Guayusa leaves is used to prepare for tea and energy drinks are rich in anti-oxidant and an energy booster. A super-natural leave with high health benefits. Viva Ecuador ! God's nature lately recognized. Runa manufacture energy drinks and cold tea. Make it a habit to live longer y friends.
Published July 3, 2014
For the Kichwa people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, teatime isn't an afternoon tradition that pairs dainty finger sandwiches with porcelain cups. Instead, it begins at 3 a.m., when members of this indigenous community gather around a fire and brew guayusa, a highly caffeinated drink with twice the antioxidants of green tea.
But this "superleaf" does more than provide these villagers with the energy to face the day—it has recently become a sustainable source of income that will bring in $400,000 to more than 3,000 farming families this year.
We asked Tyler Gage, co-founder of the Runa Foundation, a nonprofit that works with indigenous communities to protect the Amazon rain forest, to provide some insight on guayusa and what it means to the Kichwa and the rest of the world.
What is guayusa? Where is it found?
Something like 98 percent of the guayusa in the world is in Ecuador. It is native to a thin stretch of the upper Amazon [that] hugs the Andes Mountains. It's a leaf brewed like tea, but it's not actually related to green or black tea. When brewed, it has about as much caffeine as coffee. It is also incredibly rich in polyphenols, which are the most common compounds that comprise what we informally call antioxidants. It also has a ton of chlorogenic acids, which is trending and hot right now for weight loss and benefits to the heart.
What is the history of the guayusa plant, and what does it mean to the Kichwa people in this part of Ecuador?
One of my favorite stories about guayusa is its origin. In ancient times, people prayed for a plant that would teach them how to dream. These twins canoed down a river on a quest to find this plant, woke up in the middle of the night, and this spirit village had manifested on the other side of the river. They went to this palace and went up a staircase to the heavens, where they saw all of their ancestors, generation after generation. These ancestors gifted them this plant and said, "This is a plant that can help your people and connect you to the dream world." When they woke up in the morning, they still had the physical plant. They took it back to their community and guayusa became a central part of their culture.
And they continue to hold the plant in high esteem. Now that the Kichwa have started exporting the leaves, what does it mean to their community and the surrounding area?
Before, the farmer's primary source of income was from logging. They also did migrant labor, and they do some farming with things like corn, coffee, or chocolate. They really struggled to support their families and have sustainable sources of income.
[Guayusa] is grown in what the Kichwa call a chacra, which is basically a forest garden. There are no fertilizers, there are no chemicals, nothing. It basically allows sustainable nutrient flow between the species the same way the rain forest contains itself without any human intervention. So it's very low input, and basically replicates the structure of the natural rain forest.
How has the demand for guayusa tea changed since Ecuador first started exporting it? If demand continues to increase, can the production remain sustainable?
The annual global production for 2008 was zero pounds. This year, we're going to buy one million pounds of fresh guayusa leaves from the community, and so we'll pay about $400,000 that the community didn't have before.
The way we grow is that we plant more trees. As demand grows, we just have to plant more trees so we can reforest more parts of the Amazon and convert more land that was previously degraded back into these sustainable forest gardens.
Growth is actually what drives impact. The more that we grow, the more income we can provide to the farmers, and concurrently the more trees that we can plant and we can sustainably support.
What does guayusa tea mean to the rest of the world?
Definitely as consumers, we appreciate the health benefits a lot. For people who might be drinking very artificial, unhealthy energy drinks, they can switch to something that [gives them] the same amount of energy but that has health benefits, too. So we can connect consumers to the Amazon through the product, and basically give them a much more healthy, sustainable source to get their energy.
We're right at the sweet spot of growth. I think in general there is a major trend of people wanting clean energy [drinks], and if you look at the last ten years you see the shift, with people switching from wanting to drink mainstream sports drinks like Gatorade to things like coconut water. So with guayusa we fit perfectly in that [trend] and for consumer demand for a cleaner, functional product.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
We are lucky here in the US not even most Ecuadorians know about this powerful drink , great that the local communities are benefiting directly from it
Sounds great. Will it really work that way? Benefiting the Kichwa people with more income, increasing the sustainable forest gardens in the Amazon, while producing a healthy, natural beverage that will be kept affordable to everyone? I'm a little skeptical, but hopeful.
remember when acai berries where big and the foreign price of them was higher than the locals could afford so they could not enjoy the product themselves? same with quinoa in peru which caused a famine.
Im skeptical for now but hopefully I will be proven wrong
What's the mark-up on a pound of this plant? $400,000 for a million pounds is nothing for a community of 3,000 families (not 3,000 individuals, but families.) 40 cents a pound is what your paying... Are importing fees that much? Is this another ploy to make us feel good about paying $15 for some "fair-trade" goods that don't actually bring much more income to the families who farm the stuff? Don't guise your exploitation as something charitable so that fat-a** Americans have another bottle to suck on.
@F Samuel Pino T Hardly, Sammy. I live in Ecuador and I can buy this tea very inexpensively (and readily) in any Super-Maxi store which are located in every major city in the country.
@Joyce Dorsaneo What is there to be skeptical about?
@Chappidi Kalyan The only effect it can have as of yet, it help reforest and protect it!
@C. Dufour That is ignorance my friend. Quinoa exportations never caused famine. Not in Bolivia, Peru, or Ecuador (the major exporters). While Guayusa prices may be high outside of Ecuador that has no influence on the local price. First, almost anybody can grow a guayusa plant and have their own production if needed. (I have one in Quito, far from the ideal amazonic habitat) Second, The increased production and sale of Guayusa is and can only benefit the people from the production areas (Tena, Ecuador). The rainforest needs more sustainable projects like these that can help communities rise out of the stigma that they won't be able to afford luxuries, as well as methods to reforest in a profitable way.
@Ger T Amazon.com has it
@D. Spicable It is delicious! Much sweeter than Herba Mate for example (another energetic leaf brewed in south america). I would say even better tasting than green tea.
@Jane K Consider the fact that there is little effort in the planting and harvesting of Guayusa.. Now that the communities see a profit in doing it, low investment-low risk, many more people are planting to sell. I'm pretty sure I bought about 4 - 6 fresh pounds for 1 dollar. Naturally competition drives down price. And consider, a fresh pound is much less than a dry pound, which is what is being marketed. The drying process is what makes it a marketable product. Nobody is being exploited here. On the contrary, you fat-a** americans are getting something natural and healthy to substitute your redbulls, amazonic communities are being presented with a sustainable lifestyle, while every human on earth is benefiting from reforestation.
@Kelly Norton @F Samuel Pino T You can buy the leaves easily because of RUNA.. Otherwise, the average Ecuadorian from the Sierra (high andes) or coast, most probably won't recognize the plant. In fact, here Guayusa is still mainly known as a liqour. However, there is a noticeable growth in products containing guayusa.
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