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 Dried coca leaves|© Ildi Papp/Shutterstock
Dried coca leaves|© Ildi Papp/Shutterstock
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6 Health Benefits of the Coca Leaf

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 30 January 2017
When most people hear the word ‘coca’, they associate it with the dangerous street drug, cocaine. In reality, this multipurpose medicinal plant was used by indigenous South Americans for thousands of years before the idea of extracting it into an illegal drug was even conceived. When chewed or consumed in tea, the coca leaf provides an impressive number of tangible health benefits. Here’s our list of the top six.

A long-lasting energy boost

This is the number one reason coca has become such an intricate part of Andean culture. Before industrialization, working longs days of extremely hard labor was the norm. Coca’s consistent energy boost allowed workers to go harder and work for longer. These days, it is a favorite among miners and bus drivers for its long-lasting energy kick without the spike and crash effect of caffeine.

A reduction of appetite

Chewing coca makes those hunger pangs go away. This is of utmost importance to the underprivileged workers of South America who often don’t have the time or the money to eat three good meals a day. Coca lets them get on with the job without being constantly distracted by an empty stomach. It can also be used as a dietary aid to discourage the obese from overeating.

A painkiller

Consuming coca leaves creates a numbing effect on pain and discomfort. While it’s not an extremely powerful analgesic, it does provide enough relief to allow laborers to continue their arduous work. For example, the coca leaf would have been instrumental in assisting the Incas to lug those huge stones all the way to Machu Picchu.

A remedy for altitude sickness

The coca leaf is fantastic at reducing the unwanted symptoms of altitude sickness which include nausea, breathlessness, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue and headache. This natural cure has been used by locals for millennia and is so widely known that virtually all hotels in high altitude Andean cities supply it to their guests.

A source of nutrients

The coca leaf has a variety of beneficial nutritional properties. It’s got plenty of essential minerals (calcium, magnesium and phosphorus), stacks of vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, C, and E) and important nutrients such as fiber and protein. Daily coca consumption is the perfect natural alternative to taking dietary supplements.

An upset stomach remedy

A hot cup of coca tea is a great way to relieve the pain and nausea that comes with an upset tummy. This is handy while traveling through the Andes, where food hygiene may not be up to the same standards as at home. While it does provide noticeable relief, it’s still important to keep well hydrated and seek medical attention if problems persist.

Traditional Andean medicine credits the coca leaf as being an effective treatment for a number of other ailments including ulcers and digestion problems. It’s even said to be an aphrodisiac and to increase life expectancy. With such a diverse range of medical applications, it’s little wonder the coca leaf has been considered sacred by indigenous South American inhabitants throughout history. Unfortunately, due to its potential to be refined into cocaine, coca is illegal everywhere outside of the Andes. But if you’re planning a trip to this part of the world you should give it a try to discover these amazing health benefits for yourself.