Coca leaves have many health benefits. Coca (Erythroxylum coca and E. novogranatese) is an agricultural plant native to West side of Latin America. It is a shrub that can grow into 2-3 meters high. The branches are thin with dark-colored leaves. The flowers are small, growing in clusters with short stems. These flowers would later turn into reddish berry-like fruits. Coca tree can grow easily in any tropical areas. Indigenous American people already recognized health benefits of coca leaves far before Colombus came to America.
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Nutritional Value of Coca Leaves
In 100 grams of fresh coca leaves, there are minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins (vitamin A, B2, and E) which exceed American Daily Recommended Nutritional Intake. A study from Harvard University in 1975 has shown that chewing 100 grams of coca leaves is enough to fulfill human’s nutritional needs for 24 hours.Because it has high amount of calcium, protein, vutamin A and E, and other nutrients, this plant offers possibility of being categorized into crops rather than medicinal plant, which is what this plant is categorized today.
Let us see the exact nutritional value in the table below:
|Component||Amount / 100 g|
|Organic acid||3,2 mg|
|Thiamine (Vit B1)||0.68 mg|
|Riboflavin (Vit B2)||0.026 mg|
|Total Vitamin A||141.000 IU|
|Beta Carotene (Vit A)||20 mg|
|Alpha Carotene (Vit A)||2,65 mg|
|Ascorbic Acid (Vit C)||53 mg|
|Piridoxin (Vit B6)||0.58 mg|
|Nicotinic Acid||5 mg|
Daily Value is based on 2000 Calories diet. Your may need more or less calories according to your age, gender, health status, and your daily activities. Other than those nutrients, coca leaves also contain coca alkaloids (cocaine) about 0,3% to 1,5% (on average 0,8%) in every leaf. Moreover, coca leaves contain other alkaloids, such as nicotine, hygrine, hydroxytropacocaine, tropacocoaine, ecgonine, etc.
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Indigenous American people around Andes mountains (Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru) already recognize health benefits of coca leaves since long time ago. Both men and women use coca leaves. The leaves can be made into tea or being chewed. We can find shops selling coca tea bags in all societies around Andes mountains.
1. As Stimulant
Coca leaves act as mild stimulant which can elevate mood and eliminate fatigue. Absorbtion of coca alkaloid from its leaves is much longer than absorbtion of powdered cocaine from the nose. After being swallowed, the coca alkaloid gets its peak concentration 2-12 hours after consumption. This makes coca leaves do not cause addiction.
Indigenous people drink coca leaves tea (mate de coca) everyday because they believe that coca leaves give them many health benefits.
2. Treatment of Narcotics Addiction
Although coca leaves contain cocaine too, the cocaine is mild and not as strong as the powdered one used by cocaine-addict people. It also reduce the incidence of cocaine-withdrawal syndromes since the alkaloids replace cocaine in the brain. Because of the alkaloid contents and non-addictive property, coca leaves is suggested to be used in narcotics-rehabilitation therapy.
3. Prevents Anemia and Mountain Sickness
Mountain sickness is often caused by the lack of oxygen in the blood, which often resulted in shortness of breath, headache, and even death. Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. One of health benefits of coca leaf is rich in iron, which is essential for production of healthy red blood cells.
4. Natural Anaesthetics and Analgesics
Indigenous people use coca leaves as anaestetics and analgesics, to eliminate pain from headache, reumatism, wounds, etc. It is also used to eliminate pain during childbirth and broken bone therapy. Before modern anaesthetic drugs were found, coca leaves were used as anaesthetic in trepanation operation (making hole on on the skull, a tradition of indigenous people in Andes).
5. High in Calcium
Daily intake of high calcium foods is needed for healthy bones and teeth, and prevents us to get osteoporosis. The indigenous people recognize that coca leaves has health benefits of curing broken bones, probably becuse of high calcium contents and the anesthetic effect. Some factories in Andes region use the extracts as ingredients in toothpaste, due to its high calcium content.
6. Stops Bleeding
Coca leaves has astringent and vasoconstrictor properties. Indigenous people often use mashed coca leaves to stop bleeding from wounds. Crushed coca seeds and leaves can be used to stop nosebleed. Women who just give birth drink coca leaves tea to reduce pain, prevent uterine hemorrhage, and as general tonic.
7. Treatment of Abcess
Coca leaves has health benefits of curing boils and abcesses. Indigenous people put the mashed leaves on the affected area and cover it with bandage, to prevent it from falling down. To accelerate the healing process and eliminate the pain, they drink coca tea or chew the leaves too.
8. Treatment of Malaria
One of health benefits of coca leaf that has been known by indigenous people is to cure malaria. The astringent and analgesic properties reduce fever, plus other mineral and vitamin compounds help killing Plasmodium in the body and accelerate healing process.
9. As Aphrodisiac
Until now, people around Andes mountains believe that consuming coca tea everyday can cure low libido, due to high contents of minerals and vitamins needed for reproduction system to work normally.
In ancient time, couples who could not conceive any child were given coca leaves decoction, to make sexual performance better so they could conceive soon. The stimulant effect also helps alot, it reduces the stress, the main problem causing low libido these days.
10. Promotes Good Sleep
Coca leaves has health benefits of promoting good sleep. Just like any other narcotics, coca leaves has calming effect. The minerals and vitamin B help relax the muscles. However, excessive use of coca leaves can make people sleepy and lazy.
11. As General Tonic
People from Andes mountains often consume coca tea. They believe that drinking coca tea can restore body functions and boost their spirit and energy. It makes sense since coca leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, which contribute for its health benefits. Coca leaves are sold in teabags in almost every convenience stores in Andes mountains areas.
In touristic areas, coca tea is served along with other traditional dishes to the tourists. The tourists are then being told of many health benefits of coca leaves (which they consume as tea) by their tour guides.
12. Offerings in Traditional Rituals
Although most people in Andes now embrace Catholism, they still practice traditional rituals as well. Coca leaves has been an important part of traditional religions of Indigenous people in Andes (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, North Argentina, and Chile) since pre-Inca time. Coca leaves are used as offerings to Apus (mountain), Inti (sun), and Pachamama (earth). Coca leaves and tea are often used in religious rituals, just like Tea in Chinese or Japanese cultures.
Apart from religious rituals, indigenous people also believe superstitions about coca leaves. Miners from Cerro de Pasco city in Peru believes that coca leaves can soften mine layers if the coca leaves are chewed and thrown onto the soil.
In addition, coca leaves are used in shamanistic practices in every region where Indigenous people plant them. For example, Tayronas Tribe in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, are used to chew on coca leaves before taking parts in medication and religious rituals.
See also: Health Benefits of Wood Apple
Facts of Coca Leaves
Coca has been planted widely since 3000 years ago. There are archaeologic evidences that Indigenous people already chewed on coca leaves with lemon since 8000 years ago. The widely spreaded chewing of coca leaves had its peak in the 6th Century of Moche civilization. This tradition was still practised in Inca civilization, some centuries after Moche, which was depicted in a mummi found with coca leaves, potteries depicting coca chewers, and a metal spatula depicting a pouch filled with coca leaves that was used for extracting alkaloids.
In the beginning, coca leaves were only used in eastern side of Andes, the center of Inca civilization. Inca people believed that coca plants were God’s plants, therefore the cultivations were monopolized by the Emperors, and only noblemen and burghesses could use coca. This happened in Topa Inca time (1471-1493). After Inca Empire began to decline, coca leaves could be used by common people.
In 2006, governments of some Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia, won the petition of preserving the traditional use of coca and modern uses of its extracts in household products, such as tea and toothpaste.
However, coca leaves are restricted only for adults in other countries. In Colombia, children are forbidden to consume coca tea or leaves, since it can make them sleepy during school time. During Dutch colonization in Indonesia, the Dutch cultivated coca plants, especially in Java Island, as side plants in coffee/tea plantations. The plants could adapt well in Indonesia, since Indonesia is a tropical country. It is said that coca leaves grown in Java contains higher alkaloids than those grown in Latin America. However, after Indonesian Independence, coca leaves are illegal, therefore it is not grown commercially anymore in Indonesia. The plants can sometimes be found growing naturally in the forests though.
Although coca leaves has so many health benefits, we have to take precautions of the law in each country about the usage. If we travel to Latin America, especially if we are above 18 years old, we can try to consume coca tea, to experience the health benefits of coca leaves.