Hi – After years of COVID and so many failed kinds of treatments many people are getting seriously interested in growing their own natural medicines and that includes the Coca plant, right near the top of anyone’s list. People rightfully want full legal access to this and other powerful natural medicines outside the medical establishment and the legal system, in our own gardens, greenhouses and grow rooms. So, when Coca plants finally do become legal, there is a wealth of centuries-old, long-lost, but very useful knowledge on Coca Leaf cultivation both in greenhouse and outdoor environments that I want to share, so let’s take a look at a few of the basics!
Shared knowledge is true power
You may already know that Coca was widely grown in glass greenhouses in Europe and Asia in the 1800’s, and there were major outdoor Coca plantations worldwide throughout that century. Every botanical garden in the world displayed the beautiful Coca plant, and botanists everywhere loved it and probed its secrets. Once you review the science from the 1800s it’s clear – this is not a difficult plant to grow. All that lost knowledge is still out there and my mission is to make it available so that the Coca plant can take its rightful place as a Peoples’ Medicine alongside Cannabis and the Opium Poppy.
Ripening Coca Beans – Colombia
Coca Starter Beds – Amazonian Peru
There are a lot of myths about how difficult it is to grow Coca outside of certain traditional sweet spots in the Andes. That may have been true before Cannabis growing under lights came of age but it no longer applies – especially to small, boutique or personal crops of Coca.
Science has verified the traditional knowledge that coca plants grown at higher altitudes produce a higher ratio of Cocaine to the other 20+ important Coca alkaloids compared to Coca grown outdoors at sea level or even low altitudes – below 2000′. However, Coca seemed to grow pretty well in Puerto Rico back in 1937-39 when it was being investigated by USDA.
But that doesn’t mean that Coca can only be grown successfully in the mountains. Coca has proven to be highly adaptable over thousands of years in human hands. It’s just that Coca’s natural environment, the cradle of its evolution, seems to have been in high Andean valleys, so the plant’s response to clean, intense light is built into its genes – literally.
A classic 1983 Harvard Botanical Museum study says this about Greenhouse Coca:
“Light intensity, humidity and moisture availability may influence profoundly the relative leaf size, form, vein thickness and patterns, as well as stomatal and veinlet terminus numbers in all varieties of cultivated coca. Classical shade-leaf as opposed to sun-leaf structural differences may be found within each variety in relation to microhabitat differences experienced by individual plants and leaves. Humid and shady microhabitat conditions result normally in the development of relatively large, thin leaves with reduced numbers of stomata and veinlet termini per unit area, as well as more slender and less conspicuous veins. Conversely, sunny and drier habitats induce the formation of small and thicker leaves with comparatively more numerous stomata and veinlet termini, and more prominent, thicker veins. Shade-leaf morphology appears not only in South American coca plants grown under shaded conditions, but also in plants of each variety cultivated under glass at temperate latitudes in North America.”
With this in mind, let me introduce you to the Coffee plant – Coca’s remarkably close cousin, or maybe even sister. You don’t hear much about this, but the similarities between Caffeine and Cocaine alkaloids are just the beginning of the incredible Coca-Coffee relationship.
For example, you can’t tell the difference between the Coca and Coffee beans just by looking, and the flowers and leaves are visually almost interchangeable. After a lot of research I’ve concluded that everything important that applies to growing Coffee also applies to growing Coca, and there’s endlessly detailed information about coffee cultivation. Here’s a great website with detailed directions, photos and where to find coffee plants. In reality a simple search will give you dozens of places to buy a wide variety of Coffee plants online. Traditional methods of growing both plants are straightforward and not complex, and anyone who has ever taken a caffeine pill knows without being told that these plants have a lot in common.
There are so many amazing similarities between Coffee and Coca plants, flowers, beans and leaves. In fact the little plants/shrubs/trees are virtually identical to the eye and in their natural chemistry as well.
Coffee plants offer a very useful and completely legal model for Coca cultivation, whether outdoors, indoors under lights, or in a greenhouse. For example, “mountain-grown” coffee has a great reputation and that’s for a good reason. Coffee used to be almost exclusively “shade-grown” a century ago, but along came scientific research and now Coffee bathes in intense mountain light in some of the world’s great coffee-growing regions.
Of course, if the Coca plant could be “shade-grown”, meaning it didn’t need a lot of direct sun and didn’t have to be grown out in the open, the task of Coca cultivators in the Andean nations would be a lot easier. (And it looks like some very clever botanists have figured out how to do just that – or something almost as effective. People are like water – we will find a way.)
Now please check out these two images. One is a handful of Coca seeds in their bean, the other is Coffee seeds in their bean.
As you look further into it you’ll find that the Coca/Coffee relationship goes far beyond the striking similarity of their seeds, leaves, flowers, alkaloids, and growth habits. Although the societies of the world now treat Coffee as something very familiar and not at all unusual, the fact is that when Coffee first hit the European psyche it had an earth trembling impact on minds and relationships. Coffee literally inspired generations of art, poetry, music and scholarship. But that’s another story.
The bottom line here is that it looks like pretty much anywhere in the world you can grow good Coffee you can grow good Coca, and that includes outdoor spaces at any altitude and in many different locations, as well as in greenhouses and indoor grow spaces at any altitude with the right kind of lighting. I want to show you why I think this little fact is so significant, and some of the fun growers and gardeners can have with it.
First, there is a lot to be said for having a little altitude, which could mean as little as 2-3000 feet depending on the environment. We’ve all heard coffee referred to as Java. That’s because arguably the best coffee in the world in the 1800’s came from Java, and those coffee plantations were right alongside some of the best Coca plantations in the world, also scattered throughout the mountains of Java and elsewhere in the archipelago like Sumatra. The Dutch were major Coca leaf producers in Java, just like the Germans were in the Andes – any surprises there?
Feral Coca plants are still there, wherever they were originally cultivated in colonial times – wild Coca gone back to nature. Maybe some Australian backpackers are walking right past some feral Coca bushes right now along an old mountain path in Java. Maybe they will stop and pick a leaf or two for making some fresh Coca tea a little later in the afternoon – if they know what they are walking past.
But back to coffee. Skeptical minds may well ask – who would want to go to the trouble to grow coffee in a greenhouse or in their garden whe n it’s so cheap and plentiful? Well, plenty of people grow, harvest, roast and brew their own beans from a few Coffee plants, and they talk online about their love for the experience, but one good reason to grow a few little coffee trees is – have you ever had a chance to try Coffee Leaf tea? Most of us haven’t, and I don’t see many Coffee growers talking about it either, which is a shame. Talk about a great way to enjoy something very close to growing Coca in your own greenhouse or plant room – harvesting fresh Coffee leaf and brewing a nice cup of Coffee Leaf Tea. I first experienced Coffee Leaf tea in Puerto Rico in the 1960’s while visiting a coffee and medicinal herb farm in the mountains, and if you can grow it or find it, you’ll enjoy it.
Even when more good Coca Leaf tea sources develop online there will still be plenty of reason to grow a little Coffee Leaf yourself at home. Who knows, Coffee Leaf tea may become a thing. Cannabis growers may want to start tucking some Coffee plants in among the Girl Scout Cookies and Durban Poison. Practice with Coffee now – grow Coca in a couple of years. Intercropping coffee and cannabis suggests some interesting combinations.
If you live in the Netherlands it looks like growing Coca plants may already be more or less legal, so if you’re already growing a few Coca plants, why not grow some Coffee leaf too, alongside your Coca? That could make things really interesting.
Coffee Leaf tea is totally unlike the brew of the roasted Coffee bean, and my research convinces me that it has many of the same benefits as reported for Coca Leaf tea in the medical literature of the 1800’s. Aside from their very similar principal alkaloids, Coffee leaf and Coca leaf share many of the same array of beneficial alkaloids and other phytochemical properties.
I’ve always wondered if anyone in the Andes – the only place in the world there would be enough Coca beans – has ever tried drying and roasting Coca beans like Coffee? Might be an interesting variation on Coca Leaf tea if it hasn’t been tried. The Coca ‘bean’ inside the flesh is slightly smaller than the Coffee bean. But brewed roasted Coca Bean coffee. How cool could that be?
So, maybe it’s time for some Coffee Leaf tea to start floating around the Cannabis ecosystem and maybe Cannabis growers are the ones to make it happen. After all – who wakes up in the morning, stretches, yawns and then heads to the kitchen for a Caffeine pill? It’s the delicious chemistry of the whole Coffee bean that people love, not the caffeine buzz itself, and one of the greatest shames of the “drug wars” is that the world has been denied the benefits and pleasures of whole Coca Leaf while being force-fed the chemical buzz of cocaine, and often not even that.
After all this talk about Coffee, if you’re still reading then Coffee probably interests you. If so, you’ll enjoy this very nicely-done 200 page guide to growing coffee outdoors. The reason I like it so much, other than it being a great grow-book, is that you can pretty much just substitute “Coca” for“Coffee” throughout the Guide. Check out this free downloadable resource.
Lots of people are already growing Coffee plants at home. If you want to check out actual greenhouse coffee growing, which is almost exactly the same process as growing Coca, check this coffee research website.
But back to the first question: why is high altitude always better for Coca? That’s what all the historical records say, and that’s why all the traditional Cocals are at altitude. Coca plantations in the jungle are only because it
doesn’t matter to the cocaine trade how high quality the leaves are – you can extract the Cocaine from low-quality jungle leaf just the same. But for highest quality leaf – you have to head for the light- or bring it in.
The secret to high quality Coffee and Coca leaf is in the ultraviolet part of the light, which becomes more intense and dominant the higher the altitude and the closer you are to the equator.
So if you’re growing outdoors, it looks like your sunniest location will be best as long as the mid-day sun isn’t so intense that it burns the young plants after you plant them out. Shade-starting is traditional for both Coca and Coffee plants, and gradual adaptation is used, but when mature both Coca and Coffee love the sun. When you are growing in a greenhouse, with or without light-assistance, you’ll be able to experiment and find just the right balance to use throughout their life cycle. Just like with Cannabis, I’m sure that Coca will respond to grow-lighting in ways that only experience can predict, and I’m also pretty sure that greenhouse and grow-lighting Coca experience is out there – it just isn’t being shared online yet. However my whole point in bringing up Coffee is that it responds exactly like Coca so anyone can get a very good idea of how Coca would do in their outdoor or greenhouse location by planting and raising a few healthy Coffee trees. Here again is the link to that free, beautifully photographed and very detailed coffee grower’s guide.
As we all know, to grow great Cannabis indoors you use high-intensity grow lights set up to allow you to vary the spectrum. It’s the same with Coca, the Opium Poppy, Coffee and every other treasured plant growing indoors under lights – there is an ideal spectrum for each point in the plant’s life cycle. I’m pretty sure that you could look at solar data for the Coca regions of the Andes and come up with a pretty good idea of a spectrum map for light-assisted Coca. For example, when you look at the bright yellow on this map of Peru above you can tell you’re looking at the solar intensity of the headwaters of the Amazon flowing down into the Amazon basin itself, which is the home of traditional Coca growing. This looks to me like a solar map of Coca’s natural environment – don’t you think? This is one of those areas where growers will gradually accumulate experience and it will become community knowledge.
In another post I discussed the historical evidence, mostly from the 1800’s, of vigorous efforts to introduce of Coca plantings worldwide, and took note of a number of places where Coca was grown as part of a botanical garden or conservatory display of Andean plant life.
A hundred and fifty years ago Coca was grown in almost every public Botanical Garden facility in the world and in quite a few private indoor gardens as well. Some of the more famous gardens with notable stands of Coca plants (usually with accompanying displays of how Coca is used by those quaint primitive Andean Indians) include; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London; the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden at Sydney, the Gardens at Versailles, and the Jardim Botanico at Rio de Janeiro.
Another beautiful example of an indoor Coca garden was the one created by Angelo Mariani at his company’s headquarters in France. This crude drawing hardly conveys what history describes as a complex of beautifully designed and innovative greenhouses as well as a production facility for “Vin Mariani” – pretty universally agreed to be the best Coca Wine ever created, although it was actually more of a Coca Tonic than a wine.
If you want to learn more about the fabulous Angelo Mariani and his empire of Coca wines, tonics and medicines you’ll enjoy exploring the archives of this blog. (It’s in French but easy to translate.)
All these successful indoor botanical and commercial Coca gardens showed that a modest level of Coca plant production is quite feasible and, once the gardens are well-established, they can be self-sustaining over decades. That makes it pretty easy to see that Coca plants can be successfully grown using modern indoor technologies.
Of course growing Coca plants indoors with the idea of producing Cocaine probably not be anywhere near profitable even if it were to be legal. That leaves markets the question of markets for the whole natural Coca leaf itself, and followers of this blog know that I see many ways that Coca Leaf can be the basis of a wide range of viable natural medicine businesses, as it already is in Peru and Bolivia.
But … now let’s mention the single greatest challenge to indoor Coca growing anywhere outside of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia – and possibly a few other places that remain nameless.
There are two ways to grow Coca plants – from seeds or cuttings. The biggest problem with growing from seed anywhere outside of the immediate area where the seed is harvested is that Coca seeds have a very short natural “shelf life”. The seed is protected by an outer protective fruit which begins decaying rapidly, and once the rot starts it renders the seed inside infertile.
However, I do hear from friends in the UK that growers there and in the Nether;ands seem to be getting good viable Coca seed from Indonesia – probably from somebody who has lifted a few Coca plants from the vicinity of one of the old Belgian, German or Dutch Coca plantations in Java and elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago. Good work plant hunters!
As far as I can tell nobody has been successful at removing or slowing the decay (anyone used nitrogen?) of the fruity shell or otherwise making Coca seed viable beyond 2-3 weeks, although a simple, slow air-drying process out of the direct sun seems to have worked very well for old-time growers in Java. Maybe that’s what is happening now.
So even a very modest-scale grower in, for example, the Western US, would have to have a very dependable source of at least several dozen viable seeds from the Andes to get started – no small task, to be sure. Any internet source would have to be carefully evaluated – there is a good chance that it might be either a con or a sting. If you find or know of a trusted source please let me know so I check it out and post a link here.
The better option for many growers may be cuttings although traditional Coca growers use this technique just when they expect to plant only a few crops of Coca in a patch, because Coca plants grown from cuttings are sterile. High-production Cartel Coca plantations don’t care about sterility but traditional growers do. Click here to check out the full book on historical Coca cultivation techniques.
Coca growers who plant from cuttings (what a lot of Cannabis growers call “cloning”) simply take a cutting with leaf bud activity but no leaves yet, and plant it in the shade by sticking it into a prepared container or soil bed. Nothing fancy – just good moist soil shaded from direct sun. And it’s easy to get growing plants from cuttings – Coca growers using this technique reportedly have a 75% or greater success rate. Remember this image from earlier in the post? Those are cloned Coca plants, not from seed. They are all uniform in shape and height, just as they should be.
Getting viable cuttings anywhere outside of Peru/Bolivia is still (3/21) a major obstacle facing anyone thinking of growing a Coca garden because cuttings don’t travel well if they dry out, and ideally they go directly from being cut to the rooting medium anyway. Of course any Andean nation could decide to open up the world to Coca cultivation simply by allowing their traditional Coca growers to supply seed and cuttings to the world market. The impact on GDP would be profound, with great benefits going directly to the traditional growing communities. This would be especially appropriate for Bolivia, where the Coca-growing communities have historically benefited least from the wealth generated by the plant they cultivate.
Another side to the challenge of small-scale Coca growing is that as just mentioned plants from cuttings are sterile (no seeds) so growers will have to get fresh cuttings annually or keep cloning existing plants – which will lead to genetic exhaustion pretty quickly. That means, importantly, that leaf production will fall and ultimately the plants will die off.
So growing a few dozen Coca plants would be no small operation even if Coca plants were suddenly legal. Obtaining high quality seed or cuttings from their source in the Andes in time to get a planting started would still be a challenge, but one that I’ll bet will get solved PDQ the moment it becomes clear that Coca can be grown in the first US state to allow it.
So who is it going to be? My bet is on Washington, Oregon or Colorado. But there are some mighty fine Coca growing environments in New Mexico, California and Arizona too. But IMO the top place in the US for Coca production would be Puerto Rico!
If you want to really dive into Coca science as it existed before the great suppression of knowledge that has accompanied the rise of Pig Pharma and the institutionalization of ‘illegal drugs’ then I have a suggestion for you.
After reading through this post you may enjoy browsing my ebook “Searching For Mama Coca“. “Searching” is a how-to handbook lovingly assembled from deep research into three centuries of Coca cultivation experience. With this little guide you can browse the historical experience behind every step of growing and harvesting Coca Leaf and then explore links to the full original sources through the hyperlinked bibliography.
“The Coca Leaf Papers” contains 5 complete full-text, digitized, hyperlinked books from the 1800s (with lots of internal links to digitized archives of earlier Coca books) detailing every aspect of Coca use, preparation and cultivation. If it were printed it would be over 800 pages.
I know that’s information overkill, but if you’re a Coca history fanatic like me then overkill is OK. This is a very easily-navigated eBook and it includes:
“History of Coca”, Dr. Golden Mortimer, 1901
“A New Form Of Nervous Disease: An Essay On Erythroxylon Coca”, Dr. William Searles, 1884
“Erythroxylon Coca: A Treatise On Brain Exhaustion”, Dr. William Tibbles, 1877
“Coca Erythroxylon: Its Uses In Treatment of Disease”, Angelo Mariani 1885
“Coca – Its Therapeutic Applications”, Angelo Mariani, 1890
Plus a groundbreaking English translation of the detailed inside story on Andean Coca
“Drug Wars & Coca Leaf In Brazil”, Ivan Barreto 2014
DIG IN AND HAVE FUN!
While you’re at it you may want to check out these other detailed Coca Leaf posts here on panaceachronicles.com
The Amazing Healing Power Of Natural Coca Leaf – Could It Be As Important As Aspirin?
Wild & Escaped Coca Species – Not Just In The Andes!
Wild Coca Species Are Broadly Distributed – Not Just In The Andes!
Coca Leaf Tea, CBD, Asthma & COVID 19 – Way Too Simple.
The Lost Secrets Of Coca Wine – It’s Coming Back In France Today
The Global Potential Of Coca Leaf Cultivation
Coca Rico? Puerto Coca? Coca once grew here. It could again.
Can Coca Leaf Provide Therapy For A Compromised Human Gut Microbiome?
Coca In Everyday Andean Communities (Great Video!)
Natural Medicinal Preparations Of Coca Leaf from the 1800s
Could Coca Leaf Be A Potential Treatment For Deadly Forms Of Fatigue?
Coca Leaf As A Potential Treatment For Deadly Forms Of Fatigue
20 thoughts on “Thoughts On Growing Medical Coca Leaf Outdoors & In A Greenhouse: Clues From Deep History”
What an amazing , informative article for an equally amazing plant. This is what the world needs to combat the obesity epidemic among many other ailments.
Thanks for your comment Mateo – the only way that this will happen is if the forces of ignorance and darkness can be overcome by the light of reason. I agree that the worldwide plague of obesity, which in many if not most cases is actually whole-body inflammation caused by toxic diets rather than over-eating, could be arrested in many cases by people having access to this simple, natural medicinal tea. Please tell the story on your social networks, and thanks again for taking the trouble to comment. Warm regards – Bill
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Hi Alexandria – thanks very much for your comment. It’s always good to know that I am not the only one who is thinking this way.
Warm regards – Bill
Hey Bill! I’m living in Perú now and plan to bring seeds to friends to have some indoor experimentation. Any ideas where to go for these? Research is coming up shallow. Cheers
Hi Reade – Of course I only know what I read, but everything ever written about cultivating Coca plants says that seeds have a very short lifespan and that cuttings are the only dependable way to propagate. Of course there’s the issue of keeping the cuttings alive until they can be rooted. I have heard stories of cuttings being woven into baskets, but have no idea whether or not these stories are true. I wish it was a simple matter, as it should be, for anyone to bring back a few starter plants, but there are lots of organized criminals, in and out of government, who don’t want that to happen. And I’m sure you know that some of these criminal government organizations monitor internet message traffic. Be careful, and thanks for your message.
i wolud like to growing coca leaf but i am from middle Europe is possible to have succes with this from seeds ? Becasuse coca leaf is pure energy and much more……
Thank you very much Petr.
Hi. Have you ever tried a Hypoxic Generator… it tricks the plant thinking its in Bolivia n high elevation?works great… lol
Hi Vinny – thank you! I’ll check it out. Best wishes – Bill
Hi bill I enjoyed your writing about the coca plants,I look forward to learning more! I started experimenting with some sensomealia a few years ago,I now know I will be a grower for life.thanks for your inspiration!
Wow. That was amazingly informative. I think you answered every question I could have thought of. I’m moving back to hawaii, where coffee grows very well, and thinking about growing some coca and kratum. No, I don’t give a shit about the law. I wasn’t there when they enacted them and no one asked me so I don’t give a shit if some bureaucratic dip shit thinks he can tell me what I can or cannot grow. If it makes me feel better, I’m going to find a way to obtain it. Like u said, ” people are like water, they always find a way”. BTW that is my new favorite saying. It replaces ” Proper Planning Prevents piss poor performance. Thanks again.
Thank you Lisa – I appreciate you taking the time to say hello. It’s good to know that my work is helpful.
If you’ll email me at email@example.com I ask my publisher to send you a link to download a free review copy of ‘Searching For Mama Coca’ which I think you’ll enjoy browsing. Thank you Lisa – Bill
Lisa Hart, I LOVE YOUR POST! A woman after my own heart.
Hi Bill, love your site. The criminal shut down and abuse of Peru + farmers this year, made me realize I need to learn to grow my own.. Sincerely agree with your thoughts about the healing and spiritual properties of coca opium cannabis tobacco..
Opium and Coca made illegal within a year of the Fed being founded? what a coincidence. Also respect you taking the time to digitize those books then only charging a few bucks; I had to read scans of them years ago. I look forward to reading some of your other work on an eink screen instead of a blinding computer.
Great article! I just ordered your book. Do the new laws in Oregon that were just passed change the game for the Coca plant?
Hi – thanks very much! Nothing yet changes the game but minds are changing and awareness is coming, thanks to people like you.
Only for possession. Growing organic plants would of course probably constitute manufacturing or something. Maybe you could get away with one plant or 2. Since the plant it’self is considered s1 substance..which is decriminalized in personal amounts. I’d guess harvesting the leaves might be when it’s not protected by the new law.
Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’m guessing that private personal cultivation is pretty well along based on what I’m hearing, but just like it took almost 100 years for the mindset on Cannabis to change from assassin of youth to powerful natural medicine I’m afraid that Coca Leaf is a long way from being legal. On the other hand, as long as you’re careful and DONT TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING if you have a source for cuttings or seeds you can just tell anyone who’s curious that you like raising bayleaf plants. That should handle most inquiries, other than official ones of course.
Hia! I’m from British Columbia Canada where there is happening a fentanyl overdose crisis. The government is decriminalising drugs across the board in response to the crisis and I am thinking of trying my hand at growing a coca plant in my indoor garden while it is decriminalized . Just curious if you could coach me a bit on what to do if I have problems. Also at some point I’d hope to have a government lisence to grow coca legally for the medical Industry in Canada. Thanks for your help!
Hi Chris – I’ve put everything I know into my books – “Searching For Mama Coca” is a little grow manual with everything I could find on Coca cultivation in 200 years of horticultural history. When you do become a grower, please share what you learn with others. Thanks for connecting.