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Coca tea (known in Peru as mate de coca) , is an herbal tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. The coca leaf is cut and put in a tea bag and is used as a normal tisane: by dipping a coca tea bag in hot water. Mate de coca is a very popular tisane in Peru where it is consumed as a digestive tea and even to treat altitude sickness. (that’s why it is so popular among the mountaineers who climb the Andes).
Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. It also is used as an anaesthetic to alleviate the pain of headache and sores, etc. Before stronger anaesthetics were available, coca leaves were also used for broken bones, childbirth, and during trephining operations on the skull.
Even tough the leaves of the coca plant contain several alkaloids including cocaine, it does not mean that coca leaf is equivalent to cocaine because to produce cocaine from the leaves it isneeded several kilos of leaves and some chemical products and processes to extract a few grams of cocaine which is not the case when consuming the leaves naturally and directly as a tea.
The tiny quantities of alkaloid that are naturally present in coca leaves provide only a slight energising sensation and are not addicting at all. In Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous people chew coca leaves for energy to work all day long without eating.
Coca tea is sold in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador in the supermarkets besides the other kinds of teas, there is even no limitation of age to purchase coca tea. It is seen as another kind of tea in these countries and it is starting to be seen as so in the rest of the countries.
The Coca plant:
Coca is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to north-western South America. The plant plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Coca, spelled koka in Quechua and Aymara, resembles a blackthorn bush, and grows to a height of 2–3 m (7–10 ft). The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, and taper at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines, one line on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf.
Coca leaves have been used for centuries as a stimulant. Pre-Incan Indians used the leaves to relieve altitude sickness (hypoxia), hunger and fatigue. Coca is traditionally cultivated in the lower altitudes of the eastern slopes of the Andes, or the highlands depending on the species grown. Since ancient times, its leaves have been an important trade commodity between the lowlands where it is grown and the higher altitudes where it is widely consumed by the Andean peoples of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
Traces of coca have been found in mummies dating to 3000 years ago. Extensive archeological evidence for the chewing of coca leaves dates back at least to the sixth century A.D. Moche period, and the subsequent Inca period, based on mummies found with a supply of coca leaves, pottery depicting the characteristic cheek bulge of a coca chewer, spatulas for extracting alkali and figured bags for coca leaves and lime made from precious metals, and gold representations of coca in special gardens of the Inca in Cuzco. Coca chewing may originally have been limited to the eastern Andes before its introduction to the Incas.