Coca in Peruvian Market. Photo by Zoe Helene: Zoe Helene © 2010

Coca in Peruvian Market

"Coca leaf has certainly been an object of controversy for centuries, and has been alternately praised and condemned. Used in its whole form, coca leaf is a fundamentally benign herbal material which provides vitamin A, riboflavin, iron and calcium, and may also help to regulate blood glucose, thus enhancing metabolism and helping to reduce the tendency toward adult onset diabetes and obesity. Coca leaf is also rich in beneficial antioxidants, including ones that help to protect the integrity of blood vessels. But its concentrated, isolated alkaloid cocaine is a menacing superstar on the global illicit drug stage, and has taken the lives of thousands. This gives testimony to the fact that tinkering with nature beyond a certain point can prove disastrous. Coca tea is good for you, but cocaine can kill you. Today annual South American cocaine production is estimated to exceed one million pounds, much of which goes right up the noses of US citizens." - Chris Kilham