Erythroxylaceae (Coca Family)
Forms and Subspecies
The genus Erythroxylum (previously Erythroxylon) encompasses some three hundred species. Apart from Erythroxylum coca and Erythroxylum novogranatense, however, none of these contains any significant amount of cocaine. The most commonly cultivated species is Erythroxylum coca, which is subdivided into two varieties that are distinguished on the basis of morphological, geographical, and ecological characteristics (Plowman 1982):
Erythroxylum coca Lam. var. coca—huanuco, Bolivian coca (humid mountain regions from Ecuador to Bolivia)
Erythroxylum coca var. ipadú Plowman—ipadú, Amazonian coca (tropical lowlands, Amazonia)
Erythroxylon coca Lam.131
Erythroxylon peruvianum Prescott (= E. coca var. coca)
Erythroxylum bolivianum Burck (= E. coca var. coca)
Erythroxylum peruvianum Prescott (= E. coca var. coca)
Erythroxylum coca var. coca:
Bolivian coca, bolivianische coca, botô, ceja de montaña coca, Ceylon huanuco, coca, coca bush, coca del Perú, cocaine plant, cocaine tree, cocamama, cocastrauch, cocca, cochua, coco, cuca, divine plant of the Incas, gran remedio, huanacoblatt, huánuco coca, koka, khoka (Aymara,“tree”), kuka (Quechua), la’wolé (Mataco), mamacoca, Peruvian coca, spadie
Erythroxylum coca var. ipadú:
Batú, botô (Makú), coca, coca-á (Siona), daallímü, ebee, hibi, hibia, hibio, huangana-coca (Bora), igatúa (Karijona), ipadó, ipadu (língua-geral), ipadú, ipatú (Yucuna), ípi (Bora), jibína (Witoto), kaheé (Makuna), majarra coca, pató (Tatuyo), patoó (Kubeo), pelejo coca, tsi-paa, ypadu, ypadú
The word coca is from the Aymara language and means simply “tree” (Weil 1995). This is an expression of the great cultural significance of the plant.
The coca bush is originally from the rain forests of the Andean foothills. For millennia, it has been cultivated and used in South America for a multitude of purposes. The oldest archaeological evidence of coca chewing has been dated to approximately 3000 B.C.E. In the dry lowlands of Peru, numerous pre-Columbian graves have yielded remains of coca leaves (cf. Erythroxylum novogranatense), lime, and artifacts associated with coca use (Hasdorf 1987; Martin 1969; Towle 1961, 58ff.*). Archaeological finds of coca leaves are extremely rare in the Andean highlands, primarily because of the poor state of preservation of botanical materials and the clumsy excavation methods of past decades. Recently, Erythroxylum coca var. coca was identified in a prehistoric settlement in the Upper Mantaro Valley (Peru) (1000–1460; Late Intermediate and Late Horizon periods) (Hastorf 1987). Hairs taken from mummies found in northern Chile have been tested for cocaine and its most significant meta-bolite (benzylecgonine). Trace amounts were detected in almost all of the samples. The oldest of the mummies dates to some four thousand years ago (Cartmell et al. 1991).
Coca had an extremely important function in many pre-Columbian cultures as an article of economic exchange, a medicine, an aphrodisiac, a remedy, and a ritual inebriant. Without coca, the civilizations of the Andes would have been inconceivable (Mortimer 1974). The Spanish first encountered the widespread use of coca when they moved into South America to subdue and suppress the indigenous cultures. They understood this custom as little as they understood other aspects of Indian culture. The government of New Spain quickly forbade coca use in the years between 1560 and 1569, using a dubious line of reasoning that is quite reminiscent of many modern arguments in support of some drug laws: “The coca plant is nothing more than idolatry and witchcraft which only appears to strengthen evil by deceit, possesses no true virtues, but probably takes the lives of a number of Indians who in the best case only escape from the forests with damaged health” (cited in Voigt 1982, 36). In the seventeenth century, the Inquisition viewed the veneration of coca as a sign of witchcraft and magic but found it a difficult custom to overcome. For the Indians, who regarded the coca bush as sacred and not diabolic, life in the oxygen-poor high mountains was inconceivable without coca. For this reason, they held firm to their tradition and disregarded the laws of New Spain and the Catholic Church. When the separation from the Spanish motherland occurred, the use of coca was normalized and, ultimately, legalized in Peru and Bolivia. Today, the use of coca is associated with Indian identity; coca is, so to speak, the expression of the Indian way of life and of indigenous culture (Instituto Indigenista Interamericano 1986, 1989; Lobb 1974).
Mama Coca presents the coca bush, her sacred plant, to the Spanish invaders. (Engraving by Robida, from the French edition of Mortimer, ca. 1904)
In 1565, the Spanish physician Nicolas Monardes wrote that the Indians chewed coca together with tobacco. Monardes brought the first coca plant to Europe in 1569 (other sources say 1580) (Morton 1977, 180*). The first botanical illustration of the plant was made by Clusius in 1605 (Lloyd and Lloyd 1911, 3). The main constituent, cocaine, was first isolated from the leaves in 1859 by the German chemist Albert Niemann.
At the end of the nineteenth century, cigars and cigarettes made of coca leaves were being smoked in Philadelphia. It appears that the leaves were also smoked in England, where they were known as Peruvian tobacco (Lindequist 1993, 90).
Henry Hurd Rusby worked on behalf of the Parke and Davis Company to have coca leaves incorporated into the American pharmacopoeia (Rossi-Willcox 1993*). In 1863, the Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani created his Vin Mariani, a coca extract in sweet wine. Fans of the preparation included Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII (who served from 1878 to 1903), Mozaffer-et-Dine (the shah of Persia), Thomas Edison (who invented the motion picture and numerous other devices), and a great number of artists and intellectuals (Andrews and Solomon 1975, 243–46; Voigt 1982, 22).
The most important botanical and ethno-botanical studies of the past century were conducted by Timothy Plowman (1944–1989), who produced forty-six publications about coca and Erythroxylum (Davis 1989, 98).
In recent years, the governments of Bolivia and Peru have been working to have coca products legalized around the world. The discussions, however, continue to make a moral dichotomy between “good coca” and “bad cocaine” (Cabieses 1985; Henman 1990).
The coca bush (coca variety) is originally from the rain forests on the mountain slopes of Peru and Bolivia, the so-called yungas (Schröder 1991, 112*). It is found at altitudes of up to 2,000 meters, although it is most often cultivated between 500 and 1,500 meters. As a result of cultivation, the coca bush is now found in many regions of the world (Indonesia, Seychelles, East Africa, India) (Potratz 1985); Ceylon huanuco, which was successfully cultivated in Sri Lanka, is now quite well known (Macmillan 1991, 415*). Amazonian coca (ipadú variety) is found only in tropical lowlands (Amazon basin) (Plowman 1979b, 46).
The seeds of Erythroxylum coca var. coca are sown naturally by birds that eat the ripe drupes from the bush and excrete the seeds undigested. In the Andes, this variety is propagated almost exclusively from seeds (Plowman 1979b, 46). Coca seeds become infertile when they dry (normally after three days). The seeds are pressed into shaded seedbeds for germination. The seedlings are transplanted when they have grown about as large as a person’s hand. The plants are placed into the ground at a distance of about 1.5 meters from one another. In South America, transplanting is carried out during the rainy season. The large fields and plantations of coca in the Andes are known as cocal(singular) or cocales.
The bush does not place any great demands upon the soil. It prefers loose, humus-rich soil, which should be fertilized often with plant compost. It thrives well in loamy soil formed from weathered slate. Chalky soils are not suitable (Bühler and Buess 1958, 3047). This skiophilous plant requires high humidity and ample precipitation (at least 2,000 mm per year) and does not tolerate frost.
From the time of planting, a period of some eighteenth months is necessary before the first leaves can be harvested. A bush produces for twenty to thirty years. During the rainy season, the bushes can be harvested every fifty to sixty days. During the dry season, harvesting can be performed only every three or four months. The plant is not disturbed by the removal of almost all of its leaves. If the leaves are not harvested, the bush will grow into a proper tree.132 The leaves of these coca trees are almost devoid of effects.
In the Amazon region, coca growing is almost exclusively a male activity. In contrast, the planting of food crops is usually done by women. The Amazonian coca bush is pruned to a height of about 1.5 meters. Such bushes are known as ilyimera, “little birds.” Amazonian coca is propagated solely through cuttings, as this variety does not produce viable seeds (Plowman 1979b, 46 f.).
The coca plant usually grows as a bush. The elliptical foliage leaves, whose length varies by subspecies, are arranged spirally. The bark of young plants is reddish in color. The scaly leaves that appear at the base of young branches are a characteristic feature of the plant. The tiny, monoclinous white flowers develop from the axes of these scaly leaves. The flowers are radially symmetrical and have ten stamens that are joined at their bases. As they ripen, the small oval fruits (drupes) initially turn yellow and then luminously red.
An engraving of an herbarium specimen of Erythroxylum coca. The two “transparent” leaves clearly show the vein pattern typical of the variety coca, in which two lines run parallel to the central vein. (From Mariani, La Coca et la Cocaïne, 1885)
Erythroxylum coca var. coca usually grows to only 3 to 5 meters in height, although it can grow taller. Erythroxylum coca var. ipadú grows to a height of only about 3 meters and can be recognized by its long and very thin branches. The leaves are larger, somewhat rounder, and more elliptical than those of coca variety, and they do not taper at the end (Plowman 1979b, 46). In Amazonia, coca bushes are often covered completely with lichens.
The coca bush is very easily confused with other species of the genus Erythroxylum, as many of these have a similar appearance. The most certain method of botanical identification is to chew the dried leaves together with an alkaline substance. If the mucous membranes of the mouth become numb, then the plant can only be one of the two species that contain cocaine (Erythroxylum coca and Erythroxylum novograna-tense) or their varieties.
It appears that the scientific literature continues to confuse some of the species of the genus Erythroxylum with E. coca or subsume them within this species. Because of the many local varieties of the coca plant, even botanists can have difficulty identifying the species in question (Plowman et al. 1978).
—Dried leaves (cocae folium)
The leaves must be dried (roasted) before use or they will not produce the intended effects. Freshly picked leaves can be either lightly roasted or made into a tea. The freshly harvested leaves are dried in such a manner that they retain their green color while also remaining supple and elastic. Drying can occur in the sun or by artificial means. If the leaves are dried in an oven or similar manner, the temperature should not exceed 40°C (= 104°F) lest the cocaine content be adversely affected (Schröder 1991, 114*). The taste of the dried leaves of huanuco (coca variety) is strongly reminiscent of that of green Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis). In contrast, Amazonian coca (variety ipadú) is somewhat bitter in taste (Koch-Grünberg 1921, 175*).
Preparation and Dosage
Coca leaves can be chewed, smoked or otherwise burned and inhaled, or ingested in the form of an extract (tea, decoction, tincture, etc.).
By far the most common method of ingestion is chewing or, more precisely, sucking the leaves. In the Andes, coca quids are usually known as acullico, and coca chewing is known as acullicar. At the beginning of the Incan period, coca leaves were chewed together with tobacco leaves (see Nicotiana tabacum), a practice that was also observed during the colonial period but now appears to have largely disappeared. The Swiss naturalist Johann Jacob von Tschudi (1818–1889), who also was the first to observe and report the use of angel’s trumpet (see Brugmansia san-guinea), provided a very thorough description of the Andean use of coca that still applies today:
At least three times, but normally four times per day, the Indians rest from their work so that they may chew coca. For this purpose, they carefully remove the individual leaves from the Huallqui (bag), remove the veins, place the divided leaf into their mouth, and chew this for as long as it takes for a proper ball to form under their molars, they then take a thin, moistened little stick of wood and dip this into slaked lime and then place this together with the adhering powder into the ball of coca in their mouths; they repeat this a couple of times until it has the proper spice; some of the copious amounts of saliva, which mixes with the green juice of the leaves, is spit out, but most of this is swallowed. When the ball no longer produces enough juice, they throw it away and begin with another. I have often watched how a father would pass an almost juiceless ball to his little boy, who eagerly took it into his mouth and chewed on it for a long while. (In Bühl and Buess 1958, 3052 f.)
A branch tip of the coca bush Erythroxylum coca var. coca
The tiny flowers of the coca bush Erythroxylum coca var. coca
The leaves of the coca bush Erythroxylum coca retain their elasticity when dried.
“I myself used coca over a period of eight years during my work with the Indians of the Amazon, and I have never found it harmful, not to mention addictive.”
RICHARD EVANS SCHULTES
“COCA IN THE NORTHWEST AMAZON” (1980, 53)
The coca leaves must be mixed with an alkaline substance (known as “sweetening” the coca quid) for the cocaine to be released so that it can be absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth (Cruz Sánchez and Guillén 1948; Rivier 1981; Wiedemann 1979, 280). In South America, either plant ash or burned/slaked lime from various sources is used for this purpose (Gantzer et al. 1975, 10).
In the Andes, coca is chewed together with what is known as llipta (Quechuan), scrapings from a cake of ash. Llipta—also known as chile, llucta, llinta, lliptu, and tocra—is made from the ashes of various plants (see the table on pages 247–48). The ashes are produced not by burning the plants but by roasting them thoroughly. To do this, the plant pieces are placed in a metal or ceramic pot. The pot is kept over a fire until the plant pieces break down into an ashlike powder. The ashes are then moistened with lemon juice, boiling water, chicha (maize beer), sugarcane schnapps (alcohol), sweetened tea (Camellia sinensis, Ilex paraguariensis), salt water, or even urine and kneaded together with a carrier substance such as potato flour or starch. The mixture is formed into large disks, small pyramids, snakes, etc., and allowed to dry in the air for a day (Bühler and Buess 1958, 3054; Franquemont et al. 1990, 66 f.*). When dried, the llipta is as hard as a rock. Pieces are broken off and added to the coca quids.
In Bolivia and northwestern Argentina, coca leaves are now chewed with sodium bicarbonate (bicarbonato de sodio, bica, yuspe), which is sold in plastic bags weighing 20 g. The Mataco (Wichi, “people of the place”) chew coca in the style of the Andes, whereby they “eat” the entire leaf. They stuff their mouths so full that their faces have an enormous bulge. They then simply toss some llipta (sodium bicarbonate) into their open mouths.
A variety of substances may be added to coca quids in order to modify their psychoactive or medicinal effects or to make the effects more specific. In the triangle of countries formed by Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, coca quids may be chewed together with the ashes of the flowers and fruits (without seeds) of a large columnar cactus (Trichocereus pasacana) that is frequently confused with the San Pedro cactus (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi) (C. M. Torres, pers. comm.). It is possible that the (main) alkaloid of the cactus, candicine,133 alters the effects of the coca. The Argentinean Mataco obtained their yista (= llipta) from the ashes of the cactus flesh of a Trichocereus species (tso’nahlak). This was said to potentiate the effects of the coca (cf. Trichocereus spp.).
There are also a number of substances used to aromatize coca quids and improve their taste. Leaves of the rosary pea (Abrus precatorius L.; cf. Rhynchosia pyramidalis), known in northern Peru as misquina, which are roasted beforehand so that they will not produce any toxic effects, impart a licorice-like taste to coca quids. The leaves of Tagetes pusilla H.B.K.134 (cf. Tagetes spp.), known in southern Peru as pampa anis (“prairie anise”), are also used to lend the coca quids an aromatic taste (Plowman 1980, 254).
The Peruvian Campa Indians like to add the bark of the chamairo vine (Mussatia hyacinthina [Standl.] Sandw.; Bignoniaceae), which is also used for medicinal purposes, to their coca. This practice can also be observed in other parts of Peru; the bark is sold in markets for precisely this purpose (Plowman 1980, 255 f.).
The Amazonian preparation is very different from the Andean and is identical among all the tribes except one. The leaves of the Amazonian coca (E. coca var. ipadú) are plucked fresh daily from the bush and immediately roasted on a cassava baking tin. This roasting must be done gently and carefully so that the leaves do not carbonize. The men then pound the roasted leaves in large mortars made from hollowed-out trunks of the hardwood trees Tabebuiaspp., mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni [L.] Jacq.), or chontaduro palm (Guilielma speciosa Martius). While they are pounding, the leaves of other plants are turned into ashes over a charcoal fire. The gray ash is mixed with the green coca powder in more or less equal amounts and is then ready for consumption. A person typically takes a spoonful, which he or she carefully moistens with saliva and then pushes between the cheek and the teeth with the tongue. There, the mixture slowly dissolves over a period of thirty to forty-five minutes and is gradually swallowed.
Of all the Amazonian coca additives, by far the most popular are the ashes of the large, fresh leaves of Cecropia sciadophylla, known variously as pêtuy’, göra-ñá, guarumo, or setico (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 313*). Other species from the genus Cecropia as well as Pourouma cecropiaefolia are also utilized (Plowman 1979b, 47). Occasionally, other plant substances may be used as well. The Witoto sometimes add some powdered root of Chelonanthus alatus to the coca/ash mixture to lend it a “bitter taste” (Schultes 1980, 57) or mix it with dried and powdered leaves of Tachia guianesis Aublet (Gentianaceae) to improve the taste (Schultes and Raffauf 1986, 276*).
A typical cake of ash (llipta) from the southern Andes, scrapings of which are added to the coca leaves
In northwestern Argentina, industrially manufactured baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) is usually used as an alkaline coca additive.
“Coca enhances performance and suppresses both hunger and tiredness. But its primary effect is to induce the latent power of those visions which lead one closer to the ‘reality of dreams.’ ”
DIE INDIANER AMAZONIENS [THE INDIANS OF AMAZONIA]
An unusual method of preparing coca was discovered among a small group of the Tanimuka (on the Río Apaporis, Colombia). They aromatize the ashes of Cecropia leaves with incense. To do this, they make incisions in the bark of Protium heptaphyllim March and tap the resin, which they then allow to age for three to four months. The resin,135 which is known in Amazonia under the names o-mo-tá, hee-ta-ma-ká, brea, pergamín, tacamahaca, and breuzinho, is broken into small pieces and rolled into a semidried leaf of an Ischnosiphon species to make a kind of cigarette. The men who are involved in the preparation of this coca will put this cigarette in their mouths and light it, but they will not inhale. Instead, they blow through the resin-filled tube so that the aromatic smoke flows out of the other end. When the cigarette is burning well, they place its tip into the Cecropia ashes for a couple of minutes to fumigate it. The scent is absorbed by the plant ash, thereby giving the finished mixture of coca and ash a resinous, incenselike aroma (Schultes 1957; Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 117*; Uscátegui M. 1959, 297*).
The Makú Indians use their coca (ipadu, botô) in a manner different from that of all the other Amazonian tribes. The leaves are roasted, mixed with the ashes of fresh green banana leaves (Musa spp.), and finely crushed in a ritual context. This powder is then mixed with flour (cassava, farina, tapioca) and made into bread. The bread is prepared fresh every evening and is regarded as food; it is not just chewed but properly eaten (Prance 1972a, 19*).
The coca/ash powder is also sniffed (cf. snuffs) in some regions of Colombia, although such use has been little documented (Schultes 1980, 53).
Coca can be combined with almost any other psychoactive substance. Coca will sometimes even potentiate the effects of another substance, e.g., Anadenanthera colubrina. Coca leaves are also suitable for use as a stimulating ingredient in incense and smoking blends and are especially well suited for smoking together with Cannabis sativa.
When chewing coca, one should avoid drinking maté (Ilex paraguariensis) entirely, not because the two substances produce a negative synergy, but because the anaesthetized mucous membranes of the mouth are unable to detect the temperature of the maté and can be scalded very easily without notice. Chronic coca chewing will occasionally result in mild inflammations of the mucous membranes. A tea made of the leaves and bark of Pagamea macrophyllaSpruce ex Benth. may be drunk to counteract such problems (Schultes 1980, 57).
The usual dosage for a medicinal tea is given as 5 g of dried coca leaves (Morton 1977, 180*). Much larger amounts are consumed, however, when the coca is chewed. With an average use of 60 g of good leaves per day, it can be assumed that 100 to 200 mg of cocaine are being absorbed. In some Amazon tribes (e.g., the Yucuna), it is not unusual to observe men consuming up to 1 pound of coca/ash powder daily (Schultes 1980, 51). When smoked, even small amounts (0.1 g or more) of the roasted leaves will produce stimulating effects. The Omagua smoke leaves as they chew them (Bühler and Buess 1958, 3054).
The ritual uses of coca are manifold. The leaves are used as parts of offerings and for oracles, socially integrative forms of interaction, shamanic healings, initiations, and tribal festivals. The ritual use of coca is probably as old as the use of the leaves in general, at least five thousand years. Unfortunately, little is known about the use of coca in pre-Hispanic times. Grave goods clearly indicate that coca was given to the dead for their journey to the other world. The representations of coca chewing contained on pre-Columbian artifacts also point to a very ancient ritual use.
The ethnohistorical evidence from the colonial period is rather limited and was obviously filtered through the “devil’s glasses” of the Catholic Spanish. In The Naturall and Moral Historie of the West Indies(ca. 1570), José de Acosta provides an amazingly unprejudiced account: “The Ingua [= Inca] are said to have used coca as an exquisite and regal thing which they most often used in their offerings by burning it in honor of their gods.”
The significance of coca in the kingdom of the Incas has been summarized as follows:
In ancient Peru, where coca was venerated as a gift of the gods of the sun, there were few ceremonies which did not require the drug. At great festivities, coca leaves were burned as fumigants, and priests adorned with coca wreaths would use the smoke to divine. Only with a quid of coca in his mouth could one dare to approach the gods, and coca was one of the gifts offered to the priests. The coca offering had a special significance. (Bühler and Buess 1958, 3061)
Coca is sacred to the Indians because it makes possible the connection between humans and the gods (Allen 1988, 132; Lloyd and Lloyd 1911) and also deepens the contact between people, e.g., as a love magic and an aphrodisiac141 (Mortimer 1974, 429).
A branch of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca var. coca) from the highlands of Bolivia. (From Mariani, La Coca et la Cocaïne, 1885)
In northern Chile, the herbage of an Amaranthus species is added to coca quids. (Photographed in San Pedro de Atacama)
Various species of the genus Chenopodium are traditionally used as coca additives.
In Amazonia, the leaves of Cecropia peltata are one of the primary sources of the ashes used as an alkaline additive to finely ground Amazonian coca (Erythroxylum coca var. ipadú).
The flower petals of the American sunflower (Helianthus annuus) not only are used as a coca additive but also are regarded as an aphrodisiac in Indian medicine.
Whenever the Indians of the Andes come together, they offer, exchange, and chew coca with one another. People invite one another to chew coca as a way of initiating a social exchange. Although the practice is essentially the same throughout the region, the actual form of the exchange varies from place to place (Allen 1988, 126 ff.). Before the leaves are placed in the mouth to be moistened, three of them are placed together like a fan and held before the brow. The person then turns to face the highest of the neighboring mountains and consecrates the leaves with the words poporo apú.
In the Andes, coca leaves still number among the most important of all ritual offerings. A pile of offerings known as an apacheta can be found at the highest location of a mountain pass. This typically consists of a pile of hand-size stones, over which coca leaves are strewn as “payment” for a safe crossing of the pass. Chewed coca quids, bottles of beer, aguardiente, and pure alcohol may also be placed there. The coca leaves are a gift to Pachamama, the Mother Goddess. The offering of coca leaves at sacred places gives the Andean Indians a deep connection with their world (Allen 1988, 130). The offerings also have a medicinal importance:
Coca, along with other aromatic plants, is either burned as a smoke offering or offered in the natural state in the form of especially attractive leaves. The simplest type of offering consists of six beautifully shaped coca leaves, over which some distilled spirits and llama fat are dripped. More extensive offerings are composed of one hundred and forty-four aita (each consisting of six coca leaves) in rows of twelve. The curandero—medicine man—does this when he celebrates his mass for the ill. He asks that the relatives of the ill person bring offerings of aromatic herbs, llama fat, mussels, a rosary, sweets, and a woven cloth with coca leaves (inkuña). The sweets are offered in the beginning, during the “sweet” mass. This is followed by the “Apostles’ mass,” which is named after the twelve rows of coca leaves that are offered. Only then can the healer make a diagnosis. After this, he burns the offerings to appease the gods. (Wiedemann 1992, 7)
In the Andes region, coca leaves are an absolutely indispensable part of magical and religious healing rituals. The roots of many illnesses lie in the spirit world: puquio, a sleeplessness that afflicts a person who has not shown respect to the sacred springs; huari, a disease that is produced by the spirits that reside in ancient ruins; japipo, a sickness caused by spirits who steal parts of the soul; tinco or tasko, which occurs when a person encounters an aggressive soul; susto, “fright,” which is induced by great emotional burdens. To heal these peculiar afflictions, which do not fit into the Western view of symptom-oriented diagnosis, the traditional healer must locate and visit the place where the spirits live or at which the encounter with them occurred. When he has found the correct location, he will continue to offer the appropriate beings as many coca leaves as needed until they permit themselves to be asked to remove the illness from his patient (Hoffman et al. 1992, 75*).
Specialized diviners use coca leaves for casting oracles (coca qhaway). These oracles are consulted by people suffering from illnesses and other types of problems (Allen 1988, 133 ff.; Franquemont et al. 1990, 67*; Quijada Jara 1982, 39 ff.). This ancient technique of coca oracles is still practiced today:
The contemporary oracular use of coca leaves is but a pale reflection of such renowned state oracles of the Incan period as Pachamama (“lord of the earth”) near Lima. There, in the Lurin Valley, lies one of the oldest cult centers in South America, the settlement of which began 10,000 years ago. Pilgrims came from the jungle regions and even from Central America to listen to the words of the oracle after a prolonged period of fasting. (Andritsky 1987, 52)
Through his art, the coca oracle played an important function in structuring the community (Allen 1988, 133 ff.) and therefore had enormous social responsibility. A person had to undergo a long period of training to become a coca oracle and needed a great ability to empathize with his clients. Lest the clients become suspicious of the diviner’s intent, the ritual had to be carried out precisely:
Through the ritual acts of the oracle, the spiritual principle of the coca leaves, “coca mama,” acquires a new quality together with the “wamanis” [local mountain spirits]: because of his abilities to mediate, and in an altered state of consciousness, the diviner enters into a dialogue with these spirit powers. His role is that of interpreter, who lays out the structure of the coca leaves and their pattern on the oracular cloth according to specific rules. . . . Because many coca diviners are also healers, diagnosing with coca leaves is an important activity. (Andritsky 1987, 52)
Sometimes, other objects such as ergot-infected grains (cf. Claviceps purpurea) may also be thrown and read with the coca leaves.
Peruvian shamans inhale copious amounts of coca smoke so that they can enter an ecstatic state in which they are able to travel to the world beyond. In doing so, they cross over a “bridge of coca smoke” and enter a different reality, the shamanic universe, in which they are able to heal (Martin 1969).
Most tribes in the Amazon basin use coca as a stimulant and agent of pleasure, chewing it almost daily. Besides manioc (Manihot esculenta), the main source of food, the ipadú bush is the most important cultigen. But it also has a ritual significance. The Tukano Indians believe that the first coca plant arose from a finger joint of a daughter of the lord of the animals. Because the Banisteriopsis caapi vine arose from the finger joint of another of his daughters, ayahuasca and coca are regarded as “siblings” (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 167*). Among the Tukano tribe of the Yebámasa, ipadú has both a ritual and a hedonistic significance:
Every adult male spends some three hours a day preparing the coca powder from the roasted leaves of the coca bush. The men consume this powder throughout the day almost without interruption. It makes them more able to be productive, prevents tiredness, and suppresses their hunger. But the Yebámasa do not eat it for these reasons alone. When they ingest coca, they also partake of the magical power that lies within, which has invigorating effects upon them and thus protects their body and spirit. In addition, the coca powder has an important social function: the reciprocal offering of coca powder is a gesture of contact and friendship. (Deltgen 1979, 23*)
A pre-Columbian lime or llipta pouch from Peru
A pre-Columbian lime container of wood with mother-of-pearl and shell inlay, for use with coca. (Peru, Inca period)
“When the divine son of the sun, Manco Capac, climbed down from the rocks of Lake Titicaca, he gave humans light, knowledge of the gods, and knowledge of the arts and of coca, a divine plant which satiates the hungry, gives new strength to the tired and exhausted, and helps the unhappy to forget their cares.”
GARCILASO DE LA VEGA (1539–1616)
Numerous artifacts are associated with the coca bush. These include the paraphernalia for consuming the leaves, depictions of the plant and the goddess that dwells within, and many cultural products that have been inspired by its stimulating effects.
Both the Andean and the Amazonian Indians manufacture special containers for storing and transporting (carrying along) coca leaves. In the Andes, coca purses (chuspa, pisca, mochila, guambis) are used for storage. Over the centuries or even millennia, the production of these purses has become a great art. The woven bags are usually decorated with abstract patterns and images of symbolically important animals and gods. For example, the highest god, Viracocha (literally “father of the sun”; also spelled Huiracocha and Virakocha), is represented by a small duck (Wiedemann 1992, 17).
In the Amazonian regions, the coca and ash powder is usually stored in coca bottles (cuya) made from jicaras (fruit coats of tree gourds or calabash trees, Crescentia cujete L.) or coca bags (tuturí) produced with paper made from the bark of a Ficus sp. or an Eschweilera sp. The lime containers (checo, iscupuru, calero mombero) are usually made from smaller gourds. The Amazonian coca spoons were once made chiefly from jaguar bones (Schultes 1980, 51). Today, Western-style spoons are also used.
In Europe, coca has influenced or inspired numerous poets, writers, and artists. The first European poem—a hymn—that appears to have been dedicated to coca was penned by the English physician and diplomat Abraham Crowley (1618–1667).
In the late nineteenth century, a potent coca wine known as Vin Mariani played an especially significant role in stimulating, inspiring, and supporting the creative efforts of numerous artists, intellectuals, and politicians. The writers Alexandre Dumas, Henrik Ibsen, Octave Mirbeau, Sully-Prudhomme, and particularly Jules Verne and H. G. Wells all “lived” on Mariani wine and wrote their best works while under its influence. The French composers Charles Gounod (1818–1893) and Jules Massenet (1842–1912) were passionate enthusiasts of the “wondrous coca wine” and praised this “beneficent creator.”
Modern music contains numerous references to cocaine but only rarely makes mention of coca. Merrell Fankhauser dedicated a hymn to the plant (“Treasure of the Inca”) on his CD Jungle Lo Lo Band(Legend Music LM 9015, 1994).
We know with certainty that coca leaves were an important medicine in pre-Hispanic times. Unfortunately, the paucity of sources from the period means that we do not have any specific information concerning the ways in which they were utilized. For more on the use of coca in pre-Columbian trepanations, see Erythroxylum novogranatense.
Today, the folk medicinal uses of coca are so manifold that it has been called the “aspirin of the Andes.” Coca is used for pains of all types, neuralgia, rheumatism, colds, flu, digestive problems, constipation, colic, upset stomachs, altitude sickness, exhaustion, and states of weakness and to ease labor (Quijada Jara 1982, 35 ff.). Coca leaves are burned or smoked to treat bronchitis, asthma, and coughs (Morton 1977, 180*). In the nineteenth century, the popular Encyclopädie der medizinisch-pharmazeutischen Naturalien- und Rohwarenkunde of Eduard Martiny (1854) listed coca smoke as a treatment for asthma. Coca leaves appear to have been smoked for this purpose quite often in England, where they were imported under the name Peruvian tobacco.
A brewed coca tea (mate de coca) is recommended in cases of diabetes and to suppress the appetite of people who are overweight, as a stomach tonic, as an aid in digestion, and to treat diarrhea, states of exhaustion, and especially altitude and travel sickness. The tea is effective both therapeutically and as a preventative for soroche or la puna, the altitude sickness that is common on the Altiplano, the high plateau of the Andes (Europeans are especially fond of the tea) (Sarpa and Aimi 1985; Schneider 1993, 19*).
In Peru, a tea made with coca leaves and cedrón (Lippia citridoria [Ort. ex Pers.] H.B.K. [syn. Aloysia triphylla (L’Hérit.) Britt.]; cf. marari] is drunk to treat stomach pains and other indispositions.
The usage information provided for an extract of E. coca var. coca produced in Bolivia and known as Jarabe de coca states that the product will improve physical beauty, sexual functioning, digestion, and mental activity; stimulate the appetite and the circulation; strengthen the bones; and promote liver activity.
The wandering Callawaya healers of the Andes use a mixture of coca leaves and other herbs (see Cytisus spp., Mikania cordata) to treat rheumatism (Bastien 1987, 131*).
Today, many star athletes (soccer, football, baseball, etc.) utilize pure cocaine as a doping agent. Such use has its roots in the use of coca by the runners who carried messages throughout the Incan empire. These “postal runners” traversed great distances in the high mountains to take the messages contained in knotted strings from one corner of the empire to another. Without coca, this pre-Hispanic postal service would certainly have collapsed.
In the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, the dried leaves of the sow-thistle or hare’s lettuce (Sonchus oleraceus L.) are chewed together with an alkaline substance as a coca substitute. The Atacameños call the wild plant, which is originally from Eurasia, wirikocha. This name is a reference to Viracocha, one of the most important deities of the Andes, who was regarded as the highest god in the Incan religion. This ancient Andean god of the heavens would select his priests and shamans with a lightning bolt. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
The Kofán do not (or only rarely) chew coca for hedonistic purposes but cultivate the bush solely for use as a medicine. They and other Amazonian tribes drink a tea made from ipadú leaves to treat pains in the region of the heart. In the Vaupés region of Colombia, consumption of a tea brewed from leaves of coca and Vochysia laxiflora Stafleu142 is recommended when a person is unable to urinate (Schultes 1977b, 117*; 1980, 57).
Although once officinal, coca leaves are no longer used in European medicine. The only modern use occurs in homeopathic medicine, where the agent Erythroxylon coca hom. HPUS88 is produced by macerating fresh or dried leaves (Lindequist 1993, 96).
Depending upon their source, coca leaves can have an alkaloid content of 0.5 to 2.5%. The primary alkaloids are cocaine and cuscohygrine. Among the most important secondary alkaloids are cinnamoylcocaine, α-truxilline, and β-truxilline. Peruvian and Bolivian coca leaves contain the highest amounts of cocaine, which makes up some 75% of the total alkaloid content (Morton 1977, 178*). In a dried state, these may contain as much as 2% cocaine!
The fresh leaves in particular contain an essential oil as well as flavonoids (rutin, quercitrin, isoquercitrin), tanning agents, vitamins (A, B, C), protein, fat, and large amounts of minerals, especially calcium and iron. Approximately 100 g of coca leaves suffice to provide the recommended daily dose of all important minerals and vitamins (Duke et al. 1975). Both fresh as well as dried leaves possess good nutritional value (305 calories per 100 g)—which is why the Indians regard coca as a food.
The essential oil of E. coca var. coca, which has a scent reminiscent of that of grass, consists of 38% α-dihydrobenzaldehyde, 16.1% cis-3-hexen-1-ol, 13.6% methyl salicylate, 10.4% trans-2-hexanal, some N-methylpyrrole, 1-hexanol, and N,N-dimethylbenzylamine,143 and several as yet unidentified substances (Novák and Salemink 1987).
The leaves and the bark contain the tropane alkaloids cuscohygrine and hygrine. The seeds and the bark also contain some cocaine (Bühler and Buess 1958, 3046; Morton 1977, 178*).
The Indians classify coca as a food and emphasize the nutritional value of the leaves (Hanna 1974). The Andean Indians say that when coca is chewed properly and with respect, it can soak up sadness and pain and protect the chewer like a mother (Allen 1988, 135). Coca chewing has a regulating effect upon blood sugar levels. Apparently, chewing coca will raise a blood sugar level that is too low and lower a blood sugar level that is too high. In other words, coca use helps maintain blood sugar concentrations at a level that the body requires (Burchard 1975). Coca chewing counteracts the stresses associated with high altitudes and appears to improve oxygen absorption in the thin mountain air (Bittmann 1983; Bolton 1979; Bray and Dollery 1983). The nutritional value of coca leaves is higher in the forms in which Amazonian coca is prepared and typically ingested in the region (where everything is swallowed) (Schultes 1980, 52). In addition to its nutritional value, coca deadens the stomach nerves, thereby suppressing sensations of hunger. In general, chewing coca has stimulating and animating effects that can range from a general improvement in mood to aphrodisiac sensations and even euphoria. One quid of coca to which chamairo bark has been added is said to induce a “sensation of well-being and calm” (Plowman 1980, 256). When mixed with Trichocereus spp., coca quids can apparently have profoundly stimulating, perhaps even mildly psychedelic, effects (Fernandez Distel 1984).
The cocaine that is released from the leaves by chewing remains in the body for some seven hours in the form of its metabolite, ecgonine, albeit only in very low concentrations. The active amount is present in the blood for one to two hours. It is this that is responsible for the stimulating effects of the coca quid (Holmstedt et al. 1978). For information on pharmacology, see cocaine.
When a quid of coca is placed in the mouth, moistened well with saliva, and mixed with an alkaline substance, it takes a few minutes for the cocaine to dissolve out of the leaves and spread throughout the entire mouth, mixed with the copious amounts of saliva that are also produced. The surface of the mucous membranes immediately become numb. The quality of the coca can be recognized by the rapidity with which this numbing effect takes place. After an additional five to ten minutes, the stimulating effects of the cocaine become clearly noticeable. This effect slowly increases during the following minutes, persists for about 45 minutes, and then quickly dissipates.
It has often been claimed that cocaine can destroy the nasal septum. However, the effects of coca y bica (“coca leaves and bicarbonate of soda”) upon the mucous membranes of the cheeks are much more destructive. Longtime coqueros (“coca users”) must develop a kind of leathery surface in their mouths. In my own experience, the effects of a coca quid upon the mouth’s mucous membranes are considerably more damaging than those that cocaine produces on the mucous membranes of the nose.
“Coca has a bitter taste and a somewhat astringent effect upon the mouth, but one soon becomes accustomed to this. The effects are stimulating. For this reason, coca is used with enthusiasm especially at dance festivals and while traveling, for it dispels tiredness and feelings of hunger and stimulates the body and mind to greater performance. On these occasions, the Indians keep the coca powder in beautifully polished, round calabashes which they wear over their left shoulder on a woven band or in small, plain bags made of strong red bast with a cord for hanging. For sucking, they use a hollow heron’s bone which is tied to the carrying string and is always present in the container for immediate use. When used in excess, coca can be harmful to the nerves.”
ZWEI JAHRE BEI DEN INDIANERN NORDWEST-BRASILIENS [TWO YEARS AMONG THE INDIANS OF NORTHWEST BRAZIL]
The leaves of hare’s lettuce (Sonchus oleraceus), a plant introduced from Europe, are used as a coca substitute.
When coca is in short supply, the inhabitants of the oases in the Atacama Desert will chew the leaves of a plant introduced from Europe, the quince (Cydonia oblonga = Cydonia vulgaris).
Coca chewing can indeed lead to various problems in the oral cavity. In the Vaupés region of Colombia, the bark of Tachigalia cavipes (Spruce ex Benth.) Macbride is powdered and strewn over the ulcerous wounds that are said to result from immoderate coca chewing (Schultes 1978a, 184*).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The cultivation, trade, and use of coca leaves is permitted in Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina (Gran Chaco). Both the dried leaves and llipta and other alkaline substances (sodium bicarbonate) are sold at markets, herb shops, newspaper stands, and other small shops, usually under the name coca y bica. Three qualities are usually available: regular (“normal”), seleccionada (“select”), and super seleccionada (“super select”) or sele desfolillada. While the use of coca is forbidden in northern Chile, it is tolerated. The Aymara Indians and the Aborigines of the Atacama coast are permitted to use coca.
Coca leaves are also processed into tea bags for brewing tea (so-called maté de coca) and are even sold in supermarkets. In Peru, various flavors and combinations are available, including some containing spices, chamomile (Matricaria recutita), hierba luisa (“Louisa’s herb” [?]), anise (Pimpinella anisum L. or Tagetes pusilla H.B.K.; cf. Tagetes spp.), mint (Mentha spp.), canelo (“caneel”; probably imported cinnamon, and most likely originally Canella winterana [L.] Gaertn.), and muun (Minthostachys andina [Britt.] Epling, Satureja spp., or Mentha virides L.; cf. Bastien 1987, 133).
For years, the governments of Peru and Bolivia have been making efforts to have coca leaves legalized so that they can be exported throughout the world. The legalization of coca would have profoundly positive effects upon the economic situation in both countries (Weil 1995).
In Europe, coca preparations (the leaves) are regarded as obsolete, although theoretically they are available through pharmacies, as no prescription is required (Lindequist 1993, 96). However, because they contain cocaine, they are subject to various drug laws (Körner 1994, 96*). In Germany, they are listed as trafficable substances in List II of the drug laws (Körner 1994, 57*).
“See how densely it is set with leaves,
every leaf is fruit, and such substantial fare,
that no fruit will dare to compete with it.
Moved by his land’s coming fate (whose soil must be exposed to plunder because of its treasures),
our Varikocha first sent coca,
furnished with leaves of wondrous nutritional power,
whose juice is sucked in and passed to the stomach,
and allows hunger and work to be endured for long periods;
And which gives more help to our weak and tired bodies
and refreshes our tired spirit more than
your Bacchus and your Ceres are capable of together.
A supply of three leaves suffices for a march of six days.
With this supply, the Quitoita can traverse
the mighty, cloud-covered Andes,
the terrible Andes, between the abundance of wind, rain, and snow of winter
and that more modest earth
which brings forth the small but powerful coca bush,
this warrior who provides cheer to the warlike Venus.”
ABRAHAM CROWLEY (1618–1667)
BOOK OF PLANTS
The tiny flowers of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca var. coca), shown in various views. (Copperplate engraving, nineteenth century)
“Among the persons to whom I gave coca, three reported profound sexual excitation which they unhesitatingly attributed to the coca. A young writer, who was able to take up his work after a long silence because of coca, renounced the use of coca because he found this side effect undesirable.”
“UEBER COCA” [ON COCA] (1884, 314)
See also the entries for Erythroxylum novograna-tense and cocaine.
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———. 1988. The hold life has: Coca and cultural identity in an Andean community. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Bühler, A., and H. Buess. 1958. Koka. Ciba-Zeitschrift 92 (8): 3046–76.
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———. 1992. Coca chewing and diet. Current Anthropology 33 (1): 1–24.
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Califano, Mario, and Alicia Fernández Distel. 1977. El empleo de la coca entre los Mashco de la Amazonia del Peru. Årstryck Goteborgs Etnografiska Museum (1977): 16–32.
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Fernández Distel, Alicia. 1984. Contemporary and archaeological evidence of llipta elaboration from the cactus Trichocereus pasacana in Northwest Argentina. Proceedings 44 International Congress of Americanists, BAR International Series 194.
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———. 1885. Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Cocawirkung. Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift 35:129–33.
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Gutiérrez-Noriega, Carlos. 1949. El hábito de la coca en el Perú. América Indígena 9 (2): 143–54.
Gutiérrez-Noriega, Carlos, and Viktor W. von Hagen. 1951. Coca—the mainstay of an arduous life in the Andes. Economic Botany 5:145–52.
Hanna, Joel M. 1974. Coca leaf use in southern Peru: Some biosocial aspects. American Anthropologist n.s. 76:281–96.
Hastorf, Christine A. 1987. Archaeological evidence of coca (Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae) in the Upper Mantaro Valley, Peru. Economic Botany 41 (2): 292–301.
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———. 1990. Coca and cocaine: Their role in “traditional” cultures in South America. The Journal of Drug Issues 20 (4): 577–88.
Holmstedt, Bo, E. Jaatmaa, K. Leander, and Timothy Plowman. 1977. Determination of cocaine in some South American species of Erythroxylum using mass fragmentography. Phytochemistry 16:1753–55.
Holmstedt, Bo, J.-E. Lindgren, L. Rivier, and T. Plowman. 1978. Cocaine in blood of coca chewers. Botanical Museum Leaflets 26 (5): 199–201.
Instituto Indigenista Interamericano. 1986. La coca andina: Visión indígena de una planta satanizada. Mexico City: Joan Boldó; Climent Editores and Instituto Indigenista Interamericano.
———. 1989. La coca . . . tradición, rito, identidad. Mexico City: Instituto Indigenista Interamericano.
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Leon, Luis A. 1952. Historia y extinction del coca-ísmo en el Ecuador. América Indígena 12:7–32.
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Lobb, C. Gary. 1974. El uso de la coca como manifestación de cultura indígena en las montañas occidentales de sud-america. América Indígena 34 (4): 919–38.
Mariani, Angelo. 1885. La coca et la cocaïne, Paris: Librairie A. Delahaye and É. Lecrosnier.
Martin, Richard T. 1969. The role of coca in the history, religion, and medicine of South American Indians. Economic Botany 23:422–38.
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Monge, C. 1953. La necesidad de estudiar el problema de la masticación de las hojas de coca. América Indígena 13 (1): 47–54.
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Nachtigall, Horst. 1954. Koka und Chicha. Kosmos 50 (9): 423 ff.
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Pacini, D., and C. Franquemont, eds. 1986. Coca and cocaine: Effects on people and policy in Latin America. Cultural Survival Report 23. Cambridge: Cultural Survival, Inc.
Plowman, Timothy. 1967. Orthography of Erythroxylum (Erythroxylaceae). Taxon 25 (1): 141–44.
———. 1979a. Botanical perspectives on coca. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 11:103–17.
———. 1979b. The identity of Amazonian and Trujillo coca. Botanical Museum Leaflets 27 (1–2): 45–68.
———. 1980. Chamairo: Mussata hyacinthina—An admixture to coca from Amazonian Peru and Bolivia. Botanical Museum Leaflets 28 (3): 253–61.
———.1981. Amazonian coca. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 3:195–225.
———. 1982. The identification of coca (Erythroxylum species): 1860–1910. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 84:329–53.
———. 1983. New species of Erythroxylum from Brazil and Venezuela. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (3): 273–90.
———. 1984a. The ethnobotany of coca (Erythroxylum spp., Erythroxylaceae). Advances in Economic Botany 1:62–111.
———. 1984b. The origin, evolution and diffusion of coca Erythroxylum spp., in South and Central America. In Pre-Columbian plant migration, ed. Doris Stone, 125–63. No. 76. Cambridge: Papers of the Peabody Museum in Archaeology and Ethnography.
———. 1987. Ten new species of Erythroxylum (Erythroxylaceae) from Bahia, Brazil. Fieldiana (Botany) n.s. 19:1–41.
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———. 1954. La masticación de las hojas de coca en el Perú. América Indígena 14:113–26.
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———. 1980. Coca in the Northwest Amazon. Botanical Museum Leaflets 28 (1): 47–60.
———. 1981. Coca in the Northwest Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 3 (2): 173–94.
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———. 1992. Cocataschen aus den Anden. Berlin: Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Colombian Coca Bush
Erythroxylaceae (Coca Family)
Forms and Subspecies; Synonyms
There are two regionally distinct cultivated varieties of the Colombian coca bush:
—E. novogranatense Morris var. novogranatense [syn. Erythroxylum coca var. novogranatense Morris]: Colombian coca (dry/hot regions of northern South America)
—E. novogranatense var. truxillense (Rusby) Plowman [syn. Erythroxylum truxillense Rusby, Erythroxylum hardinii E. Machado, Erythroxylum coca Lam. var. spruceanum]: Trujillo coca (coastal zone of northern Peru)
Coca, Colombian coca, hahio, hayo, hayu, koka, kolumbianischer kokastrauch
Coca, coca de trujillo, Trujillo coca, trujillo-kokastrauch, tupa (“kingly” or “noble”), small-leaved coca, Peruvian coca, Java coca
Within its range, this coca species has been used for as long as has Erythroxylum coca. During excavations of the ancient Valdivia culture (Ecuador), lime containers were found that have been dated to 2100 B.C.E. All of the coca leaves that have been recovered from archaeological excavations in the coastal region of Peru are Trujillo coca (Cohen 1978; Griffiths 1930; Plowman 1979, 55). The plant has been in use for at least three thousand years, primarily in the pre-Hispanic Moche and Nazca cultures.
Typical leaves of the four types of coca: Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense; Erythroxylum coca var. coca; Erythroxylum coca var. ipadú; Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense. (From Burck, 1892)
The first European source to describe the use of coca (from E. novogranatense var. novogranatense) is the report of Amerigo Vespucci (after whom America is named) from 1499:
We spied an island in the sea, which lay some 15 miles from the coast, and decided to go there and see if it was inhabited. We encountered the most corrupt and hideous people that we had ever seen: their faces and their expression were very hideous, and all of them had their cheeks filled with a green herb which they chewed upon the entire time like animals, so that they could hardly speak; and each of them carried two gourds around their neck, one of which was filled with the herb that they had in their mouths, and the other with a white powder that looked like ground plaster, and from time to time they dipped a stick into the powder after they had moistened it in their mouths, and placed it deep into each side of the mouth, to bring the powder to the herb which they chewed; they did this with great frequency. We were very amazed about this and could not understand their secret or why they did this.
During the early colonial period, the Spanish chronicler Pedro de Cieza de León provided a very precise description of the use of Erythroxylum novogranatense in Colombia and the northern Peruvian coast and of several coca substitutes that unfortunately were not identified:
Everywhere that I have traveled in the West Indies, I have noticed that the natives take great pleasure in keeping roots, twigs, or plants in their mouths. In the area around the city of Antiocha (Antigua in Colombia), some of them chewed small coca leaves and in the province of Arma other plants, and in Quimbaya and Acerma they cut strips from a kind of small tree that has soft wood and is evergreen, and they kept this between their teeth the entire time. Among most tribes that are subject to the cities of Cali and Popayan, they keep the leaves of the small coca of which I have spoken in the mouth and dip a mixture that they prepare from small gourd bottles that they carry and place this into their mouths, and chew it all together; they do the same with a kind of earth that is like chalk. In all of Peru, it was and is custom to have this coca in the mouth, and they keep it there without removing it from the morning until they go to sleep. When I asked some of the Indians why they always have this plant in their mouths (which they do not eat, but merely keep between their teeth), they said that because of it they feel no hunger and that it gives them great power and strength. I believe that it apparently exerts some type of effect of this nature, although I find it a disgusting practice that was to be expected of such people as these Indians. (In von Hagen 1979, 101 f.)
Neither in Colombia nor in Peru were the Spanish able to exterminate the coca use that they were so unable to comprehend. During the colonial period, the Indians put up with many things—too many things—but one thing they would not tolerate: the end of their coca use. In these areas, the situation has changed little into the present day.
The name Trujillo comes from that of a city in northwestern Peru; the plant is cultivated in a desert zone near Trujillo (Plowman 1979, 52). Trujillo coca is the type that is used even today as the source of aroma and taste for the production of Coca-Cola. During the early 1860s, before the beginning of Prohibition, Dr. John S. Pemberton (1831–1888) successfully introduced Coca-Cola, which was inspired by Vin Mariani, to the market. In addition to extracts of Trujillo coca and the West African cola nut (Cola spp.), the drink contained Mediterranean sweet wine and damiana extract (Turnera diffusa) and thus was a rather potent, psychoactive, and probably also aphrodisiac drink (Pendergrast 1996, 40). Although there has been no cocaine in Coca-Cola since 1903, the drink has acquired a mythological significance and has become one of the most popular soft drinks in history. Today, Coca-Cola often is regarded as a symbol of American cultural imperialism.
In Colombia, Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense increasingly is cultivated for the (illegal) production of cocaine.
The two varieties of this coca species generally occur at lower altitudes than Erythroxylum coca (Towle 1961, 60*). The species prefers generally warmer climates. The variety novogranatense is indigenous chiefly to northern Colombia, both in the foothills of the Andes and in the Sierra Madre, and has been cultivated there by numerous Indian tribes since ancient times.
Adapted to a desert climate, Trujillo coca now has a very small range and area of cultivation that lies in the northern Peruvian coastal strip near the town of Trujillo (= Truxillo) (Plowman 1979, 52). Its range was probably much larger in pre-Columbian times, extending throughout the entire coastal strip (Rostworowski 1973). Smaller populations that are grown primarily in home gardens as medicinal plants have been found in northwestern Ecuador and neighboring Colombia (Plowman 1979, 56).
In the early twentieth century, coca preparations were a standard part of the home medicine cabinet; they were used as tonics and for hedonistic purposes and also as remedies. (Advertisement from a German magazine, ca. 1915)
Branch tip with leaves and fruits of the Colombian coca bush Erythroxylum novogranatense.
The flower of Erythroxylum novogranatense.
During the colonial period, the Dutch introduced Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense into their colonies on Java and Sumatra. The English brought the plant to Ceylon (Schröder 1991, 113*).
In principle, this coca species is propagated in the same manner as Erythroxylum coca. This coca bush is usually trimmed back to remain small. The bush, which is pruned to a height of about 1 meter, is called a pajarito, “little bird.”
Cultivation is occasionally subject to ritual rules. In the Sierra Madre de Santa Marta, for example, new coca fields (which are regarded as sacred) can be planted only after consultation with medicine men or priest shamans (mames) (Baumgartner 1994; Bühler 1958, 3059).
Because it could hardly survive otherwise, Trujillo coca planted in the desert of northern Peru is artificially irrigated (Plowman 1979, 51).
For nonspecialized botanists, Erythoxylum novogranatense is difficult to distinguish from Erythroxylum coca. The most characteristic features are probably the size and the structure of the leaves. The leaves of the variety novogranatense are not as wide as those of Erythroxylum coca and often have a slightly yellowish tinge.
Trujillo coca can grow as tall as 3 meters and is most easily recognized by its smaller, relatively narrow, lanceolate, tapered leaves. The leaves have a characteristic scent reminiscent of that of Coca-Cola (which is how the leaves can be distinguished from those of the other types even when dry). In addition, the flowers are arranged in small clusters and are attached to longer stalks (Plowman 1979).
Erythroxylum novogranatense has an aromatic taste. As a result, many users prefer it to Erythroxylum coca, even though it contains less cocaine.
Preparation and Dosage
Erythroxylum novogranatense is prepared in a fashion somewhat similar to Erythroxylum coca. The variety novogranatense is often prepared and used in precisely the same manner as E. coca var. ipadú, and the variety truxillense in the same manner as E. coca var. coca. In order to be able to manifest their effects, the leaves of Erythroxylum novogranatense, like those of E. coca, must be mixed with an alkaline substance (see the table on pages 247–48).
In Colombia, lime from shells, limestone mineral deposits, or plant ashes is usually used as an alkaline additive. There, the ash cakes are known as mambe or (in Spanish) lejia. The Indians of the Sierra Madre de Santa Marta (Kogi, Arhuaco, Ika), as well as their pre-Columbian and colonial-period ancestors, the Tairona, chewed or chew coca leaves with slaked lime (yotinwe) from seashells and saltwater snails (Nicholl 1990, 389; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1955).
The Kogi prepare their coca in the following manner: Fresh coca leaves are dried or toasted and ground. The lime additive is obtained from the shells of snails and shells (Melongena melongena L., Venusspp., Strombus spp., and others) from the Caribbean coast (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1955). From time to time, the Kogi make a pilgrimage to the coast to acquire new supplies of shells, which are then burned in fires of grass piled up in the shape of pyramids. The lime they obtain in this manner is transformed into slaked lime by the addition of water or through the humidity of the air, and it is stored in special gourds (Cucurbita pepo L.).
Among the Arhuaco Indians, the processes of harvesting and drying are quite elaborate:
To dry, [the leaves] are spread onto large stone plates near the houses. When the conditions are right, then the early morning’s harvest is completely dry in the evening. Quick drying seals the stimulating alkaloids into the leaf, and the coca del dia [“coca of the day”] is the leaf that fetches the highest price. When first dried, the leaves are brittle and easily broken. After drying, they are piled up and allowed to sit for two to three days. This causes the leaves to perspire, which gives them back some of their suppleness and moisture. Afterward, they are very quickly dried in the sun once more and then packaged. Every one of the steps in this process is a delicate affair. If the first drying stage lasts too long, then the leaves will turn brown and become damp. If the leaves are allowed to perspire for too long a time, then they will turn gray and musty, look moldy, and have . . . a caspa, which means scales. To store, the coca leaves are first pressed with wooden weights, then folded in banana leaves, and finally wrapped in sackcloth or coarse woolen fabric. If the coca leaves have been dried and packaged properly and are then stored in a cool and dry place, they will retain their power for an entire year, and the coquero will be supplied until the next harvest. (Nicholl 1990, 395f.)
The shells of Caribbean snails of the genus Strombus provide the Indians of northern Colombia (Kogi, Ika, etc.) with a source of lime for chewing coca.
Engraving of a pressed herbarium specimen of Erythroxylum novogranatense. (From Mariani, La Coca et la Cocaïne, 1885)
“In ancient times, it is said, the coca tree was an exceptionally beautiful woman. But because she misused her body, she was killed and cut into two halves. From one of the two pieces grew a tree. And this tree was given the name Mamacoca or Cocamama. Since this event it has been used as an agent of pleasure.”
RAFAEL LARCO HOYLE
ARS ET AMOR: PERU [ART AND LOVE: PERU]
“When you chew coca, it is not as though you are ‘high.’ You don’t have any ‘drug experience,’ but rather the feeling that you have been freed of a burden.”
TREFFPUNKT CAFÉ “FRUCHTPALAST” [MEETING PLACE CAFÉ “FRUIT PALACE”]
“What kind of meaning did life have for the trephined? A ‘normal’ way of life was no longer possible. They constantly found themselves in an exceptional mental and physical state. How did they bear this? Their extraordinary experiences, inebriation, hallucinations, pains, self-denials, placed them outside of the community. They represented something like their own social status. Did they perhaps comprise an order that was obligated to perform quite specific psychological and spiritual tasks?”
INGE VON WEDEMEYER
“ ‘CULTURA CEFÁLICA’ IN ALT-PERU” (1969, 309)
In Colombia, it is or was common to mix coca powder with a paste of ground fresh tobacco leaves (Nicotiana tabacum) or dried and powdered tobacco leaves for chewing (as well as smoking?). It appears that powdered coca leaves are also used as “sniffing tobacco” in Colombia (cf. snuffs).
Archaeological finds as well as the few available ethnohistorical sources clearly demonstrate that the cultures of the Peruvian desert (Nazca, Mochica) have always used coca, more specifically the variety truxillense. For example, coca leaves were placed in the mouths of the dead so that they would be sufficiently stimulated for their “last journey” (Bühler 1958).
The Mochica used coca as an aphrodisiac and in erotic rituals that have been immortalized on ceramic grave goods. Unfortunately, little is known about these erotic rites, although the ceramics do provide a clear picture. The goal of the erotic activities was not reproduction (95% of the erotic images depict heterosexual anal intercourse)147 but the production of altered states of consciousness that in turn were utilized to obtain insights into the normally invisible world (Larco Hoyle 1979, 145).
Trepanation, the act of making openings in the skulls of living people, also was widely practiced in these cultures. Such large numbers of finds have been made that it is improbable that all of these operations were carried out with the intention of removing brain tumors. It is likely that the numerous trepanations (as many as 45% of the skulls found in Paracas were trephined; von Wedemeyer 1969, 302) were carried out for ritual and religious rather than medical reasons. It appears “as if the trepanations were also intended to induce personality changes and increases. In modern medicine, the remarkable observation has been made that peculiar euphoric states often occur after serious head injuries. The sensation of weight is suspended, people think they are floating, they have a kind of ‘experience of traveling to heaven’ ” (von Wedemeyer 1969, 307). It may be that trepanation was an important shamanic method for producing ecstatic states of consciousness.
The chewing of coca (of the variety novogranatense) was widespread throughout Colombia during pre-Hispanic times (Uscátegui M. 1954). Numerous gold objects from the time of the Tairona make reference to the use of coca. As with the later Kogi and Ika, the use of coca among the Tairona was associated with divination and the shamanic priesthood:
According to Castelanos (1601, II, Santa Marta 1, Str. 16), women were also involved in divination, which allows us to assume that there was a distinctive group of religious specialists (shamans?), for the priesthood in the more narrow sense was restricted to the men. Priestly qualifications were earned during a 16- to 20-year fast in isolation and visionary experiences under the influence of aromatic woods that were marked solely for the temple fires, augmented by the use of coca. (Bischof 1986, 25)
The descendants of the Tairona have preserved both these rituals and the restrictions concerning coca use:
Almost everywhere [in northern Colombia], the use of coca is limited to the men and strictly forbidden to the women. The extent to which coca chewing is considered a prerogative of the men can be seen in a report . . . about the Ijca [= Ika]. At the beginning of a lunar eclipse, these Indians attempt to influence the astronomical events by exchanging the roles of man and woman, i.e., the men sit down upon the floor and begin to spin, while the women watch, chewing coca as they do. (Bühler 1958, 3059)
Among the Arhuaco, only married men are allowed to chew coca. When a young man wishes to marry, he is instructed in many things by the mame, the shaman priest, and initiated into the mysteries of adult life. At the wedding, the newlywed then receives his own lime bottle, called a poporo (from Lagenaria spp.), and from that time on, he may chew coca—as much as he wants to or can. The lime bottle is the symbol of his initiation and is regarded as an amulet (Nichol 1990, 394 f.).
Both the use of coca and the associated symbolism are very similar among the Kogi (Baumgartner 1994; Ereira 1993; Müller-Ebeling 1995). At his initiation into manhood, each young boy receives his own lime gourd (poporo), which he will carry with him without interruption for the rest of his life. The initiate is told that the gourd bottle symbolizes a woman whom he will ritually wed during his initiation ceremony. When the initiate introduces the wooden stick (lime spoon) into the gourd bottle for the first time during this ritual, he is said to “deflower” his “partner,” thereby winning her for his “bride.” The stick that is introduced is understood to be the phallus, the rubbing of the stick represents coitus, and the gourd bottle is the vulva. The Kogi men are supposed to suppress all sexual activities and experience their erotic life solely through the constant use of coca (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1985, 1:87–90*; Uscátegui M. 1959, 282*; Ochiai 1978):
The little figure-eight-shaped gourd [poporo] used as a lime container is an image of the cosmos, and the stick that is inserted into it is its axis. It follows, by Kogi logic, that the gourd is a womb, the stick is a phallus, the coca leaves to be chewed are female, and the powdered lime is semen. (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1987, 78)
Many archaeological objects associated with coca and its use are known from both the northern Peruvian desert and northern Colombia.
The spectacular gold artwork of the Tairona and related peoples contains numerous representations of people using coca. There are also gold lime containers in the form of gourd bottles as well as other shapes. The small gold lime bottles shaped like a coca-chewing Indian holding coca bags in his hands are especially impressive. The opening to the bottles is located at the crown of the head (Bray 1979a, cat. no. 143a). A number of richly decorated gold lime spoons have also been discovered (Bray 1979b).
The ritual chewing of coca is a frequent theme in the paintings and the ceramics of the Moche and the Nazca cultures (Kutscher 1977*; Naranjo 1974, 610; Towle 1961, 58 f.*). The Mochican ceramics include numerous anthropomorphic vessels depicting people using coca (Dietschy 1938, 1999). Some authors have attempted to associate the erotic art of the Mochica (Larco Hoyle 1979), which they consider “perverse,” with the use of coca. They regard this art as an expression of sexual pathology resulting from a “cocaine psychosis”(cf. Kaufmann-Doig 1978, 22). I mention this hypothesis only to point out the “perversions” of some would-be scholars.
The ceramics also show the use of coca in (ritual) trephinations:
There is a Peruvian clay sculpture which shows a surgeon holding the patient’s head between his knees, chewing coca, and spitting this into the wound as a local anesthetic. The saliva is attributed with magical as well as therapeutic effects. It has, for example, a distinctive function in confession. A person would spit out his sins onto a bundle of grass that would then be thrown into the river; this is a special way to make a cathartic statement. (von Wedemeyer 1969, 306)
Artifacts were even made from the bush itself. The wood of older plants was and still is carved into images of the gods (idolos). Some beautiful examples of these can be seen in the Ethnology Museum in Basel (Switzerland). They are used primarily as altar objects in shamanic healing seances.
Today, the Indians still use bags for the leaves, gourds for the lime, and lime sticks. Among the Indians of the Colombian Sierra Madre, the coca bags are known as mochilas, tutu, or kuetand diaja. The lime gourds are called poporo, yoburo, or kuetand-tuky, and the lime spoons sokane.
In some ways, Trujillo coca also left its mark upon the early products of Coca-Cola. The ads produced around the turn of the twentieth century in particular feature young, rosy, healthy-looking women who are well dressed and are usually shown together with bouquets of roses. It almost seems as though the spirit of Mama Coca is still present in these illustrations.
The Mochica used coca for medicinal purposes; unfortunately, no documents about actual applications have come down to us (von Hagen 1979, 156 f.). In pre-Columbian times, coca apparently was commonly used as a local anesthetic for trephi-nations and other surgical procedures (Dietschy 1938).
The contemporary folk medical uses of Erythroxylum novogranatense are more or less identical to the uses of Erythroxylum coca.
The constituents of the two varieties are essentially the same as those in Erythroxylum coca, with some slight exceptions. The greatest difference is in the concentration of cocaine. Both varieties contain less than 1% cocaine and other alkaloids. The leaves and the bark contain the tropane alkaloids cuscohygrine and hygrine.
Representation of a caterpillar (?) with the typical leaves of the coca bush. (After a painting on a jar from Nazca, Peru, fifth to tenth century)
Coca-chewing shamans beneath a starry sky. The lime container, from which lime is removed with a spoon and placed in the mouth, is clearly visible. (Painting on a Moche jar, Chimu, ca. 500 C.E.)
A shaman with all of the coca paraphernalia (bag for leaves, gourd for lime) beneath a starry sky that is spanned by a double-headed snake (rainbow, a ladder of coca). (Painting on a Moche jar, Chimu, ca. 500 C.E.)
Of the four types of coca, the variety truxillense contains the highest concentration of essential oil and other pleasant flavor agents (Plowman 1979, 52).
The effects correspond to those of Erythroxylum coca, although they are somewhat milder as a result of the lower amounts of cocaine.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The Indian use of coca is tolerated in Colombia. In Peru, the cultivation and use of Trujillo coca is legal.
Some years ago, a maté de coca made with Trujillo coca (in tea bags) was exported to the United States. Sales were quickly suspended, however, as the tea was found to contain small amounts of cocaine(Siegel et al. 1986).
The legal situation (laws regulating drugs and medicines) is identical to that pertaining to Erythroxylum coca.
The Trujillo coca bush (Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense), which is cultivated in the desert of northern Peru, is most readily recognized by its small leaves and long branches. (From Mariani, nineteenth century)
See also the literature for Erythroxylum coca and cocaine.
Allen, Frederick. 1994. Coca-Cola-Story: Die wahre Geschichte. Cologne: vgs.
Baumgartner, Daniela. 1994. Das Priesterwesen der Kogi. In Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1994 (3):171–98. Berlin: VWB.
Bischof, Henning. 1986. Politische Strukturen and soziale Organisation im Bereich der Tairona-Kultur. In Tairona—Goldschmiede der Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Kolumbien, 22–27. Hamburg: Hamburgisches Museum fur Völkerkunde.
Bray, Warwick. 1979a. El Dorado: Der Traum vom Gold. Hannover: Bücher-Büchner.
———. 1979b. Gold of El Dorado. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
Bühler, A. 1958. Die Koka bei den Indianern Südamerikas. Ciba Zeitschrift 92:3052–62.
Cohen, M. N. 1978. Archaeological plant remains from the central coast of Peru. Ñawpa Pacha 16:23–50.
Dietschy, Hans. 1938. Die Heilkunst im Alten Peru. Ciba Zeitschrift 58:1990–2017.
Ereira, Alan. 1993. Die großen Brüder: Weisheiten eines urtümlichen Indio-Volkes. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt.
Griffiths, C. O. 1930. Examination of coca leaves found in a pre-Incan grave. Quarterly Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 3:52–58.
Hamburgisches Museum für Völkerkunde. Tairona– Goldschmiede der Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Kolumbien. 1986. (An exhibition catalogue)
Harms, H. 1922. Übersicht der bisher in altperuanischen Gräbern gefundenen Pflanzenreste. In Festschrift Eduard Seler, 157–86. Stuttgart: Strecker und Schröder.
Kaufmann-Doig, Federico. 1978. Sexualverhalten im Alten Peru. Lima: Kompaktos.
Larco Hoyle, Rafael. 1979. Ars et Amor: Peru. Munich: Heyne.
Müller-Ebeling, Claudia. 1995. Die Botschaft der Kogi. Esotera 5/95:24–29.
Naranjo, Plutarco. 1974. El cocaísmo entre los aborígenes de Sud América. América Indígena 34 (3): 605–28.
Nicholl, Charles. 1990. Treffpunkt Café “Fruchtpalast”: Erlebnisse in Kolumbien. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt.
Ochiai, Ines. 1978. El contexto cultural de la coca entre los indios kogi. América Indígena 37 (1): 43–50.
Pendergrast, Mark. 1996. Fur Gott, Vaterland und Coca-Cola: Die unautorisierte Geschichte der Coca-Cola-Company. Munich: Heyne.
Plowman, Timothy. 1979. The identity of Amazonian and Trujillo coca. Botanical Museum Leaflets 27 (1–2): 45–68.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. 1955. Conchales de la costa caribe de Colombia. Anais Do XXXI Congreso Internacional de Americanistas (São Paulo), 619–26.
———. 1987. The Great Mother and the Kogi universe: A concise overview. Journal of Latin American Lore 13:73–113.
———. 1991. Los Ika: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia—Notas Etnograficas 1946–1966. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
Rostworowski de Diez Canseco, M. 1973. Plantaciones prehispánicas de coca en la vertiente del pacifico. Revista del Museo Nacional (Lima) 39:193–224.
Rusby, Henry H. 1900. The botanical origin of coca leaves. Druggists Circular and Chemical Gazette, Nov.: 220–23.
———. 1901. More concerning Truxillo coca leaves. Druggists Circular and Chemical Gazette, March: 47–49.
Siegel, Ronald K., Mammoud A. Elbomly, Timothy Plowman, Phillip M. Rury, and Reese T. Jones. 1986. Cocaine in herbal tea. Journal of the American Medical Association 255 (1): 40.
Uscátegui M., Nestor. 1954. Contribución al estudio de la masticación de las hojas de coca. Revista Colombiana de Antropología 3:209–89.
von Hagen, Victor W. 1979. Die Wüstenkönigreiche Perus. Bergisch Gladbach, Germany: Bastei-Lübbe.
von Wedemeyer, Inge. 1969. “Cultura cefálica” in Alt-Perú: Ein Beitrag zur Bedeutung der Schädelbehandlungen. Antaios 10:298–312.