27 Jan Coca Plant: The Andean Elixir
Although known as the notorious source of Cocaine, the Coca plant has been greatly misunderstood. The truth is that Cocaine is one constituent of Coca, and by no means fully represents the Coca plant itself. Particularly for the pre-Colombian Andean cultures, where the plant is native, Coca has been a powerful expression of their identities, has played a vital role in their cosmologies and has been used both medicinally and ritualistically.
The Andean Elixir
- Contrary to popular belief, chewing Coca leaves or drinking Coca tea is quite beneficial for our bodies, as the plant is an incredible source of minerals and vitamins, including calcium, iron, potassium and protein. A 100-gram serving of Coca actually contains more essential nutrients than a handful of most nuts and studies have also shown that the consumption of Coca leaves protects the body from cardio-vascular diseases, colon cancer as well as tooth decay. Other medicinal uses of the Coca plant include overcoming depression, high blood pressure, stomach and colon problems, obesity and diabetes.
- Coca is not only as innocent as tea or coffee, but is, as Professor W. Golden Mortimer believes “vastly superior to these substances”. Whilst tea and coffee load the blood with uric acid derivatives, Coca does not include these disadvantages.
- Coca is also great for your skin. The plant has a profound influence on increasing skin activity, freeing the blood from waste and repairing skin tissue. Coca simply makes blood better and healthy blood makes healthy tissue. The Coca plant has been prescribed as an effective remedy for a number of skin disorders including eczema, dermatitis, herpes and rosacea.
- Coca has a profound influence on our respiration. It diminishes the consumption of carbohydrates by ours muscle during exertion, which in effect means less oxygen is required rendering both muscle and nerves capable in doing more work. This explains Coca’s benefits in relieving breathlessness in ascending mountains and alleviating altitude sickness and asthmatic bronchitis, which helps to explain why the Andean societies continue to use the plant profusely.
- The Incas regarded the Coca plant as a symbol of divinity and initially, its use was confined exclusively to the royal family. Coca was held to be a gift from the Gods intended to improve human life, and so the Incas venerated the plant and used it lavishly in their religious ceremonies, expressing their respect and gratitude to Mother Earth for having provided them with the means of subsistence.
- The Coca plant’s spirit was personified as Mama Coca, the Goddess of Health and Joy. In Inca mythology, Mama Coca was originally a promiscuous woman who was cut in half by her many lovers. Her body then grew into the first Coca plant.
- As it gradually formed a necessity in Inca culture, Coca was tenderly cared for and carefully cultivated. The Andean people had even fixed sheltered spots along their roads where they would rest and replace their daily chew of Coca.
- The Coca plant played a vital spiritual function, it was a source of knowledge and institution for the shamans, who utilised the plant to induce trace-like states in order to commune with the spirits, diagnose and cure numerous illnesses, foretell the future and destiny of their own societies, and to predict natural occurrences in order to prepare themselves to the rigours of weather.
- Coca has been erroneously blamed for ‘the Cocaine habit’, however, long before Cocaine was manufactured, and during the long centuries of its use by the Andean peoples, not one single case of poisoning has been reported on Coca’s use. One physician, who had stayed with the Andean locals and witnessed the persistent use of Coca in the nineteenth century, failed to find a single case of Coca addiction stating, “nor have I seen any the evil effects depicted by some writers and generally recorded in the books”.
- After witnessing the Inca’s religious and medicinal rituals of Coca, the Spanish conquistadors declared the plant a diabolical weed and thus a tool of the devil. This comes as no surprise as there was a prejudice and superstitious ignorance among the conquistadors for all the customs of the Incas. The entire indigenous race had, after all, been regarded as nothing more than savages worthy of extermination. However, once the conquistadors realised that the plant would not only help improve the productivity of the indigenous slaves at work, but also reduce food costs, they would allow its use during the time of the conquest.