What many of us in the west come to know and love as chocolate, is worlds apart from the plant medicine it is made from. Modern ways of consuming chocolate overlooks the ancient history that cacao has rooted in Central and South America.
I can’t remember when exactly I started to add this rich ‘chocolatey’ powder to my smoothies and hot drinks, but it must’ve been a couple of years ago. Looking back I was naively ignorant. I am ashamed to admit that I’ve not always given cacao the respect it deserves. I had no idea what this plant truly represents or where it came from.
All I knew was that cacao was a super food, nothing like processed cocoa or chocolate, 'raw’, better than eating dark chocolate and growing in popularity
It never occurred to me that cacao was, in fact, a powerful ancient plant medicine.
So what exactly is cacao?
The Mayan Spiritual Elders called cacao “the water that ran through the heart.” For thousands of years this plant has been revered by ancient civilisations for its heart opening and healing properties.
You probably know that cacao comes from the cacao bean — which is also used to make chocolate. But the cacao plant is seen as a medicinal plant, and has been used for a number of spiritual, medicinal and ceremonial purposes throughout history.
Cacao is not chocolate
Cacao tastes very different to the chocolate you’re probably used to. Milk chocolate usually only contains around 20–40% of highly processed and heated cacao, with sugar, lecithin and milk making up the rest of the ingredients.
The production of raw cacao powder is a very special and artisanal process. The cacao beans are fermented, dried and carefully maintained below temperatures of 45º degrees throughout the entire process. It can be directly consumed or used in raw or cooked foods like baking.
Ceremonial grade cacao
Ceremonial cacao is made from mostly the paste of raw fermented cacao beans, some water, coconut oil, and then mixed with a little bit of natural sugar to taste.
It is consumed as a warm beverage and usually has a bitter taste to it. Different spices can be added such as chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla, depending on what you like.
Emotional, spiritual and physical benefits
When we consume cacao the mood enhancing neurochemicals found in this medicine ignite, signalling the nervous system to:
*increase blood flow and nutrition to the brain, heart and skin
*nourish the whole body
*heighten awareness and focus
*intensify sensations and high vibrational emotions
Drinking this age old “food from the Gods” deepens our meditations, opens our hearts and allows us to sit with our stories and identify any areas that are still causing us pain or limitation. When we find ourselves in this beautiful safe space we can relax deeply, receive insights, connect with our highest selves and allow inspiration and divine guidance to flow through us.
Cacao is also naturally high in magnesium, iron and B-complex vitamins — which gives it a number of physical benefits.
Cacao and mental health
Another compound found in cacao is anandamide.
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that binds to the THC receptors. t’s been called the “bliss molecule,” aptly named after ananda, the Sanskrit word for “joy, bliss, or happiness.” It is considered an endocannabinoid — a substance produced in the body that binds to cannabinoid receptors.
Anandamide has been found to do a lot more than produce a state of heightened happiness. It’s synthesized in areas of the brain that are important in memory, motivation, higher thought processes, and movement control. It plays an important role in pain, appetite, and fertility. It also helps put the brakes on cancer cell proliferation. By increasing neurogenesis — the formation of new nerve cells — anandamide exhibits both anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.
Anandamide, like all neurotransmitters, is fragile and breaks down quickly in the body which is why it doesn’t produce a perpetual state of bliss. Cacao is thought to contain both anandamide and compounds (N-acylethanolamines) that slow its breakdown. This gives you a net gain of anandamide which leaves you feeling temporarily happier after drinking cacao.
Cacao also contains tyrosine. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, which fuels the body's pleasure/reward system.
Cacao - which carries a feminine essence - can help us see that life is meant to be enjoyed. When we allow ourselves to fully surrender to her power, and step into a higher state of awareness, we remember that nothing here on earth is permanent, and all of life is simply a game to be enjoyed right here, right now.
Learning how to open our hearts is probably the most important thing we can do as human beings. It connects us to our truth, gives us courage to be vulnerable, and encourages us to embrace our imperfections.
The more we practise getting out of our minds, dropping into our hearts and connecting to love, the more we can make more loving and conscious decisions for ourselves, our communities, this planet and the greater good.
My super brew recipe for daily use
I start my day with a cup of cacao.
I add -
2 teaspoons of ethical raw cacao
1 teaspoon of Seleno Health maca
1/2 teaspoon of Super Feast reishi mushroom (other times chaga or jing)
Pinch of cayenne
Ethical cacao - make a difference
The more I discover, the more my mind is opened to how western markets exploit and take advantage of ancient traditions, and profit from indigenous plant medicines and their communities.
My mission is to promote the use of ethical cacao.
The cacao I use comes from San Martin in Peru.
It grows in the Central Amazon using a native agroforestry system that supports the flora and fauna that surrounds it. The cacao lives under the shadow of many native fruits, with an organic canopy protecting crops like banana and papaya that thrive around the cacao. This shade-grown cacao promotes biodiversity, improves soil fertility and sequesters 30% more carbon than non-shade grown, farmed cacao.
Today these fertile lands have been rescued and are no longer used to grow illegal cocaine crops. The farmers and their thousand year old tradition of cultivating some of the worlds best cacao is being restored. This source of cacao represents a return to tradition and a sustainable future for farmers wanting to avoid replanting coca leaf, which has been responsible for the social, economic and environmental destruction of communities in Peru for the last 30 years.
Peru is one of the main origins of cacao, owning 60% of the world's cacao varieties and is the second largest producer of organic cocoa in the world. When you choose to use this cacao you choose to contribute towards improving the lives of communities in Peru through ethical farm to table trade, social responsibility projects, sustainable farming practices and environmental preservation.
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to learn more about cacao ceremonies, there are many workshops and teachings that take place all around the world today.
Listen to the call and sit in ceremony if you wish. All that is required is an open heart.
Or keep in touch and if you’re in New Zealand you’re welcome to join me in my next ceremony.
In love and service always.