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ShrubbySpecies Plant

Erythroxylum novogranatense

Erythroxylum novogranatense

Colombian coca (Erythroxylum novogranatense (D. Morris) Hieron., 1895) is a shrub or tree species belonging to the Erythroxylaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Linales Order,
Erythroxylaceae family,
Genus Erythroxylum,
Species E. novogranatense.
The term is basionym:
– Erythroxylum coca var. novogranatense Morris.
The terms are synonymous:
– Erythroxylum coca var. microphyllum (Morris) Hieron.;
– Erythroxylum coca var. tobagense O.E.Schulz, 1907;
– Erythroxylum novogranatense var. tobagense O.E.Schulz.
The following varieties are recognized within this species:
– Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense (D.Morris) Hieron.;
– Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense (Rusby) Plowman.

Etymology –
The term Erythroxylum comes from the two Greek words “erythros”, red and “xylon”, wood, due to the reddish color of the wood of some species belonging to the genus.
The specific epithet novogranatense comes from the Latin “novus, a, um”, new and “granatensis”, from Granata, in reference to one of the places of origin, Colombia, which was called at the time of its conquest by the Spanish New Granada.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Erythroxylum novogranatense is a neotropical plant native to the semi-arid Andean regions of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.
It was introduced in Bogor (West Java, Indonesia) in 1875, and by 1888 large quantities of seeds were already being distributed in Southeast Asia. It has been cultivated in Peninsular Malaysia, West and East Java (Indonesia), North Borneo (Indonesia), North Sulawesi (Indonesia), and the Philippines (Luzon).
Its natural habitat is not known.

Description –
Erythroxylum novogranatense is a plant that grows in the form of a shrub or small evergreen tree, up to about 3 m tall.
The leaves are borne on a petiole about 0.5 cm long; they are alternate, obovate or oblong-elliptical, 2-6 cm long and 1-3 cm wide, of a bright green colour.
The flowers are axillary, hermaphroditic, solitary or grouped, produced almost continuously, with five yellowish white, oblong petals, about 0.4 cm long and 0.2 cm wide, and 10 stamens united at the base in a tube.
The fruits are oblong-shaped drupes, red in color when ripe, about 0.8 cm in length and 0.3 cm in diameter.
Inside there is a single oblong seed.
In addition to the nominal species, a variety is recognized, the Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense (Rusby) Plowman (1979) which differs in the absence of longitudinal lines on the sides of the central vein in the leaf, present in the species.

Cultivation –
Erythroxylum novogranatense is a small evergreen shrub whose leaves are used like those of E. Coca; however this species has not become a commercial source of cocaine.
It is grown in the lower regions of tropical South America and Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka). Although it was once important as a plantation crop for the Malaysian region, it has long lost its importance.
The plant is more adapted to the hot, humid conditions of tropical lowlands than E. coca and, unlike this, tolerates non-acid soils. Its adaptability and easy propagation have led to a wide distribution in the tropics of the Old and New Worlds.
This plant comes from the plateau areas but is used in the lowland areas. It is grown in the driest regions of South America, where it requires irrigation. However, it is very adaptable to different ecological conditions and grows well in both humid and dry areas, both at low and high altitudes. In Java (Indonesia), it has been grown from sea level up to 1,000 m altitude, with best results at 400–600 m.
In controlled environment studies, the optimal average daily temperature for leaf growth of E. novogranatense var. novogranatense was found to be around 27 °C, while leaf growth was generally higher at photosynthetic photon flux densities (PPFD) of 250 or 400 micromols per square meter per second compared to 155 micromols per square meter per second. Environmental effects on cocaine concentration in leaves were minor, such that total cocaine production per plant was largely a function of leaf mass, with environmental conditions stimulating leaf growth giving higher cocaine yields. Both species grow on soils with low pH, and a greenhouse study has shown that the optimal pH for E. novogranatense biomass accumulation is between 4.7 and 6.0.
This plant must be propagated by seed, because vegetative propagation is difficult. Seed viability declines rapidly. Seed germination rates were found to decrease from approximately 95% and 89% immediately after harvest to 29% and 0%, respectively, after 24 days of storage.
Coca seedlings are usually sown in shaded nurseries and transplanted into the field when they are about one year old and 20–25 cm tall. In the field, they are planted at a distance of 1–2 m. The actual transplant time and distance between plants varies depending on climate factors and whether coca is intercropped or grown as a single crop.
Coca growers in South America, when they collect the seeds, pour them into a container full of water; floating seeds are discarded as non-viable.
The first coca harvest occurs 1-3 years after transplanting. On the island of Java (Indonesia) a first harvest can be expected within a year of transplanting. The leaves must be rigid and easily detachable to be collected. Leaves can be harvested every 50–60 days during the rainy season, but when it is drier, they are usually harvested every 3–4 months. The leaves should be detached from the plant and not torn off.

Customs and Traditions –
Erythroxylum novogranatense is a plant known by various common names; among these are: Colombian coca, Trujillo coca, Truxillo coca (English); coca de Trujillo (Spanish).
This plant contains the same alkaloids as cocaine, a street drug, and the leaves have long been used by local people as a stimulant to overcome hunger and exhaustion.
In an extensive study, the cocaine content in the leaves of E. coca var. coca (30 samples) ranged from 0.23 to 0.96%, with an average of 0.63%, while the cocaine content in E. coca var. ipadu (6 samples) was lower: 0.11-0.41%, with an average of 0.25%. E. novogranatense var. novogranatense (3 samples) contained 0.55-0.93% cocaine, with an average of 0.77% and E. novogranatense var. truxillense (14 samples) 0.42-1.02%, with an average of 0.72%.
The leaves contain 13 different alkaloids, the main one being cocaine, whose effects are well known. The use of chewing the leaves, in particular those of the related species, Erythroxylum coca Lam. (1786), by the indigenous Andean populations it is very ancient and initially reserved for priests for ritual purposes; it served as a stimulant and to relieve fatigue, the leaves were also used as an anesthetic in surgical operations.
The consumption of the leaves also had a nutritional value, in particular periods of famine, due to their content of proteins, carbohydrates, mineral salts and vitamins.
The use was prohibited by the Spanish conquerors because it was linked to pagan rites, but at the same time authorized and encouraged to obtain greater performance from the indigenous people enslaved, in particular for those employed in the most tiring jobs and in adverse environmental conditions, such as in the mines of silver located at high altitudes, a fact that contributed to its greater diffusion, even among populations that had not previously used it. In medicine, cocaine is mostly obtained from the related species already mentioned, since the contribution of Erythroxylum novogranatense to the total production, legal and illegal, is minimal, around 5%, it was mainly used as a valid local anaesthetic, then replaced by substances derived from it by hemisynthesis, or synthesis, with the same chemical structure, but with less toxic side effects. Apart from cases where it is authorized for medical and research uses, its cultivation is illegal.
Among the edible uses, it should be remembered that a high content of methyl salicylate (wintergreen oil) in the leaves makes this species an excellent raw material for flavors for non-alcoholic drinks. Thus in Peru «Trujillo coca» is used in the manufacture of Coca-Cola.
In fact, much appreciated for its flavor and cocaine content, it has long been used for coca-flavored drinks.
As regards the medicinal uses of this species, they are similar to those of Erythroxylum coca.
These are:
– The leaves contain cocaine and other alkaloids. They are narcotics, brain stimulants, and local anesthetics;
– Alkaloids are extracted and used to produce various drugs, including a local anesthetic.
Other uses include agroforestry uses.
It was formerly grown as a hedge plant in Malaysia, at altitudes up to 750 metres, for its thickness and the contrast of the light green foliage with the bright red berries, but its cultivation is now prohibited.

Preparation Method –
Erythroxylum novogranatense is a plant with uses and uses very similar to those of E. coca.
Its use dates back to ancient times and, as mentioned, initially reserved for the priests of the Andean populations for ritual purposes; it served as a stimulant and to relieve fatigue, the leaves were also used as an anesthetic in surgical operations.
The consumption of the leaves also had a nutritional value due to their content of proteins, carbohydrates, mineral salts and vitamins.
The leaves, chewed with lime or vegetable ash, cause a feeling of well-being and increasing energy. Therefore they are used by native populations as a stimulant to better tolerate hunger, thirst and physical stress.
An infusion of the leaves also serves as a remedy against altitude sickness, the dreaded “soroche”.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

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