About Coca (Erythroxylum coca)


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in 2. About Coca Leaf | Posted on 10-05-2011

Coca (Erythroxylum coca) is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to western South America. The plant plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Coca is best known throughout the world because of its alkaloids, methylecgonine cinnamate, benzoylecgonine, truxilline, hydroxytropacocaine, tropacocaine, ecgonine, cuscohygrine, dihydrocuscohygrine, nicotine, cocaine,  and hygrine. Many of the alkaloids contained in the leaf provide physiological effects useful for medicinal purposes. When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. Coca also eases sickness due to high altitudes.

The plant is similar in appearance to a blackthorn bush, and can grow to a height of 7-10ft. The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, and taper at the extremities. The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks. The corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels coupled to form a three-chambered ovary. The flowers mature into red berries. The leaves are sometimes eaten by the larvae of the Eloria noyesi moth. (2)

Coca Leaf’s Alkaloids


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in Alkaloids of Coca Leaf | Posted on 10-05-2011

The notable physical effect of coca leaves is mainly due to its alkaloids. So far, 14 have been isolated from the various varieties of coca plants. The alkaloids belong to the tropine series, together with atropine and scopolamine. Coca alkaloids are a mix of ecgonines, propynes and hygrines. The derivatives of ecgonine include cocaine (methyl benzoyl ecgonine), methyl ecgonine, benzoyl ecgonine and cinamyl-cocaine. The proteins include tropine and pseudotropine, dihydroxypyne, tropacocaine and benzoyl tropine. The hygrines include hygrine, hygroline and cuscohygroline. The stereoisomers alpha and beta truxilline have also been isolated from coca leaves and the presence of nicotine has been noted. It appears that the leaf also contains insulin, but this has not yet been confirmed

Coca’s Natural alkaloids (14): 75mg

Ø  atropine:     dries the respiratory tract

Ø  benzoine:   aids scarring, anti-fermenting

Ø  cocaine:      anaesthetic, analgesic, stimulant

Ø  cocamine:   analgesic

Ø  conine:       powerful anaesthetic

Ø  quinoline:   prevents caries, affects Ca/P

Ø  ecgonine:   metabolizes sugars

Ø  globulin:     cardiac tonic, effective against altitude sickness

Ø  hygrine:      stimulates the salivary glands

Ø  inuline:       equivalent to B12, increases haemoglobin

Ø  papaine:     aids scarring, digestive

Ø  pectin:        absorbent, anti-diarrhoea

Ø  pyridine:    increases cerebral circulation

Ø  reserpine:   reduces arterial hypertension



Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in a. Religion | Posted on 10-05-2011

Coca has also been a vital part of the religious cosmology of the Andean peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and northern Argentina and Chile from the pre-Inca period through the present. They follow the making and worship the coca beans when they are ready. Coca leaves play a crucial part in offerings to the apus (mountains), Inti (the sun), or Pachamama (the earth). Coca leaves are also often read in a form of divination analogous to reading tea leaves in other cultures.  (2)

Coca Leaf for Medicine


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in b. Medicine | Posted on 10-05-2011

Medicinal plants contain a multitude of chemical compounds, including alkaloids. At first, this looks like chaos, but further reasoning reveals the necessary purpose of those compounds. Environmental stressors  cause a plant to utilize variations of molecules to increase the plant’s odds of surviving those stressful environments. Often, one molecule is present in the greatest amount and has the most pronounced effect in a human body, however, different variations of this molecule are also found, each having its own unique effect in the body. This has been demonstrated with the coca plant. The plants that are cultivated at lower altitudes contain a lower concentration of cocaine in their leaves than coca plants cultivated at higher altitudes. Curiously, chewing the coca leaf reduces the symptoms of altitude sickness. (3)

Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is highly effective against altitude sickness. It also is used as an anesthetic for such ailments as headache, rheumatism, wounds and sores, etc. Before stronger anesthetics were available, it was even used for broken bones, and childbirth. Because cocaine constricts blood vessels, the action of coca also serves to oppose bleeding, and coca seeds were used for nosebleeds. Indigenous use of coca has also been reported as a treatment for malaria, ulcers, asthma, to improve digestion, to regulate the bowels, as an aphrodisiac, and credited with improving longevity. Modern studies have shown many of these medical applications to be effective.  (4)

Traditional Usage


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in c. Traditional Use | Posted on 10-05-2011

The coca leaf has been chewed and brewed for tea traditionally for centuries among its indigenous peoples in the Andean region. These forms of ingestion do not cause any harm and are beneficial to human health.

The traditional method of chewing coca leaf consists of keeping a saliva-soaked ball of coca leaves in the mouth together with an alkaline substance, such as lime or wood ash, which assists in extracting alkaloids, including cocaine from the leaves.

When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. It helps overcome altitude sickness. Coca chewing and drinking of coca tea is carried out daily by millions of people in the Andes without problems, and is considered sacred within indigenous cultures. Coca tea is widely used, even outside the Andean Amazon region. Coca has an established use spread among all social classes, in two Northern provinces of Argentina. There is an increasing use of coca flour as a food supplement. (5)

Coca Leaf for Labor


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in Coca for Labor | Posted on 10-05-2011

Before starting work on the farm, together with their relatives, friends and community members who will work with the owner (who will reciprocate their cooperation in the future), coca, drinks and cigarettes will be passed around.  They all give thanks for the gift, choose three leaves blowing into the direction of a mountain which will protect them and the community, and pray to the spirits. Then, slowly, they begin to chew the leaves.  
The owner will pay homage to the ancestors and to Mother Earth, burying some coca, cigarettes and candy in the ground, invoking their ancestors (Peru).In the Andes, the work day is divided in three or four shifts, with a break between shifts when coca is chewed after their meals.  The same is done when performing community work, where their authorities will hand out the coca leaves. 

In the Bolivian Yungas, thanks to the leaf, the ayni or reciprocation institution has been extended considerably because coca is a permanent crop which requires good care for the future.  Under the ayni, the work performed for others is done with the same care as for their own property.  The harvest under the reciprocation system is done by the women and this is the social event per excellence, they don their best clothing, blue skirts in contrast with the green coca fields and reddish brown earth.  The young men of the community look for a suitable partner, the women flirt about, and there is laughter, tales, and gossip.
The harvest is the major workshop for social control by the community. In farming communities, the practice of reciprocation for work shows that labor is a community resource, shared by all members as if they all belonged to a single domestic unit and it is work which will establish the rank of the community member. (14)

Magical Purposes


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in Magical Purposes | Posted on 10-05-2011

In a religious sense, coca is used humbly to give thanks for blessings or to make offerings to the gods.  All traditional Andean rituals are celebrated around the coca leaves.  All present must chew the leaves under the direction of the fortune teller (yatiri).  Likewise, coca is indispensable in preparing the offerings, services for the ancestors, to Mother Earth (Pacha Mama) as an act of thanks giving for good harvests, health or thriving of their livestock.

The gods, the Incas, and the ancestors in ancient and sacred times, dictated the rules for social and individual use of coca.  The use of this plant as dictated by custom, in agricultural feasts, at work or during the ceremonies of their vital cycle, is to enter and experience the mythical and primeval space-time continuum of the gods, cultural heroes and their ancestors.

Coca will always be present in all important moments of their life because it is not only a product, but heritage as well.  It is not only their most important element of their survival, but it also represents what is sacred to them, their culture, traditions and their endurance against abuse and exploitation. “Like people, it must never be killed, uprooted, nor should the leaves be cast away… I interpret your sickness and all other ill fortune as a punishment from Pacha Mama for having eradicated the coca -it is sacred- is it not true?” (14)

Industrial Applications


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in d. Industrialized Applications | Posted on 10-05-2011

In the Andes commercially manufactured coca teas, granola bars, cookies, hard candies, etc. are available in most stores and supermarkets, including upscale suburban supermarkets. (2)

In 1886, Frank Robinson developed the drink known as Coca Cola. It was formulated with an alkaloid extract from the Coca leaf along with kola nut, both known as stimulants. Coca Cola was marketed as a tonic because of its invigorating and stimulating effects. Coca was used in Coca Cola’s formula until 1901. (11)

In the United States, after 1904, instead of using fresh leaves, Coca-Cola started using “spent” leaves — the leftovers of the cocaine-extraction process with cocaine trace levels left over at a molecular level. To this day, Coca-Cola uses as an ingredient a cocaine-free coca leaf extract prepared at a Stepan Company plant in Maywood, New Jersey.

Another beverage sold in the United States containing de-cocainized coca leaves is known as KUKA. Formulated by Kūka Drink, Inc. based out of San Diego, California, KUKA is being sold as an all-natural, revitalizing drink. (www.kukadrink.com)

In the United States, Stepan Company is the only manufacturing plant authorized by the Federal Government to import and process the coca plant, (16) which it obtains mainly from Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia. Besides producing the coca flavoring agent for Coca-Cola, Stepan Company extracts cocaine from the coca leaves, which it sells to Mallinckrodt, a St. Louis, Missouri pharmaceutical manufacturer that is the only company in the United States licensed to purify cocaine for medicinal use. (17)

Coca tea is produced industrially from coca leaves in South America by a number of companies, including Enaco S.A. (National Company of the Coca) a government enterprise in Peru. (7) Coca leaves are also found in a brand of herbal liqueur called “Agwa de Bolivia” (8) and a natural flavoring ingredient in Red Bull Cola, that was launched in March 2008(2)

Coca Economics


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in e. Coca Economics | Posted on 10-05-2011

The coca leaf operates in farming communities almost as currency for the exchange of products (barter system).  It is marketed to obtain currency and be able to respond to new urban consumer demands. (13)

Coca plays a key role in reciprocating manners.  In the Andean culture all social interaction is conceived in terms of reciprocation or interchange.  There is no reciprocal interchange in which coca is not offered, for instance: If a man or woman asks for ayni (an Aymar a custom of reciprocal help), he/she will offer a handful of coca.  A man would show his acceptance of the charge receiving the coca from the offeror.  Petitions submitted to community leaders may be accompanied with coca and alcohol.  Similarly, the coca, it is very important when a leader assumes a community position, or when those who lead a group of native dancers are named.  The petition of a woman in marriage is led by the relatives of the groom by offering a handful of coca.  The success of the petition would be indicated by the acceptance or rejection of the gift.

To organize more complex tasks, such as feasts, construction or even battle against the enemy, groups or the entire community will gather the whole night.  There, coca is distributed and is chewed during the meeting.  Its use is extended in special occasions such as festivities both in the country and the suburban areas. In the Bolivian Yungas, an area which produced coca since the Incas, the coca field accompanies the vital cycle of the family. 

   When a couple is joined in matrimony they have to build a house and plant a coca field.  The planting is born with the family, grows and thrives with it.  When their children grow and bring a wife to help with the chores, the coca field and the home will have reached the pinnacle of production and their modest wealth. In time, their offspring will leave home, their parents will grow old alone, like their coca field which yields little, but enough for the reduced family.

Thus coca is key to enter into social relationships in Andean cultures; it promotes trust and is like a visiting card. Sergio Quijada explains this very aptly when he asserts:

Coca, when chewed in small quantities (chakchar oracullico), is an efficient bond and link to knit the fabric of fraternization and amiability among fellow countrymen.”

Socially, coca is offered and handed out to extend and strengthen the kinship and reciprocation relationship, so dearly needed in the Andean world to achieve labor, prestige, power and social integration. (14)

Coca Leaf Nutrition


Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in 5. Coca Leaf Nutrition | Posted on 10-05-2011

The Coca leaf is highly nutritious. For instance, 100 grams of coca leaf supplies more than the US recommended daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins A, B2, and E. Some doctors believe coca and other psychoactive plants may play a role in helping the brain function properly, particularly when used during times of poor nutrition and in stressful environments. (9) According to a study published by Harvard University in 1975 (Duke, J., D. Aulik and T. Plowman, Nutritional Value of Coca), chewing 100 grams of coca is enough to satisfy the nutritional needs of an adult for 24 hours. Thanks to the calcium, proteins, vitamins A and E, and other nutrients it contains, the plant offers even better possibilities to the field of human nutrition than it does to that of medicine, where it is commonly used today. (18)


Nutritional Analysis

Coca = Erythroxylon coca

Identikit: 100 grammes of coca leaf (Mortimer, Mantegazza, Mariani, Morales, Molina)

Organic acids: 3.2mg; Carbohydrates: 46.2g; Fibre: 14.2g; Fat: 3.3g; Moisture: 7.2g

Other Vitamins:   A: UI 14,000; Alpha carotene: 2.65mg; B1 (thiamine): 0.68mg; B6 (pyridoxine): 0.58mg; Beta carotene: 20mg; C (ascorbic acid): 53mg; H (biotin): 0.54mg; Nicotinic acid: 5mg.

Trace elements:   Aluminium: 49mg; Barium: 17mg; Boron: 24mg; Calcium: 1540mg; Copper: 1.1mg; Chromium: 0.23mg; Strontium: 204mg; Iron: 45.8mg; Phosphate: 911.8mg; Magnesium: 0.37mg; Manganese: 0.5mg; Potassium: 1.9mg; Sodium: 1110mg; Zinc: 3.8mg