Coca tea - a cure for altitude sickness
By Karin Schill
(28/08/2014) Regardless if you travel with us to Peru on our Peru Classic Tour or our Peru Inca Trail Tour you are bound to experience some altitude sickness. To cure this one of our guides will most likely offer you a drink called Coca tea. But what is that?
Coca tea, which is also known as mate de coca, is a common herbal tea in South America. It is made using leafs from the coca plant, which is native to South America. The coca plant belongs to the Erythroxylaceae family and resembles a bush, which can reach a height of 2-3 meters. The branches are straight and the leaves are thin, oval and green. The coca plant plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Andean People in Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru have drunk this tea for centuries, as the use of coca leafs dates back to Pre-Incan times.
Since ancient times the coca leaf has been used for medical purposes. It is a stimulant and pre-Incan Indians used the coca leaves to relieve altitude sickness, hunger and fatigue. Even today the coca tea is often recommended to travelers in the Andes to prevent altitude sickness even though its actual effectiveness has never been systematically studied. But it has been reported by travelers who have drunk this tea that it has had an energizing effect.
Even though the leaf of the coca plant contains several alkaloids, including cocaine, it does not mean that the coca leaf is equivalent to cocaine. Because to produce cocaine from the coca leaf one need to chemically extract the substance. Still due to the presence of the alkaloids in the coca leaf coca tea is considered a stimulant and its consumption can be compared to the consumption of coffee or tea.
The use of coca tea varies culturally. In South American countries like Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador it is considered a tea among all the others and is sold at the supermarkets with no age limitation. But in the USA coca tea is illegal unless it is decocainized, a process which is similar to the decaffeination in coffee.
The coca tea is greenish yellow in color and has a mild bitter flavor similar to green tea with a more organic sweetness. It is also possible that it tastes a little like Coca-Cola, which also uses cocaine-free coca leaf extract in their soft drinks.
Text by: Karin Schill.