By Stephanie Reiss
About a year ago, I lost my taste for coffee and started drinking tea. So, I was intrigued when I learned about a particular leaf called ilex guayusa, which is brewed into a potent tea. This tea doesn’t come from India, China, or Japan. Instead, it has been brewed for centuries by the indigenous people of Ecuador.
Guayusa is cherished by locals for its health benefits: Ecuadorian native tribes traditionally drink the tea early in the morning as a communal ritual. While it’s not marketed as an appetite suppressant, Ecuadorian hunters have been known to subsist on guayusa alone, while pursuing their prey. They also chew leaves and drink the hot tea at night to boost night vision and overall mental acuity.
Science has proven the benefits of guayusa. Many teas are known to contain anti-oxidants that fend off cancer causing “free radicals” in our bodies, it’s just that guayusa just has a lot more more. But wait, there’s more …
In addition to containing 50% more anti-oxidants than green tea, and the second most of all food products tested, studies have shown guayusa to contain 90 mg of caffeine/ 8oz cup making it the second most caffeinated plant on earth, next to coffee, but with many more health benefits.
One of the findings of tests was the synergistic effects of guayusa’s unique blend of Theobromine (also found in dark chocolate), Theophyline, vitamins C and D, essential minerals Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, Chormium, caffeine and all 15 essential amino acids (most importantly Leucine, which is not synthesized in our bodies and is needed to repair and build muscle tissue).
About 110 miles from Quito is the town of Tena, where I stayed at the Hakuna Matata eco-lodge within the lush jungle. Tucked between the Andes and the Amazon is the Runa company, where guayusa leaves are dried, processed, and bagged into a tea that’s distributed in the U.S.
Headquartered in Brooklyn, Runa is comprised of multiple non-profits and cooperatives—all with the goal of economic development in the Amazon, bringing a socially conscious organic product to the U.S. market. Their mission is to create a new revenue stream—outside of cutting down trees for lumber—that could sustain farmers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Runa currently works with over 2,000 indigenous farmers in the region and has generated over $125,000 in income for them.