Hi – this post just keeps growing as I add new information and links. I’m afraid its a bit jumbled since there’s so much here. If you don’t mind digging around a little you’ll find lots of useful, mostly long-lost knowledge on indoor Coca growing. It was widely grown in greenhouses in Europe and Asia in the 1800’s, and there were major plantations worldwide throughout that century.
That may seem a little wonderful and strange in today’s environment, but 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. Knowledge is power.
As the title of the post suggests, 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 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 no longer applies – especially to small, boutique or personal crops of Coca.
For example, it’s true 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.
You can’t tell the difference between the Coca and Coffee beans 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 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. 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.
With my grateful thanks to my friends who read this blog and have been asking me to write a book on growing Coca just like Cultivators Handbook of Marijuana I wrote back in 1969 to help kick start the Cannabis revolution – here it is.
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.