Photo courtesy of Chef Schiaffino

Learn | 11.18.2021

Coca Leaf: The Plant That Is Used To Make Cocaine Is A Superfood

Although it has numerous health benefits, the U.S. has strict laws to keep coca leaves out of reach.

We often associate the coca plant with the white, powdered, and illicit substance known as cocaine, produced from its leaves. That said, we’re here to evoke change in perception of the coca leaf; although it’s mostly used to create cocaine, the leaf itself has countless health benefits that shouldn’t go unnoticed. 

Before the coca leaf became corrupted by the production of cocaine, the leaf was known as a miracle crop with many nutritional properties for thousands of years. And now, the leaf is making a reappearance but in a more wholesome and beneficial way through South American cuisine. 

Photo courtesy of Vaya Adventures

It’s said that the coca leaf may be involved in the survival and craftsmanship of ancient people in modern-day Peru or Bolivia, which were the first and most developed civilizations in the world and the Andes mountains. Those who visit modern-day La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, are encouraged to chew coca leaves or ingest coca leaf tea to fight off altitude sickness.

The coca leaf has a profound ability to oxygenate the blood. It’s also naturally higher in protein, iron, vitamins A & B, riboflavin, phosphorus, and calcium than 50 other vegetables listed on the INCAP Food Composition Table. Not only this, but sipping on coca leaf tea or chewing the leaf also delivers a caffeine-like rush without the shakes or nerves we get from coffee.

The oldest man to ever live, Carmelo Flores Laura, attributed his old age to his constant coca leaf chewing. Flores Laura ended up passing away at the impressive age of 123. Coca leaf is also a scientifically-proven cure for hangovers. When chewed before a night of alcohol consumption, the coca leaf properties keep the body from absorbing extreme amounts of alcohol.

Photo by Toby Muse / Insider

Coca leaf can be used as a topical treatment for pain and arthritis, and for the ladies, it has powerful healing abilities for PMS symptoms. However, you won’t see South American cuisines chewing their coca leaves in dishes; instead, they ground it into a flour called harina.

Harina can be made into different loaves of bread and cookies called alfajores or batters for frying meat and vegetables. Peru’s Central Restaurante in Lima is known for using coca leaves in their bread, often served with delicious herb butter. 

Although there are many powerful health benefits within the coca leaf, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a strict ban on the importation of coca leaves, so getting your hands on them is virtually impossible. 

Photo by Ildi Papp / Shutterstock

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