Cacao is one of the most popular trees globally, although most people wouldn't recognize it! It is the foundational ingredient in chocolate, and humans have been working with cacao medicine for over 5,000 years. Much of the chocolate we consume today has been over-processed, which dilutes its medicinal properties. We're going to highlight what's known as 'ceremonial cacao' or simply cacao that is grown without toxins, minimally processed, and treated with love & respect.
Ingesting ~1 oz of ceremonial cacao can increase blood flow by up to 40%, causing one's heart to pump more oxygenated blood and energetically expand.
Many refer to cacao as a 'heart opening' plant medicine because it can support us in accessing suppressed emotions when used in ritual.
Cacao contains more calcium than cow's milk and is known for its powerful detoxification properties. Its unique antioxidants create an extreme bitterness - which may surprise you since we know chocolate to be sweet! Try it without the sugar, and you will be surprised (but we promise, it grows on you).
The cacao bean is packed with many vitamins and trace minerals along with a healthy saturated fat - cacao butter. This healthy fat makes the nutrients more bioavailable to your cells, ensuring you get the most benefit.
Additionally, it provides an energizing effect from theobromine. While stimulating, theobromine has a longer half-life than caffeine, meaning it digests more slowly through our system, and we don't get the jitters or peak/crash that we can experience from caffeine.
Cacao is one of the highest naturally occurring food sources of magnesium (which 80% of Americans are deficient in), a critical compound for over 300 chemical processes in our body. Magnesium helps us relax and acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow which can help us focus and access creative states.
Cacao's loving feminine presence combined with the physical increase in blood flow can move stuck or buried energy in the body. Moving stagnant energy can look like an emotional release, laughter, singing & dancing, authentic communication, creative practices, or deep meditation.
Some people feel an increased ability to connect with themselves, their partners, and their spirit after ingesting cacao.
The History of Cacao
Cacao originates from South America, with the oldest remains of liquid cacao found in pottery artifacts in Ecuador from 5,300 years ago. Cacao migrated North with humans through Central America and is an integral part of Mayan culture today in Belize, Guatemala & Southern Mexico. Cacao is featured in many mythologies, including the K’iche Mayan creation story, The Popol Vuh. Once they discovered fermentation, the indigenous Olmecs, Aztecs, and Mayans fermented, roasted, and ground the cacao beans to mix them with heated water & a spice, like cayenne or achiote, for the original spicy hot chocolate beverage. Note they added no sweetener to the original cacao drink. Cacao beans were so valuable that people used them as currency. Because of this, for part of history, the sacred cacao beverage was revered and only accessible to royalty and reserved for special ceremonies and occasions. When the Spanish invaded in the 1500s (and eventually destroyed 99% of the indigenous peoples of Latin America), they loved the cacao drink and brought cacao beans back to Spain. The Europeans started adding sweetener to their hot chocolate beverages and developed the modern dutch processing method of chocolate making used today. Much of today's chocolate candy contains very little of the beneficial nutrients from the cacao bean. Today, cacao is shared in Mayan wedding ceremonies and infuses many rituals such as blessing land for new houses, marriage proposals, and birth. For example, some women will drink a full cup of cacao when going into labor for strength and energy. While chocolate has become popular throughout the world, we can pay homage to the original stewards of one of our favorite treats by learning the history of the cacao tree and honoring the Mayan people who continue their cacao traditions today.
The Medicine Of The Cacao Tree
The cacao tree takes 3-5 years to produce pods, and the pods take six months to ripen fully. The trees thrive in warm climates within 20 degrees of the equator. They can grow to be 100 years old but may stop producing cacao after 30 years.
Cacao is a cauliflorous tree, meaning the cacao flowers sprout directly from the tree's stem. The pods contain 30-50 cacao beans surrounded by delicious white cacao pulp. While the beans are known for their bitterness, the white pulp is incredibly sweet!
The pods are so thick that they can only be opened with external help. ****Cacao depends on monkeys, squirrels, humans, and birds to survive. Cacao is a community medicine - most often shared in group ceremonies and celebrations. It helps remind us that we are all interconnected and dependent on each other to thrive.
Cacao is an understory tree, meaning it does best with some shade from taller trees like avocado, Jaguar cacao, or banana trees. It also provides shelter for crops such as turmeric and ginger to grow in the shady zones below. Cacao thrives in an ecosystem and is typically found wild amidst coffee, banana, achiote, and many other plants and herbs—another example of how cacao teaches us about the importance of community.
Today 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in West Africa under forced labor conditions in mono-crop farms sprayed with pesticides. This is why it is essential to know where your chocolate comes from. Buy organic, and go for ceremonial-grade when you can.