For Andean communities across Peru, the coca leaf is arguably the most important of all plants. Take a glimpse into why this is such an important plant.
People of the Andes treat the coca leaf with reverence. It is a tradition before chewing the leaf to offer a kintu, which is an offering. People offer coca leaves back to mother earth, Pachamama, and also amongst each other as an offering of goodwill. Before offering a kintu, it is important to charge the coca leaves being offered with a prayer by blowing on them while pointing them to surrounding apus, sacred mountain peaks.
An important accessory for chewing coca leaves is the mesa, or alter piece (pictured above). These textiles are used in order to place the coca leaf where it can be shared amongst friends. It is also a place where people put sacred objects in order to charge the coca leaves with intentions.
While hiking across the Andes, you might stumble upon special places where people, across the ages, have dropped their coca leaves as offerings. These sacred places are known as huecas, and are places that have been visited for many generations due to their special significance.
If you are lucky, you might have the chance to get a coca reading from an Andean wisdom-keeper. Those who have been trained in this form of divination can read coca leaves in order to give you life advice, and to provide insight into what is happening to you. In the picture above there are several shapes of coca leaves, each of which would tell a different story.
Llipta is a resin that is made from one of various plants. Most people chew their coca leaves with llipta, which serves as an activator for the chemicals in the coca leaf. Chewing Llipta with coca leaves will make the effects of the coca leaf more intense.
There are many dozens of products that can be made from the coca leaf. This gentleman dedicates his life to traveling the world in order to share the story of the coca leaf. Within his van he sells products that include cookies, butters, pills, liquors, and oils.
Contrary to what most people believe, the coca leaf grows in the jungle. The bush can grow to be about 4 meters high, and the highest quality leaves for chewing are the smallest ones.
Across the centuries the coca leaf has gotten a bad name, most recently because it is the base ingredient for making cocaine. But make no mistake: these are two very different things. The coca leaf has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years, and has many medicinal properties.
Cover photo: Scott Montgomery