CACAO – Get To Know The Raw Plant and Learn How to Take Advantage of Its Many Healthy Properties

Written by | Food & Wine, Wellness

A cacao ceremony is a labor of love. Participants’ hands grow sore as they crack, shell and grind hundreds of roasted beans. Grit collects under their fingernails, leaving behind dark stains that serve as reminders that good things come as the result of hard work. In this case, the “good stuff” is a cup of brew so rich, so invigorating, so packed full of joy, that many who consume it are driven to dance, while others laugh, cry and revel in the awesome power of its origin.

“The ceremony itself was alive with drums, prayers, songs and bold sips of this medicine,” says folk herbalist and entrepreneur, Jillian Ashley, recalling memories from her first time meeting the plant at a mountain retreat in 2014. “These hours were to honor the spirit of cacao and nothing else, and to allow its energetics to course through our spirits, minds and bodies as a unified collective. I felt turned on to myself in ways I had never experienced. Euphoria, bliss, and love were racing through me. I felt alive, alert and in love with myself and my surroundings.”

With a review like that, it should come as no surprise that cacao has become a staple offering at The NOHM Elixir Bar & Apothecary, Ashley’s self-launched business based in Asheville, NC. That initial introduction drove her to develop a deep appreciation for the culture and cultivation of cacao, and years later she has emerged a knowledgeable distributor of the powerful fruit.

“The path to success and fulfillment in my business was creating a very clear and clean supply chain by forging long-term relationships with small family-run farms, community herbalists and trusted brands,” she shares passionately. “What started as a few kilos in my hiking pack carried from Costa Rica back to the states after attending Envision Festival each year has transformed into a well-rounded stock of hundreds of pounds of cacao from multiple countries from Central to South America.” Meeting and breaking bread with clients and partners is an important part of her process when securing and sharing the raw product with others.

On top of its traditional roots and presence as a critical crop for many lifelong farmers, cacao is also a superfood bursting with health benefits. But before downing an entire heart-shaped box full of chocolates, it is important to remember that cacao is most effective in a minimally processed, single origin form.

“A handful of blueberries is going to contain more nutrition than a spoonful of blueberry jam. Same goes with raw cacao versus a chocolate bar,” Ashley shares as an example. In fact, a serving size of raw cacao delivers about 40 times the number of antioxidants as a serving of blueberries, which are thought to slow the aging process and possess cancer-fighting properties. “I enjoy drinking chocolate, which is cacao paste melted into water or milk as a daily afternoon pick me up. I also love DIY cacao treats like energy balls to reap the benefit of cacao while on the go,” she adds.

At The NOHM Elixir Bar, customers can enjoy custom sips made from Ashley’s own paste blends, one of which is made with plain raw cacao in a base of coconut oil, coconut butter and nectar with Costa Rican vanilla and Celtic sea salt. The others boast names like Heart on Flora, a recipe infused with botanicals such as bright Ylang Ylang and Mexico-sourced Damiana, and Heart on Fire, a newer addition that gets its burn from a fortified apple cider vinegar solution. “It’s like a Mexican hot chocolate,” she says enthusiastically. “This one specifically has six functional mushrooms in it to keep your immune system resilient.” (These pastes can be ordered from The NOHM Elixir Bar direct.)

Inside every pod are high levels of theobromine which relax the smooth muscles, promote alertness, and contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system. “Cacao is a vaso-dilator, which means it delivers more blood to your heart and brain, as opposed to caffeine which constricts the blood vessels,” Ashley offers. The ecstatic feelings that follow ingestion are a reaction to phenylethylamine (PEA), another natural mood booster that sends serotonin and dopamine levels soaring.

“You want to consume at least 40 grams to move yourself into that euphoric body state,” Ashley suggests. “That allows the alkaloids to do their work and kickstart that blissful feeling.” In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, she suggests that this “ceremonial dose” is the right amount to take as a precursor to a lovemaking session with a partner or even with oneself. “Cacao is a sacred way to open up the heart and open up the energy of coming together in union.”

 Ready to jump into a cacao ceremony? Florencia Fridman, owner of Cacao Lab in New York City currently offers the experience via Zoom. However, if you are looking to recreate some delicious medicinal sips at home, try these recipes from The NOHM and Anima Mundi, another female-owned NYC business helmed by Adriana Ayales, who is from Costa Rica.


Aphrodisiac Drinking Chocolate by The NOHM

Photo: Anima Mundi


– Heart on Flora or Heart on Fire cacao paste by The NOHM Elixirs

– 1/2 cup of filtered water

– 1/2 cup coconut cream, or any milk of choice

– 2 pinches of salt


– Place 4 heaping tablespoons of cacao paste into a saucepan

– Cover with 1/2 cup of water and set over medium heat

– As the water begins to simmer bring to low heat and smush the paste into the liquid

– Top off with salt and 1/2 cup of coconut cream, continue heating to desired temperature, stirring frequently

– The use of an electric whisk or immersion blender is handy to create a creamy and frothy consistency

– Divide into two servings and enjoy bold sips with your loved one

*For mocha lovers, integrate a heaping tablespoon of this paste in place of chocolate syrup. Amazing iced or hot.

Recipe by @herban_urbalist of @thenohm



Rose Cardamom Hot Chocolate by Anima Mundi

Photo: Rose Cardamom Cacao, Courtesy of Anima Mundi


– 2 cups cashew milk, or any other milk of choice



– 7 lightly crushed cardamom pods

– 2 tbsp of coconut sugar

– 1/4 cup cacao powder from Anima Mundi

– 1 tbsp of dried rose petals or rose powder from Anima Mundi

– 3 heaping tbsp of semi-sweet chocolate chips or cacao nibs

– Whipped cream – homemade or store bought


– Place milk, rose and crushed cardamom into a small saucepan and set over medium heat

– As the water begins to simmer immediately remove from heat, cover with a lid, and let everything steep for 20 minutes

–  Strain the infused milk through a fine-mesh strainer into a measuring cup

– Give the saucepan a quick rinse (only to remove any plant materials that may remain) then pour the milk back in and set over medium-low heat

– Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together until smooth

– Once the hot chocolate reaches the desired temperature divide into two servings

– Garnish with whipped cream and rose petals, enjoy

Recipe by @thebrokenbread of @animamundiherbals


Craving cacao? Purchase ethically sourced powders, pastes, bars and more from these trusted sources:

*Any health, wellness, medical, or cosmetic claims contained in this feature should be verified with the product provider and your health professional.


Last modified: February 1, 2021