Theobroma cacao – Chocolate

Found in Tropical Corridor Glasshouse at Chelsea Physic Garden

The edible properties of Theobroma cacao were discovered over 2,000 years ago by the local people of Central America living deep in the tropical rainforests.

Theobroma means 'food of the gods' in Latin, and cacao is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water).

Historically, unfermented cocoa seeds and the seed coat were used to treat a variety of ailments including diabetes, digestive and chest complaints. Recent research has begun to reveal the health-promoting properties hidden in cocoa seeds.

The story goes that the first person to dissolve cocoa in milk was the British medical doctor and avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane. As a young man, he was stationed as a doctor in Jamaica, where he collected the plant that Carl Linnaeus used to give chocolate its scientific name.

Sir Hans was a clever businessman, and later sold the idea to the Cadbury family. His collections later founded the British Museum, and his chocolate specimen can be seen on display in the Darwin Centre in the Natural History Museum in London.

Theobroma cacao grows best under tropical conditions, with strong light and high humidity.

Find out more about our Glasshouse Restoration Project.