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Coca: sacred leaf of the Incas!
I wrote a hub about tejas a few days ago, but as I researched further I discovered that there are also coca tejas! Fancy that! I drank coca tea a few years ago when I was in Cuzco and got altitude sickness, but I never knew there were also coca tejas, or candies for that matter! I also found that they now have many different types of coca products, like extracts, cream, sweets and even soaps! I knew the usual way to get coca was in its traditional leaf form, but now they also have coca powder, liquor, and even capsules!
The Coca plant, often spelled Koka in Quechua and Aymara, is a plant native of north-western South America and it plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Coca leaves contain cocaine alkaloids, which forms the basis for the drug cocaine, a powerful stimulant. The plants thrive best in hot, damp climate, but the preferred leaves are obtained in drier locations, such as on hillsides. Coca plants are found mainly in relatively small areas of Peru and Bolivia, which are the major producing countries. The upper Huallaga Valley, in Peru, produces 60% of the world's coca.
Chewing coca leaves
Coca leaves are chewed by the Aymaras and Quechuas of Bolivia, Peru and other Andean countries. A mouthful of coca leaves is taken into the mouth, without swallowing, and chewing is done softly, trying not to crush the leaves completely. The ball formed is left to rest on the gums and mouth lining, just below the salivary gland for hours at a time. When the crushed leaves are dampened enough, they often combine the coca with chalk or ash, which helps dissolve the alkaloids.
Andean peasants and miners consume coca as it reduces pain from hunger and gives strength and endurance, as they must work long hours at high altitudes and low temperatures.
A few moments after chewing, there is an anesthetic effect in the cheeks, throat and tongue, but also on the lower intestinal tract and at the systemic level. This explains the custom in Andean countries to chew coca leaves to alleviate pain: headaches, toothaches, intestinal cramps, etc.
On the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, guides usually serve coca tea with every meal because it is widely believed that it alleviates the symptoms of altitude sickness. Traditionally, official visitors travelling to La Paz in Bolivia, located at almost 4,000 meters above sea level, are greeted with a coca tea . News reports noted that Princess Anne and Pope John Paul II were served the drink during their visits to the country.
Chewing coca on the Inca Trail
Coca leaf products
restores and energizes.
- Elevates, brightens and controls moods.
your need for sleep.
the metabolism of carbohydrates.
- Acts against fatigue
and altitude sickness
Coca leaf gifts
Taking advantage of the distinctive shape of the coca leaves, artists have now created coca bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings, coasters, artistic pictures and of course, the usual t-shirts!
God said to the Andean people:
"Guard the leaves with much love and when
you feel the sting of pain in your heart,
hunger in your body
and darkness in your mind...
take them to your mouth and softly, draw up
its spirit which is part of mine....."
You will find love for your pain
food for your body and light for your mind
Further more, watch the leaves dance with the wind
and you will find answers to your queries".
Antonio Diaz Villamil, Bolivian author
The most well known use of the coca plant was in the popular soft drink Coca-Cola, but cocaine was later dropped as an ingredient, although the actual name of Coca seems to have remained!