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  • Writer's pictureJose Santa Maria Andreone

What is Mambe?

Mambe, (toasted and pulverized coca leaf mixed with the ash of Yarumo leaves), have been used ceremonially in the Andean and Amazonian regions of South America for thousands of years. The earliest record of ceremonial use of the plant can be traced to Huanca Prieto in northern Peru cerca 2500 BC. Since then the plant has maintained a central importance in indigenous communities’ offerings to Pachamama, Inti, guardian spirits of the surrounding forests, trees and mountains (apus).

In these communities the plant is also used as a tool for promoting productive conversations amongst community members, and for making decisions that affect the well-being of others. When taken along with ambil, or a tobacco paste, Mambe opens our throat chakra, sweetens our words and lends transparency and directness to our speech. This tradition of conversing with Mambe after sundown for many hours as a community is to mambear and ambilear. During this time, elders pass along their knowledge and wisdom to the younger generations. Interestingly, women attend these sessions but typically do not consume the plants. These traditions which connect us to each other and to the land are what we wish to share with participants at ECA retreats.

Preparations and uses of the plant vary from region to region, with highland Andean peoples chewing mouthfuls of entire leaves along with a small amount of an alkaloid, and Amazonian and other lowland groups using the powdered form called Mambe. Where the entire leaf and alkaloid are used, the juices of the plant are swallowed and then the chewed leaves are placed on the land as an offering. A central role of the plant in highland cultures is also to oxygenate the blood and allow for labor at high altitudes by decreasing the detrimental effects of altitude sickness. In the lowlands the plant is more often consumed as Mambe, which stores better in the humid climate. There the powder is placed in the mouth and eventually swallowed.

In addition to oxygenating the blood and mitigating altitude sickness, coca helps to overcome fatigue, hunger and thirst. It has also been used for centuries and an anesthetic to alleviate the pain from headaches, rheumatism and wounds. Its high calcium content explains why it was used for bone fractures, and because coca constricts blood vessels, it also serves to oppose bleeding. Coca has also been reported to treat malaria, ulcers, asthma, and indigestion, and it has been credited with improving longevity. Modern studies support these applications.

Coca leaf contains essential minerals such as calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, vitamins B1, B2, C, and E, and nutrients such as protein and fiber. It said to contain 5 times the protein per gram as red meat.

Lastly, coca is considered by the abuelos, taitas, curanderos and shamans of the Americas to be one of the 7 master plants, along with Ayahuasca (Yagé), San Pedro Cactus (Huachuma), Peyote (Hikuri), Yopo, Psilocybin mushrooms, and tobacco. When used intentionally these plants connect us with the spiritual realm, open a space for self-reflection in our lives, and heal.

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