When we arrived in Peru, something caught our attention strongly: the continuous chewing of coca leaves on the part of the local peasants. We soon understood the reason why this was taking place: We were at an altitude of 3.350 Mts. above Sea Level, and the peasants there work with Oxen. When I tried to plow the land using Oxen myself, and after I tried coca leaves, I understood this reason even better. I did even more so, when with a French friend of mine who came to visit us named Pascal we climbed the Apu Picol located at 4.500 M.A S.L. Without the help of coca leaves I wouldn’t have been able to reach the summit that day. When I was two thirds up the way and already exhausted, I chewed on some coca leaves and immediately felt a shot of renewed energy going through my body. That way I could “save” my dignity that day. To this day we have been using coca leaves for a period of about 5 years on an almost daily basis. It has become a daily habit and we always feel good spurts of energy from this, without the irritable effects that might accompany the daily use of things like caffeine for example. Occasionally in the mornings we mix it with “llifta”, which is Alkaline Ashes (a substance capable of irritating the mucous membrane if it comes in direct contact with it). Also by facilitating the extraction of alkaloids this could over generate hormonal and enzymatic stimulus and interfere with sleeping. A bad thing about coca leaf chewing is the fact that it is socially incorrect in the western culture… not very elegant and somewhat rugged… you have to accept this fact. My wife Gabi says that when I am on it, I tend to behave just like a goat … hahaha…From the physiological and organic angle, it doesn’t seem to cause any harm… quite the opposite, it brings health benefits as long as you do a reasonable amount of physical activity, and as long as you eat enough. In fact, the chewing of coca leaves brings good nutritional habits since it diminishes in part the sensation of hunger. Personally, I feel wonderful !! At my age (64), I am able to run easily for more than 10 Km., and could walk nonstop for 3 days.
COCA PLANT – A TRADITIONAL and RITUAL PLANT In Bolivia as well as in Peru, and in the Northern part of Argentina, the custom of chewing coca leaves has been kept alive among the Andean indigenous people, Quechuas and Aymaras, who keep it in their mouths until its juices are absorbed completely. It is always accompanied by a dose of quinoa ashes, kiwicha or cocoa, llifta, or lye in order to extract part of the 14 alkaloids that it contains; this process maximizes its energetic potential, which in turn increases the energetic and physical levels of endurance. Contrary to popular belief, the coca plant in the form of a leaf is not a drug as per say, and it does not create a physiological dependence. Without a doubt, it is a cultural and typical habit of the regions that it influences. Among its advantages, are as follows: At the human level among the inhabitants of the Mountain range, it is a social habit of great proportions. At any gatherings between the Andean peasants who many times find themselves having an “alcoholic euphoria”, and people from outside the region who chew on coca leaves, smoothes things over and it opens fraternal and complicity venues when you offer some of the coca leaves that you are chewing on to them, and they gladly accept. On the same token they will offer some of the Chicha (sugar cane alcohol), that they are drinking and you must oblige as well, as they offer part of the beverage to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). It is greatly valued and appreciated that a “Gringo”, gives importance to their plant and rituals. In our own experience the action of just taking a gulp of Chicha from them, has acted like a passport and this act itself has broken the ice, mistrusts, and stereotypes as well, and it has contributed to better socializing. At the Ritual level, coca chewing is essential since their offerings to the Apus (Sacred Mountains) have as one of its main components the “Quintu”, which consists of three big and healthy Coca leaves offered along with a wish, murmured through the ritual breath to the spirits that protect the Sacred Mountains. It is also used on the ritual magical tables to bless, cure and evoke while used along with many other ingredients. It is used by the Andean Priests, Chamanes or Medicine Men as an Oracle to predict situations or events. In short, coca leaf chewing is an essential part of the traditional culture, wrongly portrayed as evil by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and by the West with negative consequences. “Grape is not the same as wine, wheat is not the same as beer, and coca leaves are not the same as cocaine”. In the last ten years a scientific and intellectual movement has emerged in Peru, vindicating the extraordinary properties of this plant in its traditional uses, as well as a nutrient and food complement of singular and powerful characteristics.In Bolivia coca plant flour has been used for years to prepare breads, cookies, filters and even tooth paste. In Peru this type of industry and food consumption is slowly being implemented, but it still faces some legal roadblocks.