vendredi 5 février 2010

Coca leaves

Once in Peru and heading in the direction of the "Altiplano" that is to say the steppes of the Andes, we noticed amongst the drinks and snacks being sold in the streets and bus stations, women selling bagfuls of leaves. Yes! we had suddenly entered into the coca chewing regions of south Americia.
The leaves of the Erythroxylon coca or Khoka meaning "tree by excellence" have been used for thousands of years by the local people and were used by the Incas for medicinal and ritualistic purposes, given as offerings to the sun and the mountains and also used in the same way as tea-leaves for divination.
The first use we came across was that of relieving altitude sickness. Men and women alike chew the leaves creating a ball of leaf pulp, which they keep for long periods in the corner of their mouth. We also noticed people with coca leaves stuck to their foreheads, when I asked why, the reason was for relieving altitude related headaches, I know that essential oils penetrate the sytem very efficiently through the skin but I am less sure that much of the active principals of a dried coca leaf are transfered in this way.
Later on in the silver mining town of Potosi, we witnessed another use for these leaves. This time it was for their stimulating virtues, the ability to help one support physical stress and repress hunger, qualities that the miners working in incredibly difficult conditions needed. I spent a morning at the mine and watched the miners skillfully, de-stalking coca leaves one by one with their teeth and then making little by little an enormous ball of pulp, which they all had in the sides of their mouths. It seemed as if the only way these boys and men could support working conditions that have remained unchanged since the middle ages was by a constant chewing of coca leaves, the work and the chewing were inseperable. To see this constant use of coca made me think about their long term effects, after reading several studies on the web, there seems to be no real evidence that long term use has an nefast effect. There is, however plenty of evidence that the use of coca leaves helps support heavy, physical work and supplies valuable vitamins and minerals to the body.

And the link between coca leaves and cocaine, I hear you saying, yes, cocaine is made from coca leaves but involves a complicated and long winded chemical process, including a solution of alcohol, gasoline, kersosene, or some other solvent that will seperate the cocaine from the leaves. Too complicated to go into here and of little interest to herbalists.
Coca leaves are used all over South America and consumed either by chewing them or in herbal tea, they are often mixed with cactus or quinoa ashes as the potash in the ashes helps liberate the cocaine.
I have tried to indicate the active agents of the coca leaf below, however this information has been gathered from the internet, please forgive me if their are any errors, the aim is to give a general idea.
Coca leaves contain : an enzyme called papaine, which helps digestion by accelerating the process and also has helps heal scar tissue.
Higraine, which helps blood circulation and protects against high altitude sickness.
Quinoleine, which helps stop tooth decay when mixed with calcium and phosphore.
Atropine, which has a drying effect on the respiratory tract.
Benzonine, which helps heal skin tissue and has antifermenting properties.
Pectine which is effective against diarhea.
Globuline, which tonifies the heart protecting against tachycardie and hypotension, has an immediate regulating responce to high altitudes thus making it a efficient remedy for high altitude sickness.
Pyridine, which stimulates blood circulation, oxygenating the brain thus helping at high altitudes where blood flow slows down.
Reserpine, which reduces high blood pressure.
Cocamine , which has anesthetic effects.
Conine, a powerful local anesthetic.
The cocaine, which represents 80% of the alcaloids in coca leaves is a local anesthetic, which acts on damaged internal and external tissues.
Inuline refreshes and helps liver function, bile secretion, is diuretic, helps eliminate toxic substances.

1 commentaire: