Benefits of the Coca Leaf

Coca is not cocaine. For centuries prior to the isolation of cocaine as coca's most active ingredient, the Indians who lived on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Bolivia and Peru chewed the leaves as a way of life. Their knowledge of the plant's virtues was passed on from generation to generation by wad [sic] of mouth.
Coca is consumed by chewing the leaves with a pinch of lime prepared from calcinated seashells or plant ashes. Prior to adding the lime, the leaves are chewed to moisten and break them, as well as remove the stalks and strings. Then the lime is added pinch by pinch until the proper mixture is achieved. The wad of leave is then kept relatively still between the teeth and cheek; it is sucked on rather than chewed. The amount of lime used is critical to the taste and to the concentration of alkaloid released. It is still a common practice for a mother to introduce her young to the coca experience by preparing the wad of leaves in her mouth and then transferring it to the mouth of her child. In this way, the proper amount of lime will present in the first wad of leaves the child uses, which ensures that the first experience with coca will be a positive one. Since lime is caustic, an excess will burn the mouth. Without any formal knowledge of chemistry, these Indians were extracting the alkaloids from the leaves by making them alkaline. They knew that the lime was the mechanism by which absorption of the alkaloids could be controlled. Thus, if while chewing the leaves a little too much alkaloid was released, one had only to ease up on the lime and let the saliva wash out some of the excess lime into the stomach. The lower concentration of lime would result in a slower absorption of alkaloids. Interestingly, cocaine alkaloid content was not the prime factor in choice of leaves. The Indians consistently chose leaves with a lower cocaine content but a high concentration of sweet, aromatic compounds which gave the wad of coca better flavor.
Over the years South American Indians have found the leaf beneficial in numerous ways. Aside from its ability to clear the mind, elevate the mood, and make energy available, it appears to exert good influences on many physical functions. For example, it tones and strengthens the entire digestive tract, probably enhancing the assimilation of foods. A hot water infusion of coca sweetened with a little raw sugar (called agua de coca) is an excellent remedy for indigestion and stomach ache that was widely used even by non-Indians throughout South America until relatively recently.

Coca appears to maintain the teeth and gums in a good state of health; it keeps teeth white. The leaf is rich in vitamins, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, and C. An average daily dose of coca leaves (two ounces) supplies an Indian of the High Sierra with much of his daily vitamin requirement. Coca appears to have a beneficial influence on respiration, and is said to effect rapid cure s of altitude sickness. It also rids the blood of toxic metabolites, especially uric acid. Indians say the regular use of coca promotes longevity as well. According to Indian tradition, coca was a gift from heaven to better the lives of people on earth. (from Andrew Weil's "The Green and The White", p. 334, The Coca Leaf and Cocaine Papers)

-pp. 23- 24, Cocaine Handbook: An Essential Reference by David Lee (1983)


Erythroxylum coca Diagram
Timothy Plowman, Chicago Field Museum Botanist