What's the Deal with Cacao?
Chocolate. One of the worlds most beloved plants in the world, cacao makes up most of what we call chocolate. Native to the Amazon basin, cacao was domesticated by a group of people near Mexico. It has been used ceremonially by many people in Central and South America for thousands of years. In 1753 a Swedish botanist by the name of Carl Linneas gave the plant the latin name Theobroma cacao, translated to “food of the gods”. The name chocolate comes from the Aztec word “xocolatl”, which was translated as “bitter water”.
A small, wide-branching evergreen, it grows often in the rainforests of Central and South America. In the wild it tends to grow about 20 - 30 feet. The drooping leaves are long, glossy and oblong. Bright pink flowers bloom along the trunk and branches most of the year. 10 - ribbed, long pods follow. About a foot long and up to 3 inches in diameter, they start green and begin to mature into yellow or brown pods. Inside, there are about 20 - 30 seeds coated within a white, mucilaginous pulp. The seeds or “beans” are pulled out, cleaned off, then fermented to eliminate some of the more astringent qualities. Afterwards, they may be dried, cured, and sometimes roasted. The oils and fats extracted from the beans is called cocoa butter, and is used in many beauty products, salves, lotions and more. The residue is ground into cocoa powder.
Cacao seeds drying in the sun on tarps in the Amazon regions of Peru.
The beans may be used by themselves in tea or as a snack.
It’s no secret that chocolate is a popular commodity. People use chocolate to express love, to improve the mood, to help with menstrual cramps, and just to enjoy. Chocolate does not just make you happy because of its sweet taste, however. There are many important constituents within cacao that lead to a boost in mood as well as other physical and emotional benefits. One of the main health benefits of cacao is the high level of antioxidants that it contains. The levels of flavanols and polyphenols allow for toxins to move out of the body when you engage cacao. Hales two in its Latin name, cacao also contains theobroma, a grounded and energizing stimulant that does not impact the central nervous system as caffeine does. Cacao will often bring a powerful energy without stressing the body and mind too much. The caffeine level in cacao is relatively low. Another amazing benefit for the mind and body is the vast amount of neurotransmitters contained within cacao. These compounds help cacao to gain its reputation as a mood enhancer as it contains themes such as serotonin, PEA and anandamide. They also contain high levels of magnesium and important minerals for our body and a muscle relaxant. Engaging specifically ceremonially prepared to tell you also gain access to an enormous amount of healthy fats through consumption. These beans are high in protein, iron, and fiber.Supportive to heart health and respiratory health, it acts as a vasodilator. encouraging blood flow through to the brain, cacao has been used to improve memory. Great for combating stress and fatigue, cacao has also been used to treat depression. It acts as a smooth muscle relaxant, which may be part of the reason it is used so often for cramping.
You can clearly see how cacao is a fantastic supplement and food to involve in your physical regimen. However what does this plant to you for our spiritual and mental bodies as well? Especially through ceremonial engagement, many individuals have had fantastic spiritual experiences with cacao. The biggest thing cacao is said to spiritually is open the heart. Cacao ceremonies have a reputation of being connective, playful, fun, and loving. These ceremonies can induce a transformational experience for many. Engaging cacao in a spiritual fashion is said to release your emotions and put you in touch with different sides of yourself. Some say that cacao will connect you with your “higher self”, allowing for messages or guidance to come through. Others experience a release of emotions or a movement in the emotional body. Engaging cacao with meditation is said to deepen the experience. Many will engage ceremonial cacao in a musical, creative and connective setting with others.
So, how can you use this amazing plant? There are so many ways that it can seem overwhelming to dive in. At Natural Law Apothecary, we offer several ways to begin your journey with cacao!
One of the simplest is to enjoy the beans. Our beans are sourced from Blue Frog Cacao, who sources directly from the farm. Raw or roasted, these can be great trail snacks and energy boosters. Crushed in a mortar and pestle, then brewed into an infusion, they make a great soft tea. Brewed like this, your cup will not resemble hot chocolate, but be gently golden and infused as any other herbal tea. The beans can also be incorporated into baked goods, granola, and more.
Our Spagyric is an amazing way to deeply connect with the wonders of cacao through just one drop. The taste and personality of the cacao that is brought through within this preparation is highly unique and powerful! Just one to five drops is an amazingly meditative experience.
We also host an incredible source of ceremonially prepared cacao! Blue Frog Cacao gets their beans directly from a farm in Guatemala; they are prepared, then brought to our establishment within the week! As far as freshness and local sourcing goes, we have some of the best to offer. Our ceremonial cacao comes in blocks of paste that are generally kept in the fridge. To use these to make a ceremonial drink is simple:
- 8 oz water per person
- Roughly 2 oz cacao per person (about 6 T)
- Pinch of cayenne or chili powder
- Sweetener (honey, agave, etc, optional)
This basic preparation will give you a gorgeous, dark, heart opening brew! Many will customize their engagement with the ceremonial cacao by adding pinches of other herbs that are in resonance. It is important, to gain the full benefits from ceremonial engagement, to set your intention and your environment up accordingly. Sit in a calm, quiet and supportive space. Hold your cup to your heart and breathe or speak your intent to the medicine. Be honest, open and vulnerable. The more clear you are on your intent, the more the medicine can respond.
If you’re in the shop, our ceremonial chocolate squares are amazing! Made by Blue Frog Cacao with ceremonial cacao, local raw honey and different herbs, these squares are a favorite!
If anything stood out in this article for you, consider grabbing some of this lovely plant to experiment with.