History and uses of the Coca leaf 
Other uses of coca, including the production of cocaine
The Drug Trade
Drug Wars
Andean History

History and uses of the Coca leaf

The Coca Plant


Coca shrubs grow wild in much of South America, growing to heights of 12 to 18 feet, although cultivated plants are usually kept at about 6 feet.There are over one hundred species of coca shrubs although only two are used for chewing.One called the Bolivian leaf (Erythroxylon coca) and the other known as the Peruvian leaf (Erythroxylon novogranatense).This plant is resistant to drought and disease, and doesn’t need irrigation.The delicate tea-like leaves of the coca plant can be harvested four times a year for almost 50 years.Coca grows best in the moist climate of the Andes mountains at elevations of 4,500 to 6,000 feet.

Early Myths and Legends

Early South American folklore accredits the appearance of coca to different deities.One of the earliest known legends on the origin of coca was recorded by investigators of the Viceroy Toledo in 1571 in their Informacion of Inca history: 

“In answering questions about the shrub, the aged Indians invariably told the same story.From what they had heard, the Indians recalled, before coca was a shrub it was a beautiful woman.Discovered to be an adultress, she was executed, cut in half, and buried as a seed would be planted.From part of her severed body, a shrub, which became known as ‘macoca’ and ‘coca-mana,’ began to grow and blossom.Only men were permitted to pick its leaves, placing them in their pouches.It was soon learned that the pouches could be opened to take coca only after copulation, which was to be performed in the memory of the beautiful but dismembered adultress”(Phillips, 5). 

Freud cited a legend of the Aymaran tribe in which Khuno, the god of snow and storm, angrily burned the land of all vegetation but the coca plant.The Indians ate the leaves to relieve their hunger, and found that it also helped them endure the cold.Two other legends come from the Inca period attributing divine origin to the plant.According to one legend, the plant was a gift from the sun god Inti who instructed the moon mother Moma Quilla to plant the coca in the moist valleys of the Andes.It was to only be used by the Incas, as they were the descendants of the gods, to give them endurance to perform their earthly functions.The other and more famous legend involves Manco Capac, the son of god and his sister-wife Mama Oello the founders of the Inca empire.Legend says that they brought the culture of agriculture and the made the coca plant a present to the Incans for their hard labor.It was considered a divine plant which satiates the hungry, strengthens the weak, and causes those who chew it to forget their misfortunes. 

Early Uses

Source: leaves have been chewed by South American Indians for many thousands of years to induce a mild, long-lasting euphoria.The Incas venerated coca.They used it in magical ceremonies and initiation rites.In the Inca period, the sacred leaf was regarded as far too good for ordinary Indians.The invading Spanish conquistadors were more practical.They were impressed at coca’s efficacy as a stimulant.They believed that the herb was so nutritious and invigorating that the Indians labored whole days without anything else.The Spanish also needed native labor in their silver mines.Work in the mines was extremely arduous, and taking coca reduces appetite and increases physical stamina.Therefore there was a great surge in coca use and the number of coqueros (coca-chewers).

Coca has been used for ages as a food substitute, a stimulant, a medicine, as an aphrodisiac, a means to stay warm, and as a measure of distance.An important factor in the spread of coca-chewing among Indians was due to a need for a food substitute when the Incan agricultural economy broke down due to inter tribal wars.Nutritional analysis shows that 100 grams of coca leaves contain 305 calories, 18.9 grams of protein, and 46.2 grams of carbohydrates, and satisfies the recommended dietary allowances for calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, C, and E (Phillips, 15).As a medicinal herb, coca has been used in treating a variety of ailments and diseases.Generally applied by shaman or medicine men, they are applied in rites and ceremonies.Studies show that coca have peripheral vasoconstrictive effects that reduces the amount of heat loss through the extremities and produces a higher central body temperature keeping the user warmer.Coca was also used a measurement of distance or the time it took to chew a quid of coca, the equivalent of about forty minutes of two level miles.

Manner of Use

Source: chewing of coca is a well-defined practice that has changed little over the centuries.First, the coquero takes several coca leaves from a chuspa, a baglike container.The midribs of the leaves are removed and placed in the side of the mouth.More leaves are added until a quid or plug is formed.From a poporo, a small container carried in or attached to the chuspa, a limestone substance is removed and added to the quid in the mouth.Coca de mate a tea made from the leaves is also popular.Drinking coca tea tends to soothe the stomach and is good for digestive problems. 


Cocaine sulphate is also popular.The sulphate is the intermediate stage between the coca leaf and the finished cocaine hydrochloride crystal.Coca leaves are put into plastic pits with a solution of water and sulphuric acid.A bare-footed man will mash the mixture with his feet.


Vin Mariani

Angelo Mariani, a Corsican, developed the first widespread popular drink using coca leaves.Known as Vin Mariani, it was introduced to the public in 1863 and became a runaway success in America and Europe.Vin Mariani was advertised and apparently used for treating a variety of illnesses, and quickly became the world’s most popular prescription.



Mariani used a variety of celebrities to endorse his product including:Fredric Auguste Bartholdi (statue of liberty sculptor), Anatole France, Henrik Ibsen, Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stephenson (all writers).Vin Mariani was also celebrated by royal and religious figures including:Queen Victoria, King George, The Grand Rabbi of France Zadoc Kahn, Pope Pius X, and Pope Leo XIII.President McKinley was also reported to having used it.



Source: www.cyberlessons.comJohn Styth Pemberton of Atlanta Georgia, a chemist came up with the world famous Coca Cola. He based his original drink on Vin Mariani.  'Pemberton's French wine coca' proved to be very popular with Americans.  When Atlanta introduced Prohibition in 1886, Pemberton had to replace the wine in his recipe with sugar syrup, and the wine became 'Coca-Cola: the temperence drink'.  In 1904, America's concern about drug abuse led the manufacturers to remove the cocaine from Coca-Cola.  Until 1904 the typical serving contained around 60mg of cocaine.  Sold today, it still contains an extract of coca-leaves, importing eight tons a year, however there is no drugs in it. Visit Coca-Cola's web page at:

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