Charissa just finished reading Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures, which is full of amazing photographs. She shared portions with me–some interesting, some infuriating, some illegal. For example, read this nature nugget on coca, the plant from which cocaine is produced…

Coca is said to be the most revered plant of the Andes. “No holy shrine in the land could be approached unless the supplicant had a quid of coca in his mouth.” “To this day in parts of the Andes, distances are measured not in miles but in coca chews. When Runa people meet, they do not shake hands, they exchange leaves” (p. 39).

Tim Plowman was given a mandate by the Colombian government to study the coca plant and retrace its history. Tim and Wade Davis, the author, learned that coca leaves contain about as much cocaine as coffee beans have caffeine, and when chewed, the cocaine is absorbed slowly acting as a mild stimulant.

“Highly effective as a treatment for altitude sickness, the leaves proved also to be extraordinarily nutritious. Rich in vitamins, coca has more calcium than any plant ever assayed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggesting a vital role in a diet that traditionally lacked dairy products, especially for nursing mothers. It was also suggested that the plant enhances the ability of the body to digest carbohydrates at high elevation, again an ideal complement for a diet based on potatoes…. Tim revealed that coca was not a drug but a sacred food, a medicinal plant that had been used without any evidence of toxicity, let alone addiction, for over four thousand years by the peoples of the Andes. This revelation put inot stark profile the draconian efforts underway… to eradicate the traditional fields with herbicides that poison the myriad streams cascading out of the mountains to form the headwaters of the Rivers Amazon” (p. 39).




  1. It never ceases to amaze me how groups of ‘primitive’ people know so much more about the plants around them than us ‘advanced’ people. And when scientists go and find out cures for things based on traditional medicines it’s often regarded as remarkable. I’m always sad to realise how distanced we get from the world by using all of the conveniences that technology gives us. For an interesting view on how the cultures of the world are so different although the people are all from the same source you should try “Guns Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

  2. “Collapse” is really awesome, and easier to read than Guns Germs and Steel, which takes a few chapters to egt into. He also wrote “the Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee”, which is supposed to be fantastic, I’ve only read excerpts, but they’re pretty good.

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