Mama Coca Welcomes Pizarro In Peace & Friendship
(And we all know how well that turned out.)
While today most of us associate the production of Coca Erythroxylon with Peru and Bolivia, during the 1800s adventurous scientists and entrepreneurs trekked around the world looking for locations where the Divine Plant would thrive. Coca cultivation was well adapted to many different parts of the globe, as shown by the following passages from The History of Coca (1901) by W. Golden Mortimer MD, excerpted from my book The Coca Leaf Papers.
For example, for well over a century a very high quality Coca was grown by the Dutch in Java, and I don’t doubt that a bush or two still lives in the back woods there. Perhaps as more people realize the outstanding natural healing powers of this plant, opportunities will open up around the world once again for people to grow their own powerful, safe, pure Coca Leaf medicine.
“The Coca which comes to the markets of the commercial world is broadly grouped in two varieties, the Bolivian or Huanuco and the Peruvian or Truxillo variety, the characteristic difference between the two varieties being that the Bolivian leaf is thick, dark green colored above and yellowish beneath, while the Peruvian leaf is smaller, more delicate, light color and grayish beneath. Manufacturers of cocaine use practically nothing except the Bolivian or Huanuco Coca, which contains the highest percentage of cocaine and the least quantity of associate alkaloids, which cocaine manufacturers have regarded as “objectionable” because they will not crystallize. While medicinally the Coca yielding a combination of alkaloids is preferred, the two varieties of leaf are entirely distinct as to flavor, being more pronouncedly bitter in proportion to the relative amount of cocaine present.
“The Coca collected by Jussieu was from the Yungas of Bolivia, while the bulk of Coca used by the Andeans is grown in Peru. It is the plant used by these Indians, the properties which have been exalted from the time of the Incas, to which all the traditions of Coca are attached, and really one would be more justified in saying that the specimens sent by Jussieu from Bolivia were a modification of the historical Incan plant than to say that the Peruvian grown species is a variation. The Indians prefer Peruvian Coca, and but for the importance to Bolivian Coca through cocaine less of the latter variety would be grown. Any attempt to describe Coca as a whole from any one variety, it will be seen, must be confusional, Bolivian Coca being rich in cocaine, while Peruvian Coca is richer in aromatic alkaloids. This variation is still maintained in the plants grown artificially at Paris and in the East.
“Plants and seeds of several varieties of Coca have been distributed to the botanical gardens of the English colonies at Demerara, Ceylon, Darjeeling, and Alipore, where they are cultivated in a commercial way and where they have been carefully studied under the new conditions of environment. Having in mind the history of cinchona, which had been taken from its native home in the Montaña of Peru and so successfully cultivated in the East, it seems a natural inference that Coca may also be grown scientifically under similar facilities where the possibility for distribution would be superior to the crude Andean methods. Certain parts of Java are particularly suggestive of the Coca region of Peru. The country is traversed by two chains of mountains which are volcanic, and, as in the Andean region, the vegetation varies with the altitude. From the seaboard to an elevation of 2,000 feet the growth is of a tropical nature, and rice, cotton and spices abound. Above this to 4,500 feet coffee, tea and sugar are raised, while still higher, to 7,500 feet, only the plants of a temperate region can be grown.
“There are many details essential in the cultivation of tea and coffee which suggest similar necessities in the cultivation of Coca. In Ceylon the best coffee is grown from 3,000 to 4,500 feet above the sea, where rain is frequent and the temperature moderate, and, like Coca, the higher the altitude in which the shrub can be cultivated without frost, the better is the quality of the product. Although the yield may be less, the aromatic principles are more abundant and finer than that produced in the lowlands. Similar hilly ground where there is good drainage is best adapted for the growth of tea. The shrubs do not yield leaves fit for picking before the third year, the produce increasing yearly until the tenth year. The yield from the tea plant is about the same as that from Coca, but the young leaves of tea are usually gathered, while only the matured leaves of Coca are picked.
“The climate, the environment, the method of cultivation and even the uses all seem paralleled in tea, coffee and Coca, but the benefits of application are immensely in favor of Coca. Tea and coffee were introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century, about the period when we have the first historical record of Coca. They were not then popular beverages as now, and it was only after much prejudice had been overcome that they were considered necessary. As the properties of Coca become better appreciated there is every reason to suppose this substance will come into as general use in every household as a stimulant – rendering a clear head instead of the hot and congested one so apt to follow the use of coffee or tea – Coca does not impair the stomach, while it possesses the added advantage of freeing the circulation from impurities instead of, like tea and coffee, adding additional waste products to the blood stream, as has been suggested by Morton and by Haig.
In addition to Dr Mortimer, Angelo Mariani outlined some of the other locations where Coca cultivation was attempted in his book “Coca And Its Therapeutic Applications” (1890), also featured in The Coca Leaf Papers. Unfortunately, so far as is known there was never any attempt to establish Coca cultivation in the mountains of the Western US although, of course, these mirror-images of the Andes would offer thousands of perfect micro-climes for the highest quality Coca cultivation.
“Erythroxylon Coca appears to have come originally from Peru, and from there its cultivation was carried into Bolivia, Ecuador, New Grenada, and Brazil, in a word, throughout the entire torrid zone of South America.
“For some time, as a result of the extended consumption of Coca and for a still stronger reason, now that the day is at hand when the consumption of Coca will assume greater proportions, numerous plantations of Coca trees have been laid out in regions where that shrub was formerly unknown. We take pleasure in recording that these attempts have proved successful in the Antilles, thanks to the disinterested sacrifices of our friend, Dr. Bétancès. It is also with pleasure that we present anew an interesting communication made by the learned doctor to the ” Société d’Acclimatation de France ” as appeared in the Revue Diplomatique, 17th of March, 1888.
“Dr. Bétancès has succeeded in acclimatizing Coca in the Antilles. At considerable expense and after numerous shipments of seeds and the transportation of plants (this with the greatest difficulty) to Porto Rico and San Domingo, Dr. Betances had the pleasure of receiving a fine branch of Coca in full bloom, which was sent to him by Monseigneur Mereño, Archbishop of San Domingo. This twig, which the members of the Society were enabled to examine, excited the most lively curiosity and won the commendation of M. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. It was raised from a plant which had been only eighteen months under cultivation.”
“In Porto Rico the plant reaches a greater height than in Peru.”
“A box filled with beautiful leaves has also been received by Dr. Bétancès and forwarded to Mr. Mariani. This also came from Monseigneur Mereño.
“It is therefore evident that the plant can be cultivated in the Antilles and that it may become a source of wealth to that country.”
“Plantations like this would probably thrive in Corsica or Algeria, countries where the temperature at certain points is somewhat analogous to that of the tropics.
“It is a fact that this shrub does not attain its complete development except in countries where the mean temperature is from fifteen to eighteen degrees centigrade.
“But heat does not suffice; great humidity is also necessary to Coca Therefore it is met with principally on the sides of hills and at the bottom of wooded valleys which abound on both sides of the Cordillieras. Unfortunately, these regions are rather distant from the coast and they are, furthermore, devoid of easy means of communication; it is above all to this particular cause, the difficulty of transportation, that we must attribute the relatively high price of Coca leaves.
“The cultivation of Coca trees is begun by sowing the seed in beds called Almazigos. As soon as the plant appears it is protected from the heat of the sun by means of screens and matting; when it reaches a height of from 40 to 50 centimetres, it is transferred to furrows 18 centimetres in length by 7 in depth, care being taken that each plant is separated from its neighbor by a distance of a foot.
“During the first year maize is sown in the interspaces, rapidly overreaching the shrub, and taking the place of the screens and mats. The growth of the shrub is rather rapid, reaching its full height in about five years. But the time when it becomes productive precedes that at which it attains its complete height by about 3.5 years after being planted. After that, when the season has been especially damp, it yields as often as four times a year.
“Attempts have been made to acclimatize it in Europe, but so far without success. As early as 1869 the cultivation of it was tried in the Botanical Garden of Hyeres, but no satisfactory result was obtained. We presented, in 1872, two samples to the appreciative and learned Director of the Garden of Acclimatization of Paris, M. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and notwithstanding all the care taken of the young plants, they failed to reach their full growth. Several frail Coca plants may be seen in the conservatories of the Jardin des Plantes de Paris, in the Botanical Gardens of London, of Brussels, etc., likewise at several great horticulturists of Gand, notably Van Houten’s.”
Knowledge Is Power - Pass It On
When I was a child I moved around the world with my military family, always traveling by ship in the days before aircraft could cross oceans. I would spend hours on deck writing messages, sealing them with candle wax in bottles I snagged from somewhere on board, and then consigning them to the sea knowing in my heart that they were on their way to someone, somewhere who would read them. Sometime replies arrived at my grandparents’ house years later, and they would forward them to me wherever I was living. From these contacts I developed pen-pals who I stayed in touch with for many years. I was fortunate to develop, very early in my life, a sense of the network that invisibly but seamlessly connects us all. Thank you for picking up this message in a bottle, dear reader. We are all here together.
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5 thoughts on “The Global Potential Of Coca Leaf Cultivation”
Fascinating to read old reports showing the esteem in which the sacred leaf was held. We could learn much from these early pioneers. And hopeful that there seem to be many places in the world that could successfully sustain coca plants – encouraging for the day when its true benefits are finally understood and accepted.
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