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COCA LEAF

 
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Coca is a plant composed of a complex variety of mineral nutrients, essential oils, and varied alkaloid compounds with varying degree of pharmacological effects. It is mainly used for its stimulant and appetite suppressant capabilities. Although some claims suggest its use is habit forming, addiction is not typically seen in traditional usage of the coca leaf, but only in the use of extracted alkaloids. The Coca leaf is highly nutritious and can produce many beneficial physiological effects upon ingestion. An extract of the coca leaf is used in some beverages such as Coca Cola and KUKA Drink.

It has been recorded that as early as 2,500 B.C., the Coca leaf plant was first cultivated by the indigenous people of the Andes in what is now Huanca Prieto in northern Peru. They passed down this knowledge throughout generations, as they consumed the plant’s leaves in its natural state for its medicinal and nutritional values, from alleviating hunger, thirst, felling of fatigue, to helping fight the effects of high altitude sickness.

CULTIVATION :

Coca is traditionally cultivated in the lower altitudes of the eastern slopes of the Andes (the Yungas), or the highlands depending on the species grown. Coca production begins in the valleys and upper jungle regions of the Andean region, where the countries of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are host to more than 98 per cent of the global land area planted with coca.

Fresh samples of the dried leaves are uncurled, are of a deep green on the upper, and a grey-green on the lower surface, and have a strong tea-like odor. When chewed, they produce a pleasurable numbness in the mouth, and have a pleasant, pungent taste. They are traditionally chewed with lime to increase the release of the active ingredients from the leaf. Older species have a camphoraceous smell and a brownish color, and lack the pungent taste.

The seeds are sown from December to January in small plots (almacigas) sheltered from the sun, and the young plants when at 40–60 cm in height are placed in final planting holes (aspi), or if the ground is level, in furrows (uachos) in carefully weeded soil. The plants thrive best in hot, damp and humid locations, such as the clearings of forests; but the leaves most preferred are obtained in drier areas, on the hillsides. The leaves are gathered from plants varying in age from one and a half to upwards of forty years, but only the new fresh growth is harvested. They are considered ready for plucking when they break on being bent. The first and most abundant harvest is in March after the rainy season, the second is at the end of June, and the third in October or November. The green leaves (matu) are spread in thin layers on coarse woollen cloths and dried in the sun; they are then packed in sacks, which must be kept dry in order to preserve the quality of the leaves.

History

Traces of coca have been found in mummies dating 3000 years back. Other evidence dates the communal chewing of coca with lime 8000 years back. Extensive archaeological evidence for the chewing of coca leaves dates back at least to the 6th century AD Moche period, and the subsequent Inca period, based on mummies found with a supply of coca leaves, pottery depicting the characteristic cheek bulge of a coca chewer, spatulas for extracting alkali and figured bags for coca leaves and lime made from precious metals, and gold representations of coca in special gardens of the Inca in Cuzco.

Coca chewing may originally have been limited to the eastern Andes before its introduction to the Incas. As the plant was viewed as having a divine origin, its cultivation became subject to a state monopoly and its use restricted to nobles and a few favored classes (court orators, couriers, favored public workers, and the army) by the rule of the Topa Inca (1471–1493). As the Incan empire declined, the leaf became more widely available. After some deliberation, Philip II of Spain issued a decree recognizing the drug as essential to the well-being of the Andean Indians but urging missionaries to end its religious use. The Spanish are believed to have effectively encouraged use of coca by an increasing majority of the population to increase their labor output and tolerance for starvation, but it is not clear that this was planned deliberately.

Coca was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century, but did not become popular until the mid-19th century, with the publication of an influential paper by Dr. Paolo Mantegazza praising its stimulating effects on cognition. This led to invention of coca wine and the first production of pure cocaine. Coca wine (of which Vin Mariani was the best-known brand) and other coca-containing preparations were widely sold as patent medicines and tonics, with claims of a wide variety of health benefits. The original version of Coca-Cola was among these. These products became illegal in most countries outside of South America in the early 20th century, after the addictive nature of cocaine was widely recognized. In 1859, Albert Niemann of the University of Göttingen became the first person to isolate the chief alkaloid of coca, which he named "cocaine".

In the early 20th century, the Dutch colony of Java became a leading exporter of coca leaf. By 1912 shipments to Amsterdam, where the leaves were processed into cocaine, reached 1 million kg, overtaking the Peruvian export market. Apart from the years of the First World War, Java remained a greater exporter of coca than Peru until the end of the 1920s.[23] Other colonial powers also tried to grow coca (including the British in India), but with the exception of the Japanese in Formosa, these were relatively unsuccessful.

In recent times (2006), the governments of several South American countries, such as Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela, have defended and championed the traditional use of coca, as well as the modern uses of the leaf and its extracts in household products such as teas and toothpaste.

Traditional uses

Medicine

Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. It also is used as an anesthetic and analgesic to alleviate the pain of headache, rheumatism, wounds and sores, etc. Before stronger anaesthetics were available, it also was used for broken bones, childbirth, and during trephining operations on the skull. The high calcium content in coca explains why people used it for bone fractures. Because coca constricts blood vessels, it 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 guard against bowel laxity, as an aphrodisiac, and credited with improving longevity. Modern studies have supported a number of these medical applications.

Nutrition

Raw coca leaves, chewed or consumed as tea or mate de coca, are rich in nutritional properties. Specifically, the coca plant contains essential minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus), vitamins (B1, B2, C, and E) and nutrients such as protein and fiber.

Religion

Coca has also been a vital part of the religious cosmology of the Andean peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, northern Argentina, and Chile from the pre-Inca period through the present. 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. As one example of the many traditional beliefs about coca, it is believed by the miners of Cerro de Pasco to soften the veins of ore, if masticated (chewed) and thrown upon them (see Cocomama in Inca mythology). In addition, coca use in shamanic rituals is well documented wherever local native populations have cultivated the plant. For example, the Tayronas of Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta used to chew the plant before engaging in extended meditation and prayer.

Traditional preparation

Traditionally, coca leaves are prepared either to chew or as a tea (mate de coca).

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