Book VI, Chapter XX
About an herb that the Indians of Nicaragua call yaat. It is called hado in the governorate of Venezuela and they call it coca in Peru. They call it by many diverse names in other parts because they speak different languages.
Translated by Kendal Simmons ’23
In Nicaragua and other parts where the herb yaat is used, when the Indians travel or leave to fight, they often wear around their necks some small calabashes or some other container in which they carry a dried, cured, and almost pulverized herb. They put a little bit of it in their mouths, up to a mouthful, and they do not chew it or swallow it. If they wish to eat or drink, they remove the herb from their mouths, which then looks like cooked spinach, and place it on a clean surface. When they have finished eating and continue walking, they place the very same herb in their mouths again because, besides being poor and dirty people, it is something that is highly regarded among them, and it is useful to barter or sell in exchange for other things in places where the herb does not exist. Carried like that in the mouth, they occasionally move it from cheek to cheek. The Indians say that this herb takes away their thirst and fatigue. With the herb, they use a certain kind of lime made of scallop and snail shells from the seacoast, which is also carried in small cups formed from the outer rind of a gourd. They stir it with a small stick and occasionally place it in their mouths in order to achieve the aforementioned effect. Although it does not completely rid them of their thirst or fatigue, they say that it removes much of it and that it cures their headaches and the pain in their legs. They are so accustomed to using this herb that nearly all of the soldiers, mountaineers, travelers, and people who work in the field carry it with them. In the province of Venezuela and in other parts, they plant the herb, cultivate it, and cure it with much diligence and care in their gardens. They harvest the seed and later gather the leaves, drying them and saving them in batches. The plant grows into stalks or shoots as tall as three or four handspans, similarly to amaranth or mallow. However, once the leaves (which are the fruit) have been harvested, the shafts or shoots are then discarded. They say that if the leaves were to be eaten or swallowed, then they would be lethal. Before chewing the herb, it is beneficial to have the mouth and tongue damp, moist, and without phlegm. When they remove the herb from their mouths, they rinse out their mouths and discard the herb so that nothing remains of it. After reaping the benefits of this herb and of that lime, I know from observation that these Indians, even if the ones who use it are young, have poor-quality teeth, many of which are dirty, black, and rotten.
Image: Engraving by Marcello Cavello in 1794, retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University