Coca, also a herb

In the modern Western world, the hard drug cocaine, isolated in 1860, is a relative newcomer. Cocaine comes from the coca plant, Erythroxylum coca Lam. and other Erythroxylum species, which had long been known as a stimulant in pre-Hispanic South America. In the language of the Aymaras, who lived on the shores of Lake Titicaca between the fourth and thirteenth centuries, ­coca means the same as plant. According to tradition, ‘children of the sun’ taught them the custom as shown in the legend below.

Legend about the coca plant

Long ago, when our ancestors the Aymaras settled on the shores of Lake Titicaca, they did not know how to grow the crops of the field ­and they often went hungry. The sun god saw this and felt sorry. He sent two of his children, Manco Capac and his sister Manna Oello, the daughter of the moon, to teach his people about agriculture. They also learned to make the tools needed for this. But the work was hard and our forefathers could ­hardly keep up. The heavenly helpers also knew what to do here. They brought them ­the coca plant and showed the workers how to use it to gain strength. And our ancestors used it and worked hard. And they saw that it was good advice. Then the priests and the first of our people said that we had achieved much. They said that we should not work so hard anymore, but that we should now show our gratitude to the sun god. And because they know a lot and also know how we should serve the sun god, they took the coca and led the ceremonies.
Out of gratitude they offered the coca. They placed its flowers on the sacrificial fire and the spirit of the flowers went like smoke to the sun ­negod. And the smoke has great power. The sun god accepted the gift and rejoiced. But he also wanted to show that he loved his people and that is why he spread the precious smoke. And whoever was touched by the smoke became a virtuous man and a happy future was his portion.

History of the coca plant

As early as the third millennium BCE, the coca plant is said to have been cultivated on the eastern and western flanks of the Andes Mountains in present-day Ecuador, from where it spread further. Remains of the coca plant have been found in owl graves from the period 1200-500 BC. and sometimes coca leaves were ­given in bags to deceased members. Research into the various South American cultures indicates that coca must have been a strong binding element in religious terms. The plant was used for initiation rituals and other important events. Even then it was of fundamental value to the economy. But it was not until around 1450 to 1530, during the Inca era, that the plant was canonized and elevated to a divine state. Only then did coca use become a general social event. Before that time it was a privilege reserved for priests and princes. They took advantage of the magical origins of coca use to limit it to religious ceremonies.

Uses of the coca plant

The Indians prefer to chew coca. Very occasionally the ­dried and finely powdered leaf is sniffed together with tobacco. But usually the leaf is chewed briefly and moistened with saliva until a plum is formed. This is then placed between the cheek and teeth, after which the necessary lime is added. Lime is needed to release cocaine from the leaf. Without lime there is no effect. Gradually, the free cocaine base comes into contact with the buccal mucosa, is absorbed into the blood and can then begin its action. Some of the released cocaine ­is also swallowed with the saliva. The plum should remain in the mouth for at least an hour, while being sucked gently. Every now and then you need to add a little lime ­. The effect of this coca consumption is said to be comparable to that of a strong cup of coffee, only it lasts much longer and suppresses the feeling of hunger. Used in this way, coca is not addictive and it is certainly not comparable to the effect of the pure substance cocaine, as it is now used as an addictive drug all over the world.

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