For a very long time coca has been an important part of the culture of Peru and Bolivia. When ancient burial sites are excavated coca leaves are often found. These leaves, many thousands of years old, actually maintain their potency , although for chewing purposes fresh green coca leaves are much tastier.
Coca leaves are usually but not always chewed with “llipht a”. This is a plant based substance, often containing ashes, that helps to release the alkaloid cocaine, which is present in very small percentages in every leaf. So if you chew coca with “llipht a” your mouth with become more numb than if you chew without. Coca is usually chewed like bubble gum, i.e. you spit it out after the leaves lose their taste.
Coca leaves also offer an important source of calcium and vitamin C. Coca tea (mate de coca) is very soothing and uplifting beverage, and is thought to help the body to adjust to high altitudes of the Andean Mountains.
In the USA, the only legal importer of coca is the Coca-Cola company, which imports many tons of leaves every year. Originally both cocaine and cuscohygrine were extracted from the leaves and used as natural flavorings. Nowadays they say that only the alkaloid cuscohygrine is extracted and is used to flavor the immensely popular soft drink.
Many of the people who come to Peru learn to enjoy coca tea, coca candles and other coca products. Rather than damaging ones health coca is actually a very beneficial plant. If coca was not illegal in the rest of the world, then thousands of people would be free to enjoy its fountain-of-youth properties. It is also said that if coca was legal Peru and Bolivia would be much wealthier.
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Coca grows best in the vertile valleys if the “ceja de selva” (brow of the jungle). That is the land below the high Andes, but above the Amazon Basin. When you see a sign that says “Coca es Patria“, it means that the Peruvian people are proud to defend their right to their historical and biological inheritance. It also means that they don’t want other countries which don’t understand their culture, to meddle in their affairs and try to eradicate an ancient tradition and a beneficial plant.