Economic Botany: A Textbook of Useful Plants and Plant Products

By Albert F. Hill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
BEVERAGE PLANTS AND BEVERAGES

Beverages of some sort are an essential part of human diet because of their liquid content. From earliest time man has sought for drinks which are palatable and refreshing. He has utilized thousands of species, surprisingly few of which have become of commercial importance. Two categories may readily be recognized: nonalcoholic and alcoholic.


NONALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES CONTAINING CAFFEINE

Beverages that contain caffeine are used the world over for their stimulating and refreshing qualities. As in the case of the cereals, each of the ancient centers of agriculture and civilization had its own beverage plant. Coffee, which originated in regions adjacent to Southwestern Asia, is now used by one-third of the world's population. Tea, which is associated with Southeastern Asia, is used by fully one-half the population of the world. Cocoa, a product of tropical America, today serves as both food and drink for over 300,000,000 people. In addition to these familiar beverages, there are others that are less widely known, but equally important. These include maté, the principal drink of 15,000,000 South Americans; cola, a favorite beverage and masticatory with millions of Africans; khat, used by the Arabs; and guarana, another South American drink, which has a higher caffeine content than any other beverage.

Caffeine is an alkaloid and, like others of this group of plant products, has definite medicinal values, acting as a diuretic and nerve stimulant. Although, as in the case of other drugs, caffeine is harmful in large quantities, it is present in these beverages in such small amounts, rarely over 2 per cent, that the average adult experiences no ill effects from their moderate use. Excessive indulgence should be avoided, and, in the case of sufferers from nerve disorders and of children, caffeine-containing beverages should be used sparingly, if at all.


Coffee

Coffee is the most important beverage plant from a commercial standpoint, in spite of the fact that more people use tea. The world output of coffee has been as high as 3,000,000,000 lb. with a value of over $500,000,000.

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