medicine to keep around the house. However, bizzy contains high levels theobromine and caffeine, both of which are stimulants and can make your blood vessels smaller, worsen hypertension and serveral heart conditions. Thus, avoid bizzy tea if you’ve been diagnosed with any of these conditions and speak to a doctor to see if it could interact with any of your medications.
Poison? You’d have to drink excessively large amounts of bizzy in a short space of time to do that [overdose]. The levels of caffeine per serving of bizzy tea haven’t been well-studied either.
Because of its stimulant properties, if you have:
High blood pressure
Chronic heart condition
consuming Bissy might make things worse
People who have been advised to avoid stimulants because of medication interactions should avoid bissy all together. Research is also being done into whether repeated consumption affects sperm count, preliminary results in the Nigerian Medical Journal have raised some concerns.
Ways to Try Bissy
Tea: 1tsp-tbsp of ground Bissy powder to 1/2 cup of boiling water. Let it steep for ~5mins. Strain & drink
Smoothie Bowl: Sprinkle 1 tsp of Bissy powder on your açai bowl whenever you need a bit of pep in your step