Hi – If you’re interested in growing Coca plants, and suddenly in 2021 many people are realizing they are, and if you enjoy digging around in the past, there is actually lots of long-lost knowledge on Coca Leaf growing and production out there and I’m dedicated to putting it together for you – so let’s take a look!
Shared knowledge is the People’s 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 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, and once you review all that science from the 1800s its 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 someday the Opium Poppy.
If this really resonates with your interests, after reading through this post you may enjoy browsing my new ebook “Searching For Mama Coca“. “Searching” is a how-to book full of gifts from the past, with all the key knowledge summarized and then hyperlinked to the original sources that are now digitized and available online. You can browse the core knowledge for every step of growing and harvesting Coca Leaf and then explore links to the full original sources through the hyperlinked bibliography.
Let Me Briefly Introduce Coca’s Amazing Cousin – Coffee
There are some amazing similarities between Coffee and Coca plants, flowers, beans and leaves. Those of us who love coffee know that it offers us both quality of life and many amazing health benefits, but we wouldn’t pop a caffeine pill and expect the same results. We might use No-Doz in college but that’s it for most of us. Starbucks would hardly make it dispensing little white caffeine pills covered with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.
The situation with Coca is completely reversed. Cocaine is everywhere but Coca Leaf tea can’t be found. Coca leaves are actually illegal. Is anyone else wondering what’s going on here? Simple cheap authentic Coca Leaf tea, which has centuries of documented hard evidence as a natural medicine, isn’t available anywhere while prices for poisonous ineffective prescription drugs that “treat” many of the same health issues are going out of sight.
The only Coca Leaf tea I find online is all “de-cocainized” leaf of dubious origin that tastes worse than any decaf coffee. Only people in Bolivia and Peru, and those of us from elsewhere on earth fortunate enough to have spent time in the Andes, understand what this simple fresh whole-leaf beverage can contribute to health, longevity and quality of life.
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 would no longer apply – 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′.
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, you may enjoy taking a quick look at how the Coffee plant grows – it happens to be Coca’s very close alkaloid relative and although you can actually kill yourself by snorting caffeine while a little Cocaine doesn’t hurt anyone, but the reality is that Coffee as a beverage and Coca Leaf as a tea are undoubtedly as beneficial to health and in many of the same ways.
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. 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.
So, Coffee plants offer a very useful model for Coca cultivation, whether under lights or in a light-assisted 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 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.)
The bottom line to all this is that it looks like pretty much anywhere in the world you can grow good Coffee you can grow good Coca, and that includes greenhouses and indoor grow spaces with the right kind of lighting at any altitude.
Still, there is a lot to be said for a little altitude. You may have heard coffee called “Java”? That’s because 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.
They are still there – wild Coca gone back to nature. Maybe some backpackers are walking right past some rogue Coca bushes right now. Maybe picking a leaf or two for tea a little later in the afternoon.
Kinda makes you feel like trekking, doesn’t it?
It sure makes me wish … if only I weren’t so old and creaky. But – back to growing your own Coca – er, coffee.
Inquiring minds may well ask – who would want to go to the trouble to grow coffee in a greenhouse? Well, maybe not for the Coffee – but have you ever tried Coffee Leaf tea? Talk about a great way to enjoy something very close to growing Coca in your own greenhouse or plant room. 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.
Of course, if you live in a country like Canada or the Netherlands it looks like growing Coca plants is already legal with some limitations, so if you’re already be thinking about having a few exotic plants, why not grow some Coffee alongside your Coca? Make things really interesting.
Coffee Leaf tea is totally unlike the brew of the roasted 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. Coffee shares many of the same complex alkaloids with Coca, and perhaps the biggest difference is that where Coffee has caffeine as a dominant alkaloid, Coca has Cocaine.
But just like with Coffee – who gets anything but an all-night study session out of Caffeine pills. 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 magic buzz of cocaine.
Aside from their very similar principal alkaloids, Coffee and Coca share many of the same array of beneficial alkaloids and other phytochemical properties. And also very interesting, the Coffee and the Coca “Bean” are hard to tell apart, and the seeds inside are quite similar in appearance.
I’ve always wondered if anyone has ever tried drying and roasting Coca seeds just like Coffee beans? Might be interesting.
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, choose a sunny spot. Well, Duh. But, when you are growing in a greenhouse, since you can produce as much ultraviolet and other key parts of the spectrum as your Coca plants need to thrive, 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 lighting in ways that only experience can predict, and that experience just isn’t out there yet. When I find it I’ll share it.
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 going to be 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. 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 (and accompanying displays of how Coca was used by those quaint 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.
If you want to learn more about the fabulous Angelo Mariani and his empire of Coca wines, tonics and medicines (and if you can read French) you’ll enjoy exploring the archives of this blog:
So, all these highly successful indoor Coca plant 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 the major issue with growing Coca plants indoors is that if you are growing them to produce Cocaine then you are going to have to have a shitload of indoor space and it would probably not be anywhere near profitable even if it were to be legal. This means that high-margin markets would have to be found for the whole natural Coca leaf itself, and followers of this blog know that I see many ways that this can be a viable natural medicine business, 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.
You can grow Coca plants two ways – 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 that renders the seed inside infertile.
However, growers around the world seem to be getting good seed from Indonesia – probably from somebody who has lifted a few Coca plants from the vicinity of one of the old Belgian Coca plantations in Java. Good work!
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.
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. Legitimate sources seem to be appearing although prices are astronomical right now.
The other, 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. (This ancient knowledge is all covered in the Coca Handbook.) Coca growers who plant from cuttings simply take a cutting with leaf bud activity and plant it in the shade by sticking it into a prepared 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.
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.
The other side to this problem is that as just mentioned plants from cuttings are sterile (no seeds) so the grower 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 will be Puerto Rico!
If you want to explore every aspect of long-lost Coca traditions, cultivation, uses and rituals, then you might want to check out my newest ebook “Coca Leaf Papers”
“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.
I know that’s information overkill, but if you’re a Coca history fanatic like me then overkill is OK. This easily-navigated eBook 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
You may want to check out these other popular 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!
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?
Could Coca Leaf Be A Safe & Effective Treatment For Asthma?
If you’ve come this far – thanks! This concludes the “greenhouse” part of the post but since you’re here I’m sure you’ll enjoy this last bit. I’ve recently come across a brilliant, passionate piece of writing that makes the case for the liberation of Coca as well as I’ve ever seen it made, and I want to share it with readers of this post.
Here are a few quotes from an essay entitled “The Case for Coca and Cocaine: Bolivia’s March to Economic Freedom”, written by a candidate for a JD law degree named Daniel Tyler Cook. It was written in 2004 and as far as I can tell, remains buried in the law school archives. It is a brilliant summary of Coca’s place in Bolivia’s culture and economy and a disciplined, passionate argument for the liberation of Coca and Bolivia.
The author begins:
“For centuries, the Bolivian people have engaged in an intimate relationship with coca. Ancient Indian communities cultivated and consumed coca as a part of their cultural lives. Today, at least one million Bolivians still consume coca in some form. Indeed, coca is recognized as the most indispensable of Bolivian crops to its citizens. Coca also constitutes the raw material for cocaine. This fact ignites international concern, principally in the United States. As a result of the international drug trade, coca and its regulation has shaped, and continues to shape, Bolivian foreign affairs and domestic policy.
“The U.S.-led “war on drugs” has primarily targeted the coca growing Andean Nations, including Bolivia. In doing so, the United States targets the supply side of the drug trade, attempting to eradicate drug production in these source countries with the aim of preventing consumption within U.S. borders. While drug use and abuse might justify such policies from a North American perspective, a Bolivian perspective could hardly justify current international coca policies. Rather, such a U.S.-led perspective exposes the inefficacy of current drug policies aimed at Bolivia.
“This Note attempts to provide an assessment of current U.S.-backed drug policies from a Bolivian perspective. Part I traces the history of coca/cocaine production, use, and legislation in Bolivia and in the international community in order to demonstrate the integral role played by the United States in Bolivia’s coca regulatory regime. Part II examines alternatives to current Bolivian drug policies and offers a different approach to coca/cocaine regulation. This approach emphasizes Bolivian interests over the interests of other countries, specifically the United States, by proposing a unilateral approach to drug regulation to benefit and buttress Bolivia’s culture, society, and economy. This Note concludes that Bolivia’s acquiescence to a self-interested U.S. drug policy not only fails to promote Bolivia’s interests, but also causes more harm than it alleviates.
He concludes the essay, many fact-filled pages later, with this:
“Many of the problems associated with the above-mentioned anti-drug policies do not relate to their moral or practical worth. It is reasonable to assume that a nation would pass laws prohibiting or regulating drugs or crops used in producing drugs. Yet, drug prohibition or regulation is not a necessary action by any means. While the United States chooses to wage its war on drugs, it does not follow that Bolivia should do so as well. In light of the Bolivian reality, coca/cocaine prohibition has substantial costs that might outweigh any benefits prohibition fosters.
“Nonetheless, at present, the policy initiatives summarized and critiqued above have failed to provide for Bolivia’s interests. These policies have taken profitable opportunities from Bolivia’s farmers and growers without providing economically viable alternatives to coca. These policies have replaced the coca/cocaine earnings with U.S. economic aid. In essence, Bolivia has moved from living independently to something akin to living on food stamps. It has become a debtor nation by sacrificing its most profitable cash crop, the coca plant. And it has done this at the urging, indeed the coercion, of the United States.
“Bolivia would be better off if it precluded the United States from playing any role in its drug policies. As long as Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere and the United States the richest, the two nations cannot negotiate freely and equally. As long as this relationship exists, any agreement between the two undoubtedly inculcates U.S. interests over Bolivian interests. While the United States has a drug problem, Bolivia does not. Bolivia’s citizens do not consume drugs at such high rates as do U.S. citizens. Moreover, the United States’ primary cash crop has not been targeted as illicit because of a derivative product banned throughout the world. The two nations stand in remarkably different positions. As such, the two nations are not in any sort of position to engage in bilateral action on an issue that affects each differently.
Now check this conclusion by the author – all I can say is RIGHT ON!
“This Note suggests that Bolivia divorce the United States as a partner in its drug control policies. If done, Bolivia would be free to regulate coca without fretting over foreign aid the United States foists upon it. This loss of income undoubtedly has consequences. Yet, other nations might pick up where American aid leaves off, narrowing some of the gap. Moreover, without intense drug interdiction and enforcement efforts, Bolivia would save money administratively. And, through liberalization of its drug laws, particularly with regard to coca, much of the Bolivian population can return to attainable goals of sustenance without worrying about violating any of a number of drug laws.
“Bolivia might also legalize cocaine as a commodity. While its export would face severe restrictions, legalization might actually have the effect of assisting international drug regulation. In essence, if Bolivian traffickers were forced to procure cocaine through a legal channel, foreign governments could easily locate those people attempting to smuggle drugs across borders. If traffickers were still able to obtain cocaine clandestinely, legalization would most likely have the effect of raising cocaine prices to pay for the intermediary buying the licit drugs to sell to traffickers engaged in the illegal international drug trade. Ultimately, a comprehensive regulatory cocaine regime would create employment opportunities in a legal market, while regulations would keep cocaine from becoming any more dangerous than it already is in a vast, illegal market. Indeed, the violence associated with an illegal drug market would diminish substantially if the illicit market were converted to a licit market.
“In Bolivia’s interest, strict coca regulations would cease, and Bolivians would again be allowed to produce coca to consume and sell on the open market. Confrontations between Bolivian drug police and cocaleros would undoubtedly lessen, limiting dissension and saving lives. With the legalization of cocaine, an illicit market diminishes. The Bolivian government would then assume the power to regulate cocaine production, distribution, and consumption within its borders. The country concomitantly would save needed funding that currently goes to eradication and supply-side reduction efforts that fail to benefit Bolivia’s interests. In the end, Bolivia’s citizens would prevail.
University of Minnesota Law School Scholarship Repository, Minnesota Journal of International Law 2004 “The Case for Coca and Cocaine: Bolivia’s March to Economic Freedom”, Daniel Tyler Cook