Everything You Never Knew About Coca Leaves

By skladanj |

© R. Tyler Gross/Getty Images

We all know “crack is whack,” but what if we told you its natural source, coca leaves, were actually nutritious and energizing components of a typical South American diet? Don’t expect to find them in your grocery store’s produce section, though. The plants are banned in the U.S. and likely to stay that way until people can chew responsibly. In the meantime, check out the history behind the plant. Because you never know where your next trip to Peru or Colombia will take you.

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What are Coca Leaves?

Leaves (obviously) from the flowering coca plant, which grows as both trees and shrubs. They look like any unkempt bush near a Walmart parking lot.

How are Coca Leaves Used?

Aside from the production of cocaine, South Americans enjoy chewing the leaves and using them for tea. The green stuff, when mixed with saliva or steeped in hot water, releases an invigorating quality similar to a caffeine jolt. Additionally, the leaves are nutritious and boast a variety of minerals, vitamins and nutrients. So move over, kale — there is a new superfood in town.

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What is the Effect of Chewing Coca Leaves?

You become mildly stimulated, almost like a cup of coffee. Coca may also suppress hunger, thirst, pain, fatigue and altitude sickness. For these reasons, Coca-Cola was originally created and touted for its coca leaves' healing properties. Now, since being stripped of the active ingredient, it is linked to child obesity and onset diabetes. Oh, how far you’ve come, Coke.

Where are Coca Leaves Grown?

Western South America, but most predominantly in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Maybe your grandparents’ backyard. Anything is possible.

What’s the Controversy?

Each leaf contains cocaine, but at an extremely low content (typically between 0.5 and one percent of the drug in alkalyzed form). Extracting the cocaine chemically from leaves is a concern because of its inevitable production and distribution in countries where cocaine is banned (i.e. the U.S.). We learned through D.A.R.E. that cocaine is a highly addictive substance that leads to bad things, so outlawing its natural source prevents its manufacturing, right? Riiiiiiiight.

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