Thoughts On Coca, Cannabis, Opium & Tobacco – Gifts Of The Great Spirit

Leave a comment

The Amazing Healing Power Of Natural Coca Leaf

CocaFlowersxThe range of diseases and conditions that were successfully treated and cured by European and US physicians using Coca Leaf over the course of hundreds of years should be truly amazing to us in the 21st Century, even those of us who have been propagandized into believing that allopathic medicine and modern science have “made great strides”, “revolutionized the treatment of disease”, yada yada.

As you look over the table below you might reflect on how little actual progress has been made in the treatment and cure of so many diseases, although we have certainly developed a lot of impressive technology and there have been some dramatic, if somewhat mixed-blessing advances such as antibiotics.

However, let me point to just one example; with all of our vaunted antibiotic technology huge numbers of people still die of Pneumonia – a deadly condition that doctors of the 18th and 19th centuries who were familiar with Coca leaf (and who didn’t resort to poisonous ‘remedies’ like Mercury, Arsenic and Bleeding) were quite often able to treat and reverse successfully with a few cups a day of Coca Leaf tea.

Also, since many of today’s most destructive diseases did not exist, or didn’t have a name during those earlier centuries, this post is intended to point to the historical record that strongly suggests that if pure, natural Coca Leaf were freely available today as a natural medicine it could lift the immense burden of these modern conditions and diseases from tens of millions of people virtually overnight, with no “side effects”, no risk, and for literally pennies a day.

Freely available Coca Leaf would literally destroy the market for useless, often even dangerous pharmaceuticals as well as the incredibly lucrative market for America’s beloved over-the-counter “remedies” – which, of course, would guarantee strident howls of objection and opposition. Americans spend $625 Billion a year on the over 300,000 “Over The Counter” medicines that promise relief from pain and suffering of all kinds.

Here is a table taken largely from the work of Dr. Golden, whose “History of Coca” (1901) outlines the conditions and diseases that were known in the 1800’s to be treatable and curable by Coca Leaf, along with number of diseases and conditions that have been largely ‘discovered’ in the century since Dr. Golden wrote. I believe that the evidence that he and other physicians and scientists recorded in their times shows that simple natural Coca Leaf infusions and extracts could prevent, treat and perhaps cure these modern diseases and conditions where the products of “Pig Pharma” so often fail.

Please consider the physical, emotional, spiritual and financial impact on the lives of millions of individuals and their families if even one or two of the conditions/diseases in the following table were proven beyond all doubt, using all of our contemporary research powers, to be either effectively treated or actually cured by drinking Coca Leaf Tea alone – no other treatments or medications needed.

And once you have reflected on this, if you are a strong advocate of legal Cannabis perhaps you’ll consider adding Coca Leaf to your demands that the US government and Pig Pharma back off and go away.


If you would like to read Dr. Golden’s extraordinary “History of Coca” I have digitized his book and it is available here. ($1.99 for the full 251 page book plus bibliography).

I have kept all of the original illustrations intact and – most importantly – I have hyperlinked as many of Dr. Golden’s bibliographic references to the original source materials as I could track down, almost all of them freely available in internet historical book archives.

Have fun – I certainly did while tracking down and studying these obscure but critically important resources for treating and healing disease using one of the most amazing natural medicines ever.


Growing Medical Coca Leaf In A Greenhouse: Clues From Deep History

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 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.

If this resonates with your interests, after reading through this post you may also enjoy browsing my ebook “Searching For Mama Coca“. “Searching” is a how-to book full of gifts from the past, with centuries of key Coca cultivation knowledge summarized and then hyperlinked to long-lost original sources now digitized and available online. With this guide 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.

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′.

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.

                                             Magic COCA Beans


                                                       Magic COFFEE Beans

As we go further into it you’ll see 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. 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.

Still, 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 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 and elsewhere in the archipelago like Sumatra.

They are still there – wild Coca gone back to nature. Maybe some backpackers are walking right past some rogue 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.  Kinda makes you feel like trekking, doesn’t it? 

Inquiring minds may well ask – who would want to go to the trouble to grow coffee in a greenhouse or in their garden? Well, plenty of people do grow, harvest, roast and brew their own beans from a few Coffee plants, and they talk online about their experiences, but 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. I’m hoping to have myself a place soon where I can play with intercropping coffee and cannabis and other interesting combinations.

   Coca seedlings ready to plant out – Colombia

Of course, if you live in a country like Canada or the Netherlands it looks like growing Coca plants is already legal, though with some limitations, so if you’re already be thinking about having a few Coca plants, why not grow Coffee 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 has ever tried drying and roasting Coca seeds just like Coffee beans? Might be an interesting variation on Coca Leaf tea if it hasn’t been tried.

Brewed Roasted Coca Beans. How cool could that be? I sure hope Juan Valdez is listening.

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 (and maybe the Coca Bean) while being force-fed the magic buzz of cocaine. Besides, my own experience is that a double shot of excellent espresso and a nice little line of uncut cocaine have a lot in common – would you maybe agree?

     This Nice Little Coca Tree is good to go!

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.

                                   Traditional Coca Cultivation Is A Family Thing

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

                                  Tossing The Fresh Coca Leaf Harvest

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.

CocaGraphic21xIf 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.

London – Greenhouse Coca from Java seeds (Mateo)

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.

This ancient knowledge is all covered in the Coca Handbook. 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.


Coca seedlings ready to plant out in full sun

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!

                              Beautiful Little Mama Coca!

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.

“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


While you’re at it you may want to check out these other detailed Coca Leaf posts here on

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

Could Coca Leaf Be A Safe & Effective Treatment For Asthma?

Now For Something Special

If you’ve come this far – thanks! This concludes the “greenhouse” part of the post but since you’ve made it to this point 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. A full-text link is at the end. 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


Introduction To The History Of Coca

This post is from Chapter One of “The History of Coca” which is part of the historical literature documented in my ebook “The Coca Leaf Papers“. For those who are unfamiliar with the long and proud legacy of pure, natural Coca as a medicinal plant this introduction should serve to convince that Coca Leaf is far different in its medicinal qualities from the synthetically extracted alkaloid Cocaine, which is only one of the 19 known alkaloids of the Coca Leaf, and only one among hundreds of bio-active components of the leaf.

Chapter One (from) The History of Coca by Dr. William Golden Mortimer MD, 1901
IF MAN were asked what one boon he would prefer of all Earth’s bounties or Heaven’s blessings, his response must be – the power of endurance. The capability to patiently and persistently do best that which the laws of life or the vagaries of association necessitates. Search for this one quality has been the impetus to inspire poet and philosopher since man’s first appreciation of his mortal frailty. A something which shall check, within himself at least, the progress of time, the ravages of age, and the natural vacillation of conditions or environment. Wealth, and power, and greatness, and skill, must alike fall into insignificance without this one essential attribute to success. The artist in impressionistic work, the poet in soulful muse, the musician in celestial chords, the soldier in the mad rush of battle, the artisan in the cleverness of device, the merchant in the intricacies of commercial problems – even the most prosaic delver in life’s plodding journey – each hopes to display a virility from which the slightest weakness is deprecated as humiliating. Work, indeed, is necessary to existence. It is the price – as the ancients considered – which the gods set on anything worth having. It is the power to do this work – to gain happiness for ourselves, which is the demand of modem necessity. To be enabled to keep active until the human machine may wear out as did the ‘wonderful one-hoss-shay,” rather than rusting into a state of uselessness.

Human endurance, bounded by natural limitations, is still more closely environed by the results of a higher civilization, which presents the remarkable anomaly of two opposite conditions. While increasing, through the refinements of hygienic resources, the average term of life, it crowds man in the struggle for existence, into a condition where he is rendered less capable physically for fighting the battles into which he is thrust. So, from a natural life of pronounced perfection where his trials have been essentially muscular, he is gradually evolving into an artificial existence of eminently nervous impulse. If this be so, then the interest in any means which shall tend to establish and maintain a balance of force, should not be merely casual, but must be earnest and persistent to any who have regard for life’s best qualities, and this interest must constantly increase with the retirements of time.

Even though others may point the way, everyone must fight his own battles. To each of us the world will appear as we may shape it for ourselves – a thought poetically expressed by the composer Wagner, who said: “The world exists only in our heart and conception.” This shaping, if done by weakly hands or influenced by troubled brain, may not always prove symmetrical. A sensitive imagination, sharply attuned, jars discordantly amidst inharmonious surroundings, which will be all the more harshly apparent if made possible through a known impotence

The Nature Of The Life Force

There is a fund of force communicated by the Creator to all things. It is the primal factor not only of man’s existence, but of his continued being, and the activity which it generates is necessary to life, just as a cessation of energy means death. This fact has ever been so much a portion of the human mind that it requires no philosophic training to implant. It is not alone the savage who regards examples of vigor and prowess as ennobled emblems of a supreme being, while the sick or even the weak are looked upon as possessed of some evil spirit to be exorcised by priest or medicine man. This belief, whether superstitious or not, is pre-eminent and widespread. It is not only manifested by the ignorant, but often by the educated as well. The effort to ward off disease through wearing some particular substance as a talisman is a practice prompted by this feeling, which is not wholly relegated to bygone days, and the belief in amulets, rings, or the influence of certain precious stones is still prevalent every where.

There is supposedly some deeply hidden mystery about Nature in her varied presentations, which if it does not control presumably influences the curative art. It is not only those who consider that “yarbs should be gathered at a certain time of the moon,” but the laity quite generally suppose there is a specific for every disease if not every condition, which if not immediately forthcoming upon inquiry must be revealed by more diligent search. Nor is this belief – even though vague – indulged in merely by the unthinking, but every where about us there is a tendency against accepting rigid facts, and inevitable truths, particularly when applied to one’s self. “All men think all men mortal but themselves” is surely a well founded adage. The result is a groping after that all necessary something, which shall supply this very apparent want, a craving for endurance in all we are called upon to bear. As Cicero has expressed it : “If not destined to be immortal, yet it is a desirable thing for a man to expire at his fit time, for, as Nature proscribes a boundary to all other things, so does she also to life.” The practical side of this idea was once advanced to me by an, elderly patient who said : “I don’t want to controvert Nature, but I do want to be as comfortable as possible while I am here.”

There has been a numerous order of philosophers not content with simple well being, who sought for that perpetual youth – that elixir vitae- which might give at least prolonged existence even if not rejuvenation. These did not commence with Faust nor end with Brown-Sequard. Happily the search for this substance – even though originating in a sanguine imagination – has often ended in findings that have been extremely important. Just as when Juan Ponce de Leon sought the Fontaine de Jouvence in the Island of Bimini, though he failed to locate the fountain, he did discover a land of perpetual youth, if we may so entitle the ever-blooming peninsula. Possibly it was because of some such spirit of inquiry into the vague depths of the unknown, where was presumed there might be some revelation to this knowledge of a perpetual vigor, which prompted a desire for exploration. Nature has always been ready to answer such seeking by her munificence, which, if not in the direction at first wished, has at least encouraged man to new desires.

The discovery of the Western Continent, whether due to the forethought or ignorance of Columbus, or to the hardihood of the Norsemen several centuries before his time, brought a multitude of bounties to humanity. Among these none is greater than the countless plants which have been gradually unfolded to usefulness by the processes of science. Particularly is this true of the economic and medicinal plants of South America, which on the eastern declivity of the Andes and towards the valley of the Amazon, spring forth in all the luxuriance of the tropical jungle, over a vast portion of which it is supposed the foot of man has never trodden. In this locality – and among this wild profusion, grows a beautiful shrub, the leaves of which in shape somewhat resemble those of the orange tree, but in color are of a very much paler green, having that exquisite translucence of the most delicate fern. The properties of this plant more nearly approach that ideal source of endurance than is known to exist in any other one sub stance. Its leaves have been used by the natives of the surrounding country from the earliest recollection, as a masticatory, as a medicine, and as a force sustaining food. Its use is not confined to emergency, nor to luxury, but as an essential factor to the daily life work of these people. As a potent necessity it has been tenderly cared for and carefully cultivated through the struggles, trials and vituperation it has been the occasion of during so many hundreds of years, until to-day its cultivation forms the chief industry of a large portion of the natives and a prominent source of revenue to the governments controlling the localities where it is grown.

The Early Inca In Nature’s Garden

During the early age, when this nature’s garden was unknown to the rest of the world, the Incas, who were then the dominant people of this portion of the continent, regarded this shrub as “the divine plant,” so all important and complete in it self, that it was termed simply “khoha”, meaning “the tree”, beyond which all other designation was unnecessary. This plant, which has been described under a variety of names but now known as Coca, has appealed alike to the archaeologist, the botanist, the historian, and traveler as well as to the physician. Its history is united with the antiquity of centuries, while its traditions link it with a sacredness of the past, the beginning of which is lost in the remoteness of time. So intimately entwined is the story of Coca with these early associations – with religious rites, with superstitious reverence, with false assertions and modem doubts – that to unravel it is like to the disentanglement of a tropical vine in the primitive jungles of its native home.

Antedating historical record Coca was linked with the political doings of that most remarkable people of early American civilization who constituted the Incan dynasty. Since the conquest of Peru it has continued to form a necessary factor to the daily life work of the Andean Indians, the descendants of this once noble race. So important has it been held in the history of its native land that it has very fit tingly been embodied in the escutcheon of Peru, along with the vicuna and the horn of plenty, thus typifying endurance with the versatile riches which this country affords.

The first knowledge to the outer world concerning Coca followed Pizarro’s invasion of Peru, though the actual accounts of its properties were not published until some years after the cruel murder of Atahualpa – commonly regarded as the last Incan monarch. The effort made by the Spanish to implant their religion raised the cross and shrine wherever possible, which necessitated the founding of numerous missions, in charge of fathers of the church. These men in holy orders were often as tyrannical as those who bore arms, yet fortunately there were some in both classes less cruel men of liberal attainments who appreciated the importance of preserving the traditions and records of this new country. To the writings of some of these more kindly disposed personages, as well as to the earnest labors of a few young nobles who were in the army of invasion, whose spirit for a conservative exploration was greater than for destructive conquest, we are indebted for the facts which form the foundation of this early history. Many of these writers had personally seen the result of the Incan civilization before its decay, and had opportunity to collect the native stories, as retold from father to son, through generation after generation, oral tradition being the early Peruvian method for continuing a knowledge of events. Unlike the Mexicans, these people had no picture writings to tell their doings in a series of hieroglyphics, nor had they a written language. But the story of this once mighty empire is told in its wonderful ruins, and through the relics of skillfully molded pottery, and textile fabrics in exquisite designs, which all indicate a remarkable civilization. Historical facts were related by regularly appointed orators of phenomenal memory, who on all state occasions would recount the occurrences of the preceding reign, being aided in this recital by a novel fringe-like record of colored cords, known as the quipu. By the aid of this, as a sort of artificial memory, they told, as a monk might tell his beads. The various knots and several colors of the contrivance designating certain objects or events. In all these relations the Coca leaf was repeatedly and reverently alluded to as a most important element of their customs, as well as of their numerous feasts and religious rites.

Spanish Barbarians In Nature’s Garden

The Spanish idea of conquest was to establish a complete mastery over the Peruvians; the Indians were to be regarded as slaves to be bought, sold, and used as such. In view of these facts it is not difficult to understand that as Coca was constantly employed among the natives, its use was early questioned and condemned as a possible luxury, for it was not considered a matter worthy of inquiry as to any real benefit in a substance employed by slaves. So superficial were the observations made by some of the early writers that the fact of this neglect is most apparent. Thus, Cieza de Leon, a voluminous writer on Incan customs, mentions as a peculiar habit of the natives: “they always carry a small leaf of some sort in the mouth.” Even so experienced an observer as Humboldt, in his writings of many years later, did not recognize the true quality of Coca, but confounds the sustaining properties of the leaf as due to the alkaline ashes – the “llipta” – which is chewed with it. He refers to the use of this lime as though it be longed to the custom of the clay eaters of other regions, and suggests that any support to be derived from it must necessarily be purely imaginary.

It is not surprising that Coca chewing, if superficially viewed, should be condemned. The Spanish considered it merely an idle and offensive habit that must be prohibited, and at one time it was even seriously suggested that the plants should be uprooted and destroyed. But it was soon seen that the Indians could not work without Coca, and when forced to do so were unequal to the severe tasks imposed on them. As, however, the local tribute to the authorities demanded from all able bodied laborers a fixed amount of work, it was soon appreciated as a matter of policy that the use of Coca must at least be tolerated in order that this work should be done. Then the Church, which was from the invasion an all-powerful force in this new country, exacting and relentless in it demands, saw an imaginative evil in this promiscuous Coca chewing. If Coca sustained the Indians, it was of course a food, and its use should not be allowed before the holy Eucharist. Necessity brought forth a deliverer from this formidable opponent, and it was represented that Coca was not an aliment, and so its use was reluctantly permitted.

But now came still another effort to prohibit it, from moral motives. The Indian believed in Coca, he knew that it sustained him without other food in his arduous work, but it had been conclusively shown that it was not a food, and so could not sustain, hence his belief was false, superstitious, even a delusion of the devil to warp the poor Indian from the way he should go. Greed, however, predominated, as gold has ever been a convincing factor, and as the Indian could do most work when supplied with Coca, its use was finally allowed unrestricted, and today a portion of Coca is given to all Andean laborers as part of their necessary supplies.

So it will be seen that like all scientific advances which have been made, since Prometheus incurred the wrath of Jove by stealing fire from the gods to put life in mortals, until the present time. Coca has not been admitted to acceptance unassailed. That spirit of antagonism which seems rampant at the very suggestion of progress has caused its allies to rehabilitate and magnify the early errors and superstitions whenever opportunity might admit, together with those newer accessions of false premises engendered through shallowness of investigation. Every department of science has been subjected to similar instances of annoyance, though it would appear that medicine is particularly more subject to such influence. At first a partisan sentimentality, with an exaggeration which provokes condemnation and often results in oblivion, or what in calmer judgment may be a true balance of worth.

It is amusing to now look back at some attacks which were hurled against substances that all the world to-day considers as necessities. The anӕsthetic use of chloroform was at first regarded as unholy because it was asserted man is born unto pain as he is unto sin, and so should bear his necessary sufferings in a holy and uncomplaining manner. Every physician frequently meets with just such original and plausible opposition to suggested remedies today. When in 1638 Cinchona was introduced into Europe under the name of “Jesuits’ powder,” it was vigorously denounced as quackery. So great was the prejudice that sprang up against it, even among those eminent physicians whom we now look back upon as the fathers of medicine, that when Chiftelius, in 1653, wrote a book against “the bark,” he was complimented as though he had relieved the world of a monster or a pestilence. For years it was not countenanced by “the faculty,” and the various arguments then advanced concerning its supposed action form curious reading. The opposition to vaccination, in 1770, was something which excited not only the protests of physicians and learned societies, but the clergy and laity as well. The College of Physicians shook its wise head and refused to recognize Jenner’s discovery. The country doctor was considered something of a bore. Innumerable other instances might be cited to testify to this negative spirit prompted by any advance.

Among food products, the humble potato when introduced into Scotland, in 1728, was violently denounced as unholy because “not mentioned in the Bible.” It was asserted that it was forbidden fruit, and as that was the cause of man’s first fall, to countenance its use would be irreligious. In France, so strong was the feeling against the introduction of potatoes that Louis XVI and his Court wore the flower of the plant as a boutonniere to give the much opposed- but desirable – potato at least the prestige of fashion. Tea, coffee and chocolate have each been denounced, and from very high sources too. “A lover of his country,” as he designated himself, in 1673, proposed to Parliament “the prohibition of brandy, rum, coffee, chocolate and tea, and the suppressing of coffee houses. These hinder greatly the consumption of barley, malt and wheat, the product of our land.” Here would seem to be an ulterior motive that is almost suggestive of the commercial spirit often now displayed, which would suppress one product that another may be permitted to flourish regardless of merit.

As an argument against the pernicious and growing tendency to use tea and coffee, after they had been rendered palatable through knowing how to use them, a Dr. Duncan, of the Faculty of Montpelier, in 1706, wrote: “Coffee and tea were at the first used only as medicine while they continued unpleasant, but since they were made delicious with sugar, they are become poison.” The Spectator of April 29th, 1712, urges against the dangers of chocolate as follows: “I shall also advise my fair readers to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolates, novels, and the like inflamers which I look upon as very dangerous to be made use of during this great carnival.” Opinion on these beverages is not unanimous today even, as harmless as they are commonly considered. Alcohol and tobacco of course have come in for an unusual share of denunciation, and the argument is not yet ended. From these through the entire range of stimulant-narcotics, each has excited such vigorous protests that the very term stimulant is considered by some as opprobrious. How real must be the merit that can withstand such storms of abuse, and spring up, perennially blooming, through such opposition!

Confusion & Dismay Over The Coca Plant

Coca is unparalleled in the history of plants, and although it has been compared to about every plant that has any stimulating quality, it is wholly unlike any other. In this comparison tobacco, kola, tea, mate, guarana, coffee, cacao, hashish, opium, and even alcohol, has been referred to. It has been made to bear the burden of whatever evils lurk in any or all of these, and has unjustly been falsely condemned through such association. That Coca is chewed by the South American Indians and tobacco is smoked by the North American Indians, that Coca is used in Peru and opium or betel is used in the East – is a fair example of this comparison. It no more nearly resembles kola – with which it is often carelessly confounded, the properties of which are chiefly due to caffeine – than through the allied harmony of its first syllable. While a similarity to various substances taken as beverages is possibly suggested through the fact that Coca is sometimes drunk in decoction by the Peruvians.

The cerebral effects of Coca are entirely different from hashish or opium, and its stimulant action in no way comparable to alcohol. I do not mention these substances to decry them, but merely to illustrate the careless comparisons which have been advanced, through which imperfect conclusions must necessarily be drawn. Then again there is an unfortunate similarity between the pronunciation of the names Coca, and cocoa or cacao – the chocolate nut, and coco – the coconut, which has occasioned a confusion of thought not wholly limited to some of the laity.

The fact remains that though Coca is used by millions of people, it is not generally known away from its native country. Even many physicians constantly confound it with allied plants of dissimilar properties or with substances of like sounding name. That this is not simply a broad and hasty statement may be illustrated by the following fact. The writing of this work was prompted by the immense divergence of published accounts regarding the efficacy of Coca, in view of which an effort was made to learn the result of its use among a representative class of practitioners, each of whom it was presumed would be well qualified to express an opinion worthy of consideration. An autograph letter, together with an appropriate blank for reply, fully explaining the desirability for this data, was prepared, of which ten thousand were sent out. These were addressed to professors in the several medical colleges, and to those prominent in local medical societies – all eminent in practice. Many did not reply, while of the answers received, fully one half had “never used Coca in any form.” Of the balance, many are “prejudiced against its use,” through some preconceived notion as to its inertness, or through some vague fear of insidious danger which they were not prepared to explain, and even preferred not to inquire into, being “satisfied it is a dangerous drug.”

There are others who inadvertently confused Coca with some of the confusional drugs already referred to or with cocoa. That this was not merely an apparent fault, through some slip of the pen in hasty writing, is shown by direct answer to the question as to the form of Coca found most serviceable, stating so and so’s “breakfast coca” is used in place of tea or coffee. In some instances the benefits of Coca were enlarged upon with an earnestness that was inclined to inspire confidence. The physiological action was gone into minutely and its therapeutic application extolled, only to conclude with the amazing statement that the fluid extract, the wine, or “breakfast coca” were interchangeably used, thus displaying a confusion worse confounded which might be amusing if not so appalling.

These confusional assertions display one source of error, yet in view of the entwined facts concerning Coca through literature and science it must emphasize the unfortunate neglect of observation, and the refusal to recognize advancement manifest even in this progressive age, among some whose duties and responsibilities should have spurred to a refinement of discernment. It is suggestive of the anecdote told by Park, who when in his Eastern travels asked some Arabs what became of the sun at night, and whether it always was the same sun, or was renewed each day, was staggered with the reply “such a question is foolish, being entirely the reach of human investigation.” Replies fully as surprising were received in this inquiry.

Several have taken the “moral” side of the question quite to heart, and expressed a belief that through advocating the popularizing of Coca, I was tending to contribute to the increase of a pernicious and debasing habit which was already undermining the morals of the community. Others again have tried to show me the error I had fallen into when speaking of the dietetic uses of Coca. As one gentleman emphatically expressed it: “This is some terrible mistake, you are confounding Coca with Cocoa! Cocoa is used for food, but Coca – never.” So that even that part of my investigation pursued among modem medical men has not been as easily carried out as might at first be supposed. There has been the same or similar ignorance and error to sift apart from truth as encompassed the early historical associations of the plant.

This unfortunate confusion is probably to be accounted for because Coca was largely used empirically and without a proper appreciation of its physiological action before its properties were fully known. Writers who have described its local use among the Andean Indians have advanced statements regarding its sustaining qualities which have not been verified by some observers elsewhere located, even though these latter may have carried out a careful line of physiological experimentation. The explanation of this has only recently been determined, but is now known to be due to the extreme volatility of the associate principles of Coca.

Recent, or well cured and properly preserved Coca is wholly different from leaves which have become inert through improper treatment. Then again as our botanical knowledge of this plant has increased, it has indicated that not all leaves termed Coca are such. The family to which the classic leaves of the Incans belong has many species. Among the particular species of Coca there has only quite recently been determined several varieties. The properties of these differ materially according to the presence or absence of certain alkaloidal constituents. Some of the early experiments upon the properties of Coca were made at a time when these facts were unknown, and with this, was the added disadvantage of the impossibility of then obtaining appropriately preserved Coca in the open markets. Not only may the substance examined have been inert, but through different observers using different varieties of Coca the conclusions could not possibly agree. Unfortunately because of the apparent carefulness of research these early statements were accepted and given a wide publicity, and so from the marvelous apparent benefits of Coca among native users to the absolute inertness pronounced by some foreign observers, there has been a very wide space for the admission of much distrust. The busy physician must commonly accept the result of the provings of the experimentalist, and amidst so much doubt it may have seemed easier to set aside a possible remedy than to have personally verified the assertions. Indeed, trial has only too often depreciated hopes from a happy realization of the wonderful properties attributed to the use of native Coca on the Andes, to a realization of the uncertainty of the marketed product at command. In which connection it may not seem too astonishing to say I know of an instance where Senna leaves were sold by a whole sale drug house for “fresh Coca leaves,” while I doubt if any drug house would make a distinction in offering the casual purchaser any variety of Coca at hand.

It was because of “this uncertainty” – of the conflicting stories and the impossibility to unify facts – that interest in Coca, which had been stimulated in Europe by Dr. Mantegazza about 1859, soon declined until disuse almost left it in forgetfulness. About this time Niemann, then a pupil of Professor Woehler, isolated the alkaloid cocaine from the leaves, and attention was again awakened to the possible usefulness of the parent plant. It was supposed, however, that the active principle to which all the sustaining energy of Coca was due had been discovered in cocaine. Here again was a radical error, and an unfortunate one as it has since proved, to still more confound an intricate problem. This is particularly serious because it is widely accepted as truth, not only among many physicians, but also because it has been spread by this misunderstanding through the secular press, and so falsely impressed the laity. As a result, cocaine has been promiscuously used as a restorative and sustainer under the supposition that it is but Coca in a more convenient and active form. The evils which have followed this use have fallen upon Coca, which has often been erroneously condemned as the cause. It is owing to the wide spread of this belief as well as its resultant evil and because of the difficulty for the lay mind to appreciate the radical difference between Coca and cocaine – between any parent plant and but one of its alkaloids – that it must necessarily require long and persistent effort on the part of educated physicians to explain away this wrong, to reassure those who have been falsely informed as to the real merits of Coca, and so reflect credit upon themselves through the advocacy and use of a really marvelous remedy.

One Forceful Truth

The truth cannot be too forcibly impressed, that cocaine is but one constituent, and no more fully represents Coca than would prussic acid, because found in a minute quantity in the seeds of the peach, represent that luscious fruit. In emphasizing this a recent investigator who passed a long period in the Coca region, studying as a scientist the peculiarities of the plant, and watching as a physician its effect upon native users of the drug, says: “With certain restrictions it may be said that the properties of cocaine, remarkable as they are, lie in an altogether different direction from those of Coca as it has been reported to us from South America.” So it will be seen that because of misconstruing early tales and superstitious beliefs, because inert leaves have not yielded results of the sound plant, because some different variety has not yielded the same results as the classic type, because one of its alkaloids does not represent the whole, the parent plant is condemned. Because of this ignorance of certain investigators the historical accounts of the use of Coca and its sustaining qualities among the natives, have been set down to exaggeration or absolute fabrication. As one physician replying to my inquiries would have others believe “The Indians are great liars.” Thus from ignorance, neglect or from false conception, Coca was either wholly ignored or little understood in a popular way, until in 1884 a renewed interest was awakened through the discovery of the qualities of cocaine as an anaesthetic in the surgery of the eye. Then, as though forgetful of all preceding investigation or condemnation, a renewed discussion commenced regarding the asserted qualities of Coca, the failure to realize them, and the probable source of potency of the plant as represented by cocaine.

This was followed by frequently reported accounts of a new and terrible vice which was springing up everywhere – the so-called “cocaine habit.” For this Coca was condemned as its enemies pretended to now see the real element of perniciousness. Yet before cocaine was ever dreamed of and during the long centuries in the history of Coca, not one case of poisoning from its use has ever been recorded. The accusation of “habit” had, however, long before been erroneously directed against the leaves. But of this, one who wrote scientifically and extensively on Peru after personal observation, sets forth his conclusions in the following positive way: “Coca is not merely innocuous, but even very conducive to health. ”He even calculated the improbability of harm by estimating, if an Indian reached the age of one hundred and thirty years – which seems to be the only “habit” to which these people are addicted beside the “habit” for hard work – he would have consumed two thousand seven hundred pounds of leaves, an amount sufficient to have quite fully determined all pernicious possibilities. Indeed, to think of Coca as an injurious substance suggests the character in one of Madison Morton’s farces who wished to “shuffle off” speedily, and determined to chew poppy heads “because poppy heads contain poppy seeds, and poppy seeds eaten constantly for several years will produce instant death.”

The theory has been advanced that because cocaine is one of the chief alkaloids of Coca, it represents whatever sustaining quality the leaf can possibly have, and manufacturers base their choice of leaves upon the percentage of cocaine determined by assay. But this is not in unanimity with the selection of the native users of Coca, any more than would the quality of a choice tobacco leaf be governed by the amount of nicotine it contains. The fact is the Andean Indian selects Coca that is rich in the more volatile associate alkaloids and low in cocaine. It is what is known as the sweet in contra-distinction to the bitter-leaf, which latter is made bitter by the large amount of cocaine it contains. On this very point an authority says: – “It only remains for me to point out that the relative amount of cocaine contained in native Coca leaves exerts no influence in determining the Indian’s selection of his supply. As a matter of fact, the ordinary conditions to which the leaves are subject during the first two or three months after they are gathered have but little effect upon their original percentage of cocaine. The Indian, however, makes his selections from among such leaves with the greatest care, eagerly seeking the properly dried leaves from some favorite cocal, whose produce is always most readily brought out, and absolutely rejecting other leaves, notwithstanding that the percentages of cocaine may be almost identical.”

The absolute reliance of the Andean Indians upon Coca not only for sustenance, but as a general panacea for all ills, has naturally led them to feel a superstitious regard for the plant. This reverence has descended to them from the Incan period, during which the shrub was looked upon as “a living manifestation of divinity, and the places of its growth a sanctuary where all mortals should bend the knee.” However much the Incas reverenced Coca they did not worship it; it was considered the greatest of all natural productions, and as such was offered in their sacrifices. Their ceremonial offerings were made to their conception of deity – the sun, which they held to be the giver of all earthly blessings.

The ideas of moral depravity, and the fears of debasing habit following the use of Coca, have sprung from false premises and early misconceptions as to the true nature of the plant. As a matter of fact, neither “habit,” as that is understood, nor poisoning has ever been recorded against Coca among the natives where it has been continued in use for centuries. Those early writers on Andean customs who allude to Coca chewing all speak positively against any evil result following its use. One physician, after being intimately associated among the natives for nearly a year, where he had witnessed the constant use of Coca, failed to find a single case of chronic cocaism, although this one subject chiefly occupied his attention, and he searched assiduously for information. Speaking of the amount used, he says “what it does for the Indian at fifteen it does for him at sixty, and a greatly increasing dose is not resorted to. There is no reaction, nor have I seen any of the evil effects depicted by some writers and generally recorded in books.”

The early objections by the Spanish against the use of Coca were rather as persecutions, intended to still further oppress this conquered race by taking from them what was looked upon as an idle and expensive luxury. But Coca-chewing could never be an expensive luxury in a country where it grows wild, and where it is given by those in charge of laborers as a regular portion of each man’s daily supplies. The later cries against its perniciousness, as has been shown, were based wholly upon the action of cocaine following the widespread use of that alkaloid as a local anӕsthetic. The reports in the medical press of injurious effects from the use of cocaine all date from the period when the entire medical world was active in the discussion of the merits of this great boon to minor surgery. It would seem that many then rushed into print without regard to method so long as something was said about the all-absorbing topic of the time, which might direct a portion of attention to themselves. A new opportunity had arisen when old tales and early prejudices might be again reiterated concerning Coca. The lay press was not slow to take up the sensational side of the subject, and the ‘cocaine habit” soon became a well-determined condition in theory, and a fashionable complaint. I have personally investigated a number of such reported cases and in every instance have found either that it was a condition engrafted upon some previous “habit” in a nervous subject, or else that the report was absolutely false. There is no motive – as the lawyers would say – for the offense, there is no reason for the establishment of a habit such as exists in the case of alcohol or opium. The fact is there exists a certain class of subjects who are so weak in will power, that if they should repeat any one thing for a few consecutive times they would become habituated to that practice. But such cases are the exceptions, and have no especial bearing upon Coca. In the collective investigation among several thousand physicians, this matter was particularly impressed as an important point of inquiry and the answers sustained the facts already explained, that a “ Coca habit has never existed. During the early part of 1898 a case was reported very sensationally in the secular press regarding a Dr. Holmes who had died in an asylum at Ardendale, N. Y., a hopeless wreck as a result of cocaine habit. I communicated with the physician in charge of that institution and was promptly assured “Dr. Holmes did not die as a result of ‘cocaine habit,’ nor had he ever been addicted to it.”

That Coca has survived the attacks which have been periodically hurled against it during several hundred years, and that its use is not only continued, but its therapeutic application constantly increasing, must suggest to the thinking mind that it is possessed of remarkable value. It has continued with the Andeans not because they have formed a “habit” for it, not because it fills their minds with that ecstatic and dreamful bliss as habit drugs would do, but because experience has taught them that they can perform their work better by its use. There is a practical utility in it which, as will be seen when detailing some of the customs of these people, is so exact that they measure their distances by the amount of Coca that they chew instead of by the rod and chain, or chronometer. Their use of this plant is continued day after day during a long lifetime, yet the amount of Coca which sustains them in young adult life is not increased in their old age. Its force product is a constant factor, just as a given amount of water under proper conditions wall make a known amount of steam. The fuel taken and the work performed is always the same, other conditions being equal.

Can it be presumed for a moment that if this general and persistent use of Coca is a depraved habit, sapping the best of moral qualities, even manhood, unfitting its users to perform their duties, that these people would be capable of the immense amount of physical work which they do? It is known to be a fact by those employing large forces of workmen in the Peruvian mines, that the Indian would not and could not perform the tasks he is set to under the exposure he is subjected to without Coca. This is well shown by contrast when foreigners are compelled to work with them, and are unable to perform an equal amount of labor to theirs until they too have recourse to the use of Coca. Thus it must be seen that Coca is as worthy today as it was in the time of the Incas of being termed the “divine plant.” It is Nature’s best gift to man. It neither morally corrupts nor undermines manhood, or vitality, as is well shown in these Indians, who are long-lived and are held by those who know them best, to be conservative, respectful, virtuous, honest and trustworthy, addicted to hard work – and the use of Coca, that they may more thoroughly and successfully do that work.

That any plant or substance which has been continued in daily use by millions of people over a vast territory, for many hundreds of years, should have so long remained unrecognized by the world at large seems almost incredible. Yet the fact is undoubted, as has been shown, and Coca is even today unknown to a great majority of not only the masses, but of physicians. Since the date of the Conquest, the constant use of Coca leaves by the Indians has been frequently referred to by travelers, often superficially, yet commonly agreeing as to its sustaining qualities. But so wonderful have these accounts seemed that their simple relation has usually excited doubt rather than belief. They have been looked upon as “travelers’ tales,” relations due to an imagination, which possibly had been expanded by the conjoined influence of a rarefied atmosphere, and an exalted desire to enhance the wonders of travel. So from doubting qualities which were long looked upon as improbable or unexplainable, and from the inaccuracies recorded by those who affected scientific research on old leaves, it was but a simple step to relegate the very existence of the plant to the legendary.

It has been shown in outline how varied were the causes to account for this unbelief, and the consequent neglect which followed. Primarily to superficial observation on the part of early explorers in an unknown country, where consideration for mere existence was to the unacclimated often of the first importance. Added to this was the conservative reticence of the Indians, and their superstitious regard for this plant so
intimately linked with their religious and political life. This alone was sufficient to prevent the ready acquirement by travelers of a detailed knowledge of the use of Coca, or even of native customs and the reason for them.

Here was sufficient possibility for hasty conclusions, aside from the forceful attacks of both Church and State against what they were pleased to regard as the continuance of a superstitious practice or vulgar habit, which possibly linked the desires of these people whom they hoped to Christianize, with an idolatrous past. Then, too, there existed as now, a class of zealots seeing imaginative wrong in every custom, who would have every act discontinued simply because it is done, in dread of some direful consequence which may result. In furthering each of these negative influences, theories were often advanced at variance with existent facts, and so many conflicting tales and much confusion has resulted. Absurd stories have been published, and these again copied without apparent attempt at verification, the whole establishing a falsity from which there has grown a diversity of opinion wholly inconsistent with the exact requirements of science. Meanwhile the rapid progress of the world in exploration often engrossed attention to the exclusion of details. The demand of commercial interests, for broad facts and immediate results in the amassing of wealth, diverted attention from the tales of travelers or the disputes of scientists. But as a higher civilization demands the resources of the universe to maintain its conditions, the secret of Nature’s gift to the Andean could not remain long hidden, and the means which afforded support for these simple people was recognized as of possible benefit to the rest of the plodding, toiling world. As Coca was shown to be a necessity to the Andean in his toilsome travels of exposure, its adaptability was suggested to other members of the human family elsewhere located who are comparatively as subject to privation and hardship as are these primitive people. Even in our great cities among modern resources the labor is exacting and exhaustive, and whether the work done be a strain of muscular exertion or a prolonged mental effort, the resultant wear and tear is similar, and the conditions are to be met by recourse to the most expedient means available.

Unfortunately the Spanish invasion of Peru so largely destroyed all native records that it has been difficult to readily retrace a continued history of the remarkable people of this early civilization, among whom our story of Coca must begin. But from the period of the Conquest, after it had been made known to the outer world Coca was frequently sung in poetry or recounted in the tales of travelers. It however continued, since the privilege was extended from its early users to their descendants, to almost exclusively be enjoyed by these people until less than half a century ago.

In properly determining the benefits of Coca it seems desirable to trace back its historical connections and its associations between past uses and present necessities, as well as to inquire into those surroundings which have prompted its use and called for its continuance. This must necessarily lead us through many interesting fields where the view may seem remote from our narrative, yet is essential to the full under standing of a story the first impulse for which was generated in the horrors of the Conquest. Before entering upon this more prosaic story, I wish to recall a writing of long ago that is fittingly associated with our History of Coca.

Dr. Abraham Cowley, of whom Dr. Johnson said “In Cowley’s mind botany turns into poetry”, in 1662 wove the qualities of Coca through a legendary tale so accurately and charmingly that these have scarce been added to by the research of other scientists.

At a convention of the gods, which was presided over by Venus, to discuss various fruits, the merits of each was set forth by its god. The poem is taken up where Bacchus, in illustration of the virtues of the vine, has offered a cup of wine to a South American godling:

He, unaccustomed to the acid juice,
Storm’d, and with Blows had answer’d the Abuse.
But fear’d t’engage the European Guest.
Whose Strength and Courage had subdu’d the East ;
He therefore chooses a less dangerous Fray.
And summons all his Country’s Plants away ;
Forthwith in decent order they appear.
And various Fruits on various Branches wear.
Like Amazons they stand in painted Arms,
Coca alone appear’d with little Charms,
Yet led the Van, our scoffing Venus Scorn’d
The shrub-like tree, and with no Fruit adorn’d,
The Indian Plants, said she, are like to speed
In this dispute of the most fertile Breed,
Who choose a Dwarf and Eunuch for their head;
Our Gods laughed out aloud at what she said.
Pachamama defends her darling Tree,
And said the wanton Goddess was too free ;
You only know the fruitfulness of Lust.
And therefore here your judgment is unjust.
Your skill in other offsprings we may trust.
With those Chaste tribes that no distinction know
Of Sex, your Province nothing has to do.
Of all the Plants that any Soil does bear.
This Tree in Fruits the richest does appear.
It bears the best, and bears them all the Year.
Ev’n now with Fruits ’tis stor’d – why laugh you yet ?
Behold how thick with Leaves it is beset ;
Each Leaf is Fruit, and such substantial Fare.
No Fruit beside to rival it will dare.
Mov’d with his Country’s coming Fate (whose Soil
Must for her Treasures be exposed to spoil)
Our Varicocha first this Coca sent,
Endow’d with leaves of wond’rous Nourishment,
Whose juice Succ’d in, and to the Stomach tak’n
Long Hunger and long Labour can sustain ;
From which our faint and weary Bodies find
More Succor, more they cheer the drooping Mind,
Than can your Bacchus and your Ceres join’d.
Three Leaves supply for six days’ march afford ;
The Quitoita with this Provision stor’d
Can pass the vast and cloudy Andes o’er,
The dreadful Andes plac’d ‘twixt Winter’s Store
Of Winds, Rains, Snow, and that more humble Earth,
That gives the small, but valiant, Coca birth ;
This Champion that makes war-like Venus Mirth.
Nor Coca only useful art at Home,
A famous Merchandize thou art become ;
A thousand Paci and Vicugni groan
Yearly beneath thy Loads, and for thy sake alone
The spacious World’s to us by Commerce Known.
Thus spake the Goddess (on her painted Skin
Were figures wrought) and next called Hovia in,
That for it’s stony Fruit may be despis’d,
But for its Virtue next to Coca priz’d.
Her shade by wond’rous Influence can compose
And lock the Senscs in such sweet Repose
That oft the Natives of a distant Soil
Long journeys take of voluntary Toil,
Only to sleep beneath her branches’ shade ;
Where in transporting Dreams entranc’d they lye
And quite forget the Spaniards’ Tyranny.
– Book of Plants.

1 Comment

Early Spanish Encounters With The Divine Plant

This passage from Dr. William Mortimer’s classic “History of Coca” will give you some idea of the diversity of experiences that the early Spanish had with the divine plant that formed the basis of Inca Empire’s religious, economic and social life. As you can see, some were contemptuous, and some were ignorant, but many were also enlightened and some were overwhelmed with visions of the potential of this plant for both commerce and for the healing arts. 

The Incas regarded Coca as a symbol of divinity, and originally its use was confined exclusively to the royal family. The sovereign could show no higher mark of esteem than to gift of this precious leaf upon those he wished to endow with an especial mark of royal favor. So when neighboring tribes who had been conquered by the Incas, acknowledged their subjection and allegiance, their chiefs were welcomed with the rank of nobles to this new alliance and accorded such honors and hospitalities as gifts of rich stuffs, women and bales of Coca might impress.  

At the time of Mayta Ccapac – the fourth Inca, his queen was designated Mama Coca – “the mother of Coca,” as the most sacred title which could be bestowed upon her. From so exalted a consideration of the plant by royal favor, it was but a natural sequence that the mass of the people should regard Coca as an object for adoration worthy to be deemed “divine.”   

Cristoval Molina, a priest at the  hospital for the natives at Cuzco, from whose work we have drawn our account of the rites and festivals of the Incas, related the method of using Coca by high priests in conducting sacrifices, as Cieza with the material instinct of the soldier, saw only the physical or  superstitious element in the use of Coca  among the Indians, so this priest traced for us its spiritual association with the ceremonies of the people. Thus there was early interwoven the factors of prejudice and superstition, a popular adoration of the masses, and a blending of these with a religious regard for Coca, for the teachings of the Church were engrafted upon existing customs in order to hold the people.  

The first scientific knowledge of Coca published in Europe was embodied in the writings of Nicolas Monardes, a physician of Seville, in 1565, from material possibly gained from Cieza, though it would seem that he had intimately examined the Coca shrub. A translation of this work was made a few years later by Charles l’Ecluse – a botanist and director of the Emperor’s Garden at Vienna – which was published in Latin at Antwerp, and this is often quoted as the earliest botanical reference to Coca. The Kew Library possesses a translation of this book, “made into English” by John Frampton and printed in black letter with the curious title:  “Joyful News out of the Newe Founde Worlde, wherein is declared the Virtues of Hearbes, Treez, Oyales, Plantes and  Stones”.  

As showing the discernment in this botanical description of Coca made so many years ago, it may not be uninteresting to read a paragraph translated from the very language of Monardes :  

“This plant Coca has been celebrated for many years among the Indians, and they sow and cultivate it with much care and industry, because they all apply it daily to their use and pleasure. It is indeed of the height of two outstretched arms, its leaves somewhat like myrtle, but larger and more succulent and green (and they have, as it were, drawn in the middle of them another leaf of similar shape); its fruit collected together in a cluster, which, like myrtle fruit, becomes red when ripening and of the same size, and when quite ripe it is black in color. When the time of the harvest of the leaves arrives, they are collected in baskets with other things to make them dry, that they may be better preserved, and may be carried to other places.”

This description will hold equally good to-day. The peculiar leaf within a leaf arrangement formed by the curved lines on either side of the midrib, being a marked characteristic of Coca. When Hernando Pizarro returned to the court of his king, with the first fruits of the golden harvest from the New World, he probably took with him specimens of Coca. This plant could not have failed to have awakened at least the curiosity of the invaders, because of the numerous golden duplications of the Coca shrub and of its leaf that had been found in the gardens of the Temples of the Sun, at Cuzco and elsewhere among the royal domains of the Incas. So that whatever the prejudices may have been regarding the use to which  Coca was put by the Indians, these golden images at least would prove sufficient to excite admiration and comment.  

Another voluminous writer upon the early Peruvians is Joseph de Acosta, a Jesuit missionary who made a passage across the Atlantic in 1570, which he assures us: “would have been more rapid if the mariners had made more sail.”  After his arrival at Lima he crossed the Andes by the lofty pass of Pariacaca to join the Viceroy Toledo, with whom he visited every province. In the higher altitudes of the mountains the party suffered severely from the effects of the rarefied atmosphere, with which he was afterwards prostrated upon three successive occasions, while he also was severely annoyed from snow blindness, for which he relates a homely remedy offered him by an Indian woman, who gave him a piece of the flesh of the vicuña, saying, “Father, lay this to thine eyes, and thou shalt be cured.” He says: “It was newly killed and  bloody, yet I used the medicine, and presently the pain ceased, and soon after went quite away.”

Of Necessity, Some Spaniards Begin To See The Light 

Father Acosta was a man of great learning, an intelligent observer, and had exceptional opportunities for collecting his information. His work on the Natural History of the Indies ranks among the higher authorities. He has given a very extensive description of Coca, and, referring to its employment, says: “They bring it commonly from the valleys of the Andes, where there is an extreme heat and where it rains continually the most part of the year, wherein the Indians endure much labor and pain to entertain it, and often many die. For that they go from the Sierra and colde places to till and gather them in the valleys; and therefore there has been great question and diversity of opinion among learned men whether it were more expedient to pull up these trees or let them grow, but in the end they remained. The Indians esteemed it much, and in the time of the Incas it was not lawful for any of the common people to use this Coca without license from the Governor. They say it gives them great courage, and is very pleasing unto them. Many grave men hold this as a superstition and a mere imagination. For my part, and to speak the truth, I persuade not myself that it is an imagination, but contrawise I think it works and gives force and  courage to the Indians, for we see the effects which cannot be attributed to imagination, so as to go some days without meat, but only a handful of Coca, and other like effects. The sauce wherewith they do eat this Coca is proper enough, whereof I have tasted, and it is like the taste of leather. The Indians mingle it with the ashes of bones, burnt and beat into powder, or with lime, as others affirme, which seemeth to them pleasing and of good taste, and they say it doeth them much good. They willingly imploy their money therein and use it as money; yet all these things were not inconvenient, were not the hazard of the trafficke thereof, wherein so many men are occupied. The Lords Yncas used Coca as a delicate and royall  thing, which they offered most in their sacrifice, burning it in honor of their idols.” Again, when speaking of the importance of the trade in Coca, he says: ”It seems almost fabulous, but in truth the trafficke of Coca in Potosi doth yearly amount to above half a million of dollars; for that they use four score and ten or four score and fifteen thousand baskets every year.”

This extensive mining centre in the southern part of Bolivia is some three hundred miles south of Sandia, which is today the very heart of the Coca region of Caravaya. These mines were at an altitude of seventeen thousand feet, and Garcilasso says the Indians applied the term Potosi, literally “a hill” to all hills. In the Aymara tongue Potosi means, “he who makes a noise” and the Indians have a legend which suggests the derivation of the name from such a source. When  Iluayna Ccapac caused his people to search this mountain for silver, a great noise came from the hills warning the Indians away, as the protecting genius destined these riches for other masters. Within a short time after the Incas had discovered silver here over seven thousand Indians were at work mining the precious ore.    

Once the Spanish were secure in their governance they forced the Indians to labor in veritable slavery through an enactment which drafted a certain number from each of the adjoining provinces. This law, known as the mitta, instituted under Toledo, required all Indians between the ages of eighteen and fifty to contribute a certain labor, which amounted to eighteen months during the thirty-two years in which they were liable. For this they were paid twenty reals a week, and a half real additional for every league distant from the village of Potosi. During the year 1573 the draft of Indians for this labor amounted to 11,199,  while a hundred years later – in 1673 – it drew only 1,674, showing that cruelty and hardship had depopulated the province nearly ninety per cent.

So extensive were the mining operations at Potosi that the place had the appearance of a great city. Every Saturday the silver was melted down and the royal fifth was set aside for the Spanish crown, and although this amounted during the  years 1548 to 1551 to three million ducats, it was considered the mines were not well worked. In those times the markets or fairs were important functions, and that of Potosi was looked upon as the greatest in the world. It was held in the plains near the town, and there the transactions in one day were said to amount to from twenty-five to thirty thousand golden pesos. Coca being a prominent commodity in the reckoning, owing to its absolute necessity in the arduous work exacted from the Indians.

Because of this need the highest price was obtained for Coca in this region, where every indication was presented for its use – the extreme altitude of the mines, the mental dejection of slavery, and the enforced muscular task of the Indian with insufficient food. This labor was found to be utterly impossible without the use of Coca, so that the Indians were supplied with the leaves by their masters, just as so much fuel might be fed to an engine in order to produce a given amount of work. Garcilasso tells us that in 1548 the workers in these mines consumed 100,000 cestas of Coca, which were valued at 500,000 piasters.  

This absolute necessity was the sole reason for the Spanish tolerance to the continuance of Coca; they saw that it was indirectly to them a source of wealth, through enabling the Indians to do more work in the mines. As the demands of labor increased the call for Coca, situations for new cocals, where a supply of the plant could be raised to meet this want, were pushed further to the east of the Andes, in the region of the Montaña. To make favorable clearings numerous tribes of savage Indians, who had not been previously subdued by the Incas were driven from the Peruvian tributaries of the Amazon further into the forests.  

Agustin de Zarate, who was contador real or royal comptroller, under the first Viceroy, Blasco Nuñez Vela, in his history of the discoveries of Peru, in writing of Coca, says: “In  certain valleys, among the mountains, the heat is marvellous, and there groweth a certain herb called Coca, which the Indians do esteem more than gold or silver; the leaves thereof are like unto Zamake (sumach); the virtue of this herb, found by experience, is that any man having these leaves in his mouth hath never hunger nor thirst.”  

Garcilasso Inca de la Vega – as he delighted in terming himself – has very rightly been classed as an eminent authority on Incan subjects. His father, who was of proud Spanish ancestry, illustrious both in arms and literature, came to Peru shortly after the Conquest, served under Pizarro, and after the overthrow of the empire, when the Incan maidens were assigned to various Spanish officers, his choice fell upon the  niece of Inca Huayna Ccapac, who in some manner had been preserved from the massacre which had followed upon the death of her cousin, Atahualpa. It seems fitting that a son of such parentage should embody in his writings facts which he had obtained from both branches of the family tree, and because of this his work is accepted as a reliable presentation.

That this Incan author was well qualified to speak upon Coca there can be no doubt, for he owned an extensive cocal on the River Tunu, one of the tributaries of the Beni – which drains the Montaña for Pancartambo – where there are still numerous cocals. This plantation was started in the twelfth century during the reign of Inca Rocca, when that king sent his son with fifteen thousand warriors to conquer the savage tribes of Anti-suyu.  

Lloque Yupanqui advanced to the River Paucartambo and thence to Pillcu-pata, where four villages were founded, and from Pillcu-pata he marched to Havisca, and here in the year 1197 was located the first Coca plantation of the Montaña on the eastern base of the Andes. This Incan plantation became an inheritance of Garcilasso from his father, but was forfeited by the historian because of his parent’s early defection to the cause of Gonzalo.

And Then The Light Begins To Take Effect

The work of Garcilasso is interesting as embracing with the relation of others that of Father Bias Valera, whose manuscripts have since been lost, and in this embodied record we have the only available account of one who was a close observer of Incan customs during a residence of many years in  Peru. To the peculiar wording of the work of this author we may trace an oft-repeated error regarding the Coca shrub, which he describes as “a bush of the height and thickness of the vine.” Whether this designation of vine refers to the grape, which in some vineyards is grown as a low clump resembling a bush, or whether the term vine simply alludes to the delicate nature of the Coca shrub, can only be inferred. It has introduced a source of inaccuracy among some who have since drawn their description of the plant from this record. One author has even amplified this early comparison by saying that the Coca bush “twines about other plants for support.  

Valera, in describing the leaves of Coca, says: “They are known by Indians and Spaniards alike as Cuca, delicate, though not soft, of the width of the thumb and as long as half a thumb’s length, and of a pleasant smell.” In his day the Indians were so fond of Coca that they preferred it to gold, silver and precious stones. He has given us a careful account of the diligence which is necessary in the several stages of its  cultivation and the importance of the final gathering of the leaves, which he says, “they pick one by one by hand and dry them in the sun.” He, however, wrongly viewed the method of use, and supposed that the leaves were merely chewed for their flavor and that the juice was not swallowed.  

Referring to the general employment of Coca for a variety of purposes, he says: “Coca preserves the body from many infirmities, and our doctors use it pounded for applications to sores and broken bones, to remove cold from the body or to prevent it from entering, as well as to cure sores that are full of maggots. It is so beneficial and has such singular virtue in the cure of outward sores, it will surely have even more virtue and efficacy in the entrails of those who eat it !” Nor did this observant author fail to recognize another important use in which this famous plant was practically serviceable. A tax of one-tenth of the Coca crop was set apart for the clergy, of which he says: “The greater part of the revenue of the bishops and canons of the cathedrals of Cuzco is derived from the tithes of the Coca leaves.”  

There is a marked contrast between the open, conscientious manner of Valera’s writings with that of other Spanish authors, who displayed an abhorrence for all the customs of the Indians. Thus Cieza, reflecting this superstitious prejudice, tells us that the old men of every tribe actually conversed with the arch-enemy of mankind. Referring to the Incan rite of burying bags of Coca with their dead, as a symbol of support for the departed in a journey to the eternal home, he mockingly says, “as if hell was so very far off.” The good padre, in his appeal for the continuance of Coca, has shown a liberality for such a period of bigotry which might be well for the consideration of others in even this more enlightened age. Thus he writes:

“They have said and written many things against the little plant, with no other reason than that the Gentiles in ancient times, and now some wizards and diviners, offer Cuca to the idols, on which ground these people say that its use ought to be entirely prohibited. Certainly this would be good counsel if the Indians offered up this and nothing else to the devil, but seeing that the ancient idolaters and modem wizards also sacrifice maize, vegetables and fruits, whether growing above or under ground, as well as their beverage, cold water, wool, clothes, sheep and many other things, and as they cannot all be prohibited, neither should the Cuca. They ought to be taught to abhor superstitions and to serve truly one God, using all these things after a Christian fashion. Surely, an impartial judgment, which is worthy of present acceptation.” 

Garcilasso has added to this account some further particulars made familiar to him through his intimate acquaintance with the cultivation and care of Coca. In his quaint verbiage, which has possibly suffered through translation, he says of the shrubs: “They are about the height of a man, and in planting them they put the seeds into nurseries, in the same way as in garden stuffs, but drilling a hole as for vines. They layer the plants as with a vine. They take the greatest care that no roots, not even the smallest, be doubled, for this is sufficient to make the plant dry up. When they gather the leaves they take each branch within the fingers of the hand, and pick the leaves until they come to the final sprout, which they do not touch, lest it should cause the branch to wither. The leaf, both on the upper and under side, in shape and greenness, is neither more nor less than that of the arbutus, except that three or four leaves of the Cuca, being very delicate, would make one of arbutus in thickness. I rejoice to be able to find things in Spain which are appropriate for comparison with those of that country – that both here and there people may  know one by another. After the leaves are gathered they put them in the sun to dry. For they lose their green color, which is much prized, and break up into powder, being so very delicate, if they are exposed to damp, in the cestas or baskets in which they are carried from one place to another. The baskets are made of split canes, of which there are many of all sizes in these provinces of the Antis. They cover the outside of the baskets with the leaves of the large cane, which are more than a tercia wide and about half a vara ( 1 vara = 33 inches) long, in order to preserve the Cuca from wet, for the leaves are much injured by damp. The basket is then enveloped by an outer net made of a certain fibre.” Referring to the extreme care essential for its preservation,  this Incan author concludes: “In considering the number of things that are required for the production of Cuca, it would be more profitable to return thanks to God for providing all things in the places where they are necessary than to write concerning them, for the account must seem incredible.”

Father Thomas Ortiz, who accompanied Alonzo Niño and  Luis Guerra in their expedition in 1499, described the use of  Coca by the natives along the coast of Venezuela under the term “hayo”.  

Antonio de Herrera, who was royal historian under Philip II, drew his facts from correspondence with the conquistadors, and his history, which is divided into eight decades, covers the period of the Spanish discoveries. In speaking of the customs of the northern provinces, he refers to “the herb which on the coast of the sea is called hayo”. The word hayo has been shown to belong to the vocabulary of the Chibchas and is generally applied to Coca by several tribes bordering upon the northern coast of South America.

Among some of the earlier Spanish writings of this section Coca is alluded to as “hay,” and doubt has been expressed as to whether this is identical with hayo, presumably derived from agu, to chew; but the absence of the final vowel, according to a writer who is familiar with this region, does not signify, while it is absolutely certain that all the species of Erythroxylon which are today used in Venezuela and along the  Caribbean Sea are termed hayo. Even the Erythroxylon cumanense, HBK, is called by this name and not that of ceveso as mentioned in the description published by Kunth.  

The account which Ortiz gives of the plant used by the Indians of Chiribiche does not exactly correspond with the Coca shrub, though what he says of the leaves and their use among the Indians is correct. Gomara, in speaking of the customs of the Cumana, confirms the account given by Ortiz. At present Coca is not very extensively grown through Venezuela. The ancient cocals on the peninsula of Guajira are becoming extinct on account of excessive drought, while the cultivation of tobacco has proved a more profitable industry and is better adapted to the climate.

We know that prior to the Conquest the province of the  Incas extended north to Quito, having been conquered by Huayna Ccapac some years before for his father, Tupac Inca Yupanqui, by which conquest the powerful State of Quito, which rivaled Peru in wealth and civilization, was united to the Incan Empire. When Huayna Ccapac succeeded his father, this newly acquired kingdom became his seat of government, and here with his favorite concubine, the mother of Atahualpa, he spent the last days of his life. Because of this removal of imperial influence far from the original home of the empire at Cuzco may be attributed one source of the final weakness of the Incas, for it may be recalled that at the time of Huayna Ccapac’s death the kingdom, which now extended over such immense territory, was for the first time divided under two rulers, one-half being given to his son, Huasca, and the other half to his son Atahualpa. It therefore seems quite probable that as the interests of the government extended northward the customs of the  people of the lower Andes should follow, and be propagated among a people where similar conditions called for whatever  beneficial influence might be derived from the use of Coca.  From Quito travel northward, aided by the canoe navigation of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, would rapidly carry the  customs of the people of the south to the northern coast,  where, as shown by early historical facts, commerce was so extensive as to favor the adoption of the habits of the interior.  

There are still many tribes along the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta who have preserved their ancient customs and habits from prehistoric times, for it is known that the Spanish were never able to completely attain possession of this region. It has been suggested that these Indians had never been subject to a king as were the Incas, while their country was so extremely fertile that when pursued by the Spanish they merely destroyed their homes and took up habitations elsewhere, depending upon a bountiful tropical vegetation for their support. In marked contrast to the Indians of New Grenada, the Peruvians were accustomed to subjection under their Lord Inca, and at the time of the Conquest they were obliged to  submit themselves to their new masters, for if they abandoned their homes and the lands which they had cultivated to flee to the barren mountains or snowy plains they must also give up their means for subsistence. Piedrahita speaks of the use of Coca along the northern coast, and says that the leaves were  chewed by the Indians without lime, an addition which he suggests was earned from the Incan domains to the northern  Indians by the Spaniards after the Conquest.

The expedition of the French mathematician La Condamine, which went to Quito in 1735 to measure an arc of the meridian in the neighborhood of the equator, and thus verify the shape of the earth, was made memorable through a host of important scientific discoveries, primary among which was the introduction  of many new plants into Europe; among these was caoutchouc or India rubber.  Accompanying this expedition was Antonio d’Ulloa,  a Spanish naval officer; Godin, Bouguer and the botanist, Joseph de Jussieu, whose name is associated with the classification of Coca. Condamine was the first man of science who examined and described the quinquina tree of Loxa, of which Linnӕus in 1742 established the genus Cinchona.

Jussieu travelled on foot as far as the forests of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, collecting botanical specimens from the richness of the Peruvian flora. Many of his exploratory trips were hazardous in the extreme, and in 1749, while crossing the Andes to reach the Coca region of the Yungas of Coroico, he  nearly lost his life. Added to the dangers of the route the glistening brilliancy of the sun reflected from the snow seemed  to threaten him with blindness. In the Arctic region travelers are subject to a similar discomfort, and commonly wear a visor-like protector to shield their eyes. The sun shade illustrated is carved from wood with slots cut beneath the peak to permit vision.

Jussieu sent specimens of the Coca shrub to Paris, and these, examined and described by the explorer’s brother Antoine, were afterward preserved in the herbarium of the Museum of Natural History there, and have served as classic examples of many subsequent studies of the plant. But the glory of meritorious labor pursued through great trial and privation was not to be enjoyed by this explorer. Just as many another collector before and since his time has suffered the loss of treasures when work was about completed, so this intrepid botanist lost the choice gatherings of fifteen years through robbery, under the belief that his boxes contained a more merchantable wealth than plants. In 1771, after an absence of thirty-four years, Jussieu was taken home, bereft of reason, as a result not alone of hardships, but from that unfulfilled desire which makes the soul sick, and he died in France, leaving many manuscripts, which are still unpublished.

The Jussieus were a family of botanists for several generations; contemporary with them were several noted naturalists who followed their classification. Among these, Augustin  Pyrame Candolle, of the College of France, and Antonio Jose  Cavanilles, a Spanish ecclesiastic, each described Coca from the examples which had been sent by Joseph.

Many interesting accounts have been written of the expedition of La Condamine, and as a result of these early researches several of the powers have been prompted to send botanical expeditions to the South American forests. Among these there is given in the writings of Captain Don Antonio d’Ulloa a brief account of the country of Popayan, in the jurisdiction of Timana. While following Father Valera’s  description of Coca, he adds: “It grows on a weak stem, which for support twists itself around another stronger vegetable  like a vine. The use the Indians make of it is for chewing, mixing it with chalk or whitish earth called mambi. They put into their mouths a few Coca leaves and a suitable portion of mambi, and chewing these together, at first spit out the saliva which that mastication causes, but afterwards swallow it, and thus move it from one side of the mouth to the other till its substance be quite derived, then it is thrown away, but immediately replaced by fresh leaves.”

He confounds Coca with betel, saying: ”It is exactly the same as the betel of the East Indies. The plant, the leaf, the manner of using it, its qualities, are all the same, and the Eastern nations are no less fond of this betel than the Indians of Peru and Popayan are of their Coca; but in other parts of  the province of Quito, as it is not produced, so neither is it used.” But he was conscious of the physiological effects of Coca from its employment, and wrote: “This herb is so nutritious and invigorating that the Indians labor whole days  without anything else, and on the want of it they find a decay in their strength. They also add that it preserves the teeth sound and fortifies the stomach.”  

The early writings upon Coca were not, however, all of foreign authorship. Peru numbered among her men of letters a noted physician and statesman who drew his facts from a keen observation of the people of whom he wrote. I refer to  Dr. Don Hipolito Unanue, of Tacna, whose name is intimately linked with the political and educational history of Peru. He published the Mercurio Peruano, the first number of which appeared in January, 1791, a paper which gave an impetus to the writings of his countrymen, in which there are many interesting details of Peruvian customs.

From his political interests in a land where insurrection was a common occurrence, Dr. Unanue could appreciate the advantage possible from the use of Coca in the army. He tells of an incident of the siege of La Paz, in 1771, when the inhabitants, after a blockade of several months, during a severe winter, ran short of provisions and were compelled to depend wholly upon Coca, of which happily there was a stock in the city. This apparently scanty sustenance was sufficient to banish hunger and to support fatigue, while enabling the soldiers to bear the intense cold. During the same war a body of patriot infantry, obliged to travel one of the coldest plateaus of Bolivia, found itself deprived of provisions while advancing in forced marches to regain the division. On their arrival only those soldiers were in condition to fight who had from childhood been accustomed to always carry with them a pouch of Coca.