Coca (Erythroxylum coca).—W.H. Hodge

Tropical shrub (Erythroxylum coca) of the family Erythroxylaceae. It is native to the eastern Andes Mountains but cultivated in Africa, northern South America, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. Its leaves are the source of cocaine and several other alkaloids. Coca thrives best in hot, damp environments, such as forest clearings; but the leaves most preferred are obtained in drier localities, on the sides of hills. The composition of different specimens of coca leaves is highly variable. Good samples have a strong tealike odor and a pleasant, pungent taste. When chewed, coca leaves produce a sense of warmth in the mouth; because of their potent stimulant and appetite-depressant effects, coca has been used for centuries by South American peasants to ease the effects of punishing physical labor.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on coca, visit

Seen & Heard

What made you look up coca? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.