Coca leaves are a favorite traditional food & supplement in Bolivia, Peru & other South American countries. They contain the "forbidden" cocaine but also a number of nutrients & minerals that promote good health. Coca has been used for centuries to treat altitude sickness in high-elevation parts of the world where it grows naturally (coincidence?) & is the sole source of all cocaine on the streets of America & other nations. Coca leaves are rich in calcium & protein as well as potassium, fiber, vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3, iron, vitamin C & antioxidants. Did we mention cocaine?
But coca leaves have a very different effect than pure cocaine. When brewed into tea, chewed whole or eaten in candy or other preparations, coca produces a mild stimulation--milder than coffee or yerba mate--as well as a feeling of warmth & relaxation throughout the body. Coca helps open capillaries to improve blood flow, which is responsible for its effect on altitude sickness. Other health benefits include weight loss; easing digestive symptoms like gas & bloating; regulating blood glucose & increased alertness/energy.
I've tried both the whole leaves & tea, and the leaves are definitely more potent. You simply stuff some dried leaves in your mouth--being careful to remove the pointy stems--& add a tiny sprinkling of baking soda to bring out their natural alkaloids. (Seriously, go easy on the baking soda or you will end up puking for hours. A tiny pinch will do). Traditionally, a substance called Llipta--a mixture of lime & ash--is used instead of baking soda but any alkaline substance will work.
Within minutes, you begin to feel a numbing sensation in your mouth & a slight sharpening of your vision & hearing. As you chew, you feel a combination of stimulation & relaxation that's both pleasant & subtle. Coca leaves go great with cannabis or hemp/CBD--the synergy between their energizing effects of coca and the relaxation of cannabis is beautiful. When brewed into a tea, the effects are more subtle but still noticeable. Comparable to white or green tea.
I used to chew the leaves before work at 6:00 a.m. & spit them out when I arrived. Sometimes I'd keep chewing & no one was the wiser. Brands I've tried include Herbi tea, Delisse tea bags & plain leaves. I go for the highest quantity for the money. I've also tried a liquid coca extract product that I wasn't too impressed with for the price, but perhaps I was using it wrong. I haven't had a chance to try the coca flour or other powdered forms. Brushing your teeth or using an alcohol-based mouthwash before chewing can help with absorption for some people.
Prior to 1903, Coca-Cola used whole coca leaves in their soda. Each 7-ounce glass contained about 9 mg of cocaine plus a significant amount of caffeine from the kola nut (Get it? Coca-Kola). It was marketed as an "Ideal Brain Tonic" that eased headaches & relieves mental/physical exhaustion". They still use coca leaves for flavoring but strip them of the cocaine & healthy vitamins/minerals. But there are some energy drinks & sodas in South America that are using the whole coca leaf to bring back the magic of original Coke. A few of these include Coca Colla, Coca Sek, Inka Cola & Coca Brynco.
Original Coca-Cola ad. Sounds delish!
There are a variety of South American-based vendors of coca tea & other coca products online, Mysterious Bolivian being the most well-known (we wrote about them in one of our first blog posts). There's also: Coca Natural, Peru Exporta, Andean Leaves & many others. Sometimes these products can be found on sites like Amazon as well. Make sure to check the laws in your state/country & do your research before spending money on a new vendor.
Proud Native chowing down on some leaves.