Often recommended for travellers in the Andes to prevent altitude sickness, its actual effectiveness has never been systematically studied, but legal Coca tea helps relieve altitude sickness locals say.
Coca tea, also called mate de coca, is a herbal tea made using the raw leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is made either by submerging the coca leaf or dipping a tea bag in hot water. The tea is most commonly consumed in the Andes mountain range, particularly Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. It is greenish-yellow in colour and has a mildly bitter flavour similar to green tea with a more organic sweetness.
Coca tea is legal in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador. It is illegal in the United States unless it is decocainized, similar to decaffeination in coffee. Just like decaffeinated coffee does retain a minute quantity of caffeine, decocainized coca tea will still contain a minute quantity of organic coca alkaloids.
The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids which–when extracted chemically–are the source for cocaine base. However, the amount of coca alkaloid in the raw leaves is small. A cup of coca tea prepared from one gram of coca leaves (the typical contents of a teabag) contains approximately 4.2 mg of organic coca alkaloid. (In comparison, a line of cocaine contains between 20 and 30 milligrams.) Owing to the presence of these alkaloids, coca tea is a mild stimulant; its consumption may be compared to consumption of coffee or tea. The coca alkaloid content of coca tea is such that the consumption of one cup of coca tea can cause a positive result on a drug test for cocaine.
Many Andean indigenous peoples use the tea for medicinal purposes. Coca tea has also been used to wean cocaine addicts off the drug.