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Coca

Coca (Erythroxylon coca) is a plant of the natural order Erythroxylaceae[?], the leaves of which are used as a stimulant in the western countries of South America (see Cocomama). It resembles a blackthorn[?] bush, and grows to a height of 6 or 8 ft. The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a lively green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, more or less tapering at the extremities.

A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines once on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf. Good samples of the dried leaves are uncurled, are of a deep green on the upper, and a grey-green on the lower surface, and have a strong tea-like odour; when chewed they produce a sense of warmth in the mouth, and have a pleasant, pungent taste. Bad specimens have a camphoraceous[?] smell and a brownish colour, and lack the pungent taste. The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks; the corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels united to form a threechambered ovary. The flowers are succeeded by red berries. The seeds are sown in December and January in small plots (almacigas) sheltered from the sun, and the young plants when from 1 1/8 to 2 ft. in height are placed in holes (aspi), or, if the ground is level, in furrows (uachos) in carefully-weeded soil. The plants thrive best in hot, damp situations, such as the clearings of forests; but the leaves most preferred are obtained in drier localities, on the sides of hills. The leaves are gathered from plants varying in age from one and a half to upwards of forty years. They are considered ready for plucking when they break on being bent. The first and most abundant harvest is in March, after the rains; the second is at the end of June, the third in October or November. The green leaves (matu) are spread in thin layers on coarse woollen cloths and dried in the sun; they are then packed in sacks, which, in order to preserve the quality of the leaves, must be kept from damp.

In the Kew Bulletin for January 1889 is an account of the history and botany of the plant, which has been so long under cultivation in South America that its original home is doubtful. As the result of this cultivation, numerous forms have arisen. The writer distinguishes from the typical Peruvian form with pointed leaves a variety novo-granatense, from New Granada, which has smaller leaves with a rounded apex. The plant is now cultivated in the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, Java and elsewhere. In Peru the Indians carry a leathern pouch (the chuspa or huallqui) for the leaves, and a supply of pulverized unslaked lime, or a preparation of the ashes of the quinoa plant (Chenopodium Quinoa), called uipta or ilucta. Three or four times a day labour is suspended for chacchar or acullicar, as the mastication of coca is termed. The leaves, deprived of their stalks, are chewed and formed into a ball (acullico) in the mouth; a small quantity of the lime or llipta is then applied to the acullico to give it a proper relish. Two or three ounces of coca are thus daily consumed by each Indian.

Coca was used by the Peruvian Indians in ancient times. It was employed as an offering to the Sun, or to produce smoke at the great sacrifices; and the priests, it was believed, must chew it during the performance of religious ceremonies, otherwise the gods would not be propitiated. Coca is still held in superstitious veneration among the Peruvians, and is believed by the miners of Cerro de Pasco to soften the veins of ore, if masticated and thrown upon them. The parmacologically active ingredient of coca is the alkaloid cocaine.

The composition of different specimens of coca leaves is very inconstant. Besides cocaine, occurring to the extent of about 0.2 % in fresh specimens, there are several other alkaloids. The preparations of coca leaves are incompatible with certain drugs which might often be prescribed in combination with them, such as salts of mercury, menthol[?] and mineral acids, which latter decompose cocaine into benzoic acid and ecgonine[?].

based on an article from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica



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