Theobroma cacao

scientific name: 
Theobroma cacao L.
Botanical family: 

Botanical description

Small tree, 6- 8 (-12-14) m high.  Leaf, alternate, simple, entire, sinuate, petiole 1-2 cm, blades obovate-elliptic to oblong elliptic, 16-40 x 4.5-13 cm, base rounded to obtuse, apex acute; inflorescence axillary, 1-many flowered, clustered cymes, cauliflorous; petals white 4-4.5 mm long; fruit a glabrous, ellipsoid, leathery berry, 10-20 x 8-10 cm wide, ripening green, yellow, red or purple; seeds brown, ovoid or elliptic, 2-4x1.2-2 cm long with a sweet surrounding pulp.



asthenia, weakness:

fruit (seed), decoction, orally1

The processed fruit of Theobroma cacao is widely used for human consumption.

For weakness:

Prepare a decoction with 7 seeds in 250 mL (1 cup) of water, and boil for at least 10 minutes in a covered pot.  Leave to cool down and drink 1 cup 3 times a day for 7 days20.

Any medicinal preparation must be preserved cold and used within the 24 hours.

According to published and other information:

Use for weakness is classified as REC, based on the significant traditional use documented in the TRAMIL surveys, and on available published scientific information.

Should there be a notable worsening of the patient’s condition, or should weakness persist for more than 7 days, seek medical attention.

The seed added to the feed (1.22%) of weanling rats for 3 months did not cause signs of hematological or histopathological toxicity15 at a dose of 2.44%14.

The xanthines (caffeine, thebromine and theophylline) found in the seed share effects of therapeutical interest: they are active as a relaxant of the smooth muscle (particularly bronchial), as a stimulant of the central nervous system and of the cardiac muscle, and as a diuretic.  Lethal poisoning from the ingestion of xanthines is not very usual.  The acute lethal dose of caffeine in humans is 5-10 g.  Powdered cocoa (from dried cocoa beans) contains approximately 5 mg of caffeine and 250 mg of theobromine per cup16-17.

Cocoa and cocoa-bearing products may cause allergic reactions18.

The consumption of large amounts of chocolate products for pediatric use may lead to overexcitement, pulse acceleration and sleeping disorders in children as a result of its caffeine content, which may reach 0.2% in chocolate milk and 0.4% in bitter chocolate18.

Theobroma cacaohas been classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “GRAS” (Generally Regarded As Safe)19.

There is no available information documenting the safety of medicinal use in children or in pregnant or lactating women.

The seed contains benzenoids: benzoic acid and derivatives, mandelic acid and derivatives, phenylacetic acid and derivatives, gallic acid, salicylic acid, protocatechuic acid, phloroglucinol, vanillic acid2; phenylpropanoids: caffeic, chlorogenic, 4-hydroxy-3,5-dimethoxycinnamic acid, ρ-coumaric, ferulic, phenylpropionic acids and derivatives2; alkaloids: caffeine (1.3%)3, theobromine (2.2%)3, theophylline4, tryptamine and derivatives, tyrosine and derivatives, hordenine, phenylephrine, longimammesine, longimammidine, longimammine, metanephrine, nor-metanephrine, synephrine, octopamine, tetrahydro (4,6-dihydroxy-2-methyltetrahydroisoquinoline) isoquinoline, salsoline, quinoxaline derivatives2, salsoninol5, quinoline, pyrazine and derivatives, pyridine and derivatives6; flavonoids: catechin and derivatives, epi-catechin and derivatives7, procyanidins8, kaempferol, rutin2; non-alkaloid heterocyclic amines: cyclopentapyrazine and derivatives, oxazole and derivatives6.

It also contains essential oil9 and fixed oil, which have been extensively studied10-11.

Proximate analysis of 100 g of seed12: calories: 456; water: 3.6%; proteins: 12 g (8% of which are digestible); fat: 46.3 g; carbohydrates: 34.7 g; fiber: 8.6 g; ash: 3.4 g; calcium: 106 mg; phosphorus: 537 mg; iron: 3.6 mg; sodium: 36 mg; b-carotene: 30 µg; thiamine: 0.17 mg; riboflavin: 0.14 mg; niacin: 1.7 mg; ascorbic acid: 3 mg.

The aqueous and methanolic extract (95%) from the dried seed shell in vitro showed antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (50 µL/agar plate)13.

The seed added to the feed (1.22%) of weanling rats for 3 months significantly stimulated the production of red blood cells (p < 0.05)14.

The aqueous extract from the dried seed administered orally to humans was active as an antioxidant and for the prevention of gastric ulcers15.

The theobromine found in the fruit -a methylxanthine- is claimed to be active as a stimulant of the central nervous system, a relaxant of the bronchial smooth muscle, a stimulant of the cardiac muscle and as a light diuretic16-17.




1 GERMOSEN-ROBINEAU L, GERONIMO M, AMPARO C, 1984 Encuesta TRAMIL. enda-caribe, Santo Domingo, Rep. Dominicana.

2 KENYHERCZ TM, KISSINGER PT, 1978 Determination of selected acidic, neutral, and basic natural products in cacao beans and processed cocoa. Liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection. Lloydia 41(2):130-139.

3 SJOBERG AM, RAJAMA J, 1984 Simple method for the determination of alkaloids in cocoa using paper chromatography and UV spectrometry. J Chromatogr 295(1):291-294.

4 GURNEY KA, EVANS LV, ROBINSON DS, 1991 Extraction of purine alkaloids from cocoa tissues and determination by high-performance liquid chromatography. Phytochem Anal 2(1):15-19.

5 RIGGIN RM, KISSENGER PT, 1976 Identification of salsolinol as a phenolic component in powdered cocoa and cocoa-based products. J Agric Food Chem 24(4):900.

6 VITZTHUM OG, WERKHOFF P, HUBERT P, 1975 Volatile components of roasted cocoa: basic fraction. J Food Sci 40:911-916.

7 PORTER LJ, MA Z, CHAN BG, 1991 Cacao procyanidins: major flavanoids and identification of some minor metabolites. Phytochemistry 30(5):1657-1663.

8 THOMPSON RS, JACQUES D, HASLAM E, TANNER RJN, 1972 Plant proanthocyanidins. Part I. Introduction: the isolation, structure, and distribution in nature of plant procyanidins. J Chem Soc Perkin Trans 1:1387-1399.

9 VAN PRAAG M, STEIN HS, TIBBETTS MS, 1968 Steam volatile aroma constituents of roasted cocoa beans. J Agric Food Chem 16:1005.

10 LIMA VASCONCELOS MN, LEAO DE SILVA M, SOARES MAIA JG, GOTTLIEB OR, 1975 Chemical study of cupu seeds. Acta Amazonica 5:293.

11 ADOMAKO D, 1977 Fatty acid composition and characteristics of Pentadesma butyracea fat extracted from Ghana seeds. J Sci Food Agr 28:384-386.

12 DUKE JA, ATCHLEY AA, 1986 Handbook of proximate analysis tables of higher plants. Boca Raton, USA: CRC Press, p159.

13 PEREZ C, ANESINI C, 1994 Antibacterial activity of alimentary plants against Staphylococcus aureus growth. Amer J Chinese Med 22(2):169-174.

14 MORRISSEY RB, BURKHOLDER BD, TARKA SM, 1984 Effects of cocoa upon the growth of weanling male Sprague-Dawley rats fed fluid whole milk diets. Nutr Rep Int 29(2):263-271.

15 OSAKABE N, YAMAGISHI M, SANPPONGI C, TAKIZAWA T, ADACHI T 1995 Antioxidant-containing beverages for preventing gastric ulcer. Patent-Japan Kokai Tokkyo Koho-07 274,894.

16 HARDMAN JG, GILMAN AG, LIMBIRD LE (Eds.), 1996 The pharmacological basis of therapeutics. 9th ed. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, International Edition.

17 KATZUNG BG (Ed.), 1999 Basic and clinical pharmacology. McGraw-Hill Education, New York, USA.

18 PDR Herbals, 2003 Cocoa: Theobroma cacao. The PDR for Herbal Medicines, PDR Electronic Library, Medical Economics Company, PhytoPharm US Institute for Phytopharmaceuticals, Metuchen, USA, Oct. 8, 2003. URL:

19 ANON (Select Committee on GRAS Substances), 1976 GRAS status of foods and food additives. Washington DC,USA: Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Federal Register National Archives and Records Administration41, 38644

20 FLORIPE A, ALTAMIRANO V, 1998 Plantas que curan. Managua, Nicaragua: Imprimatur. p35.


The information provided is for educational purposes only for the benefit of the general public and health professionals. It is not intended to take the place of either the written law or regulations. Since some parts of plants could be toxic, might induce side effects, or might have interactions with certain drugs, anyone intending to use them or their products must first consult with a physician or another qualified health care professional. TRAMIL has no responsibility whatsoever towards the user for any decision, action or omission made in relation to the information contained in this Pharmacopoeia.