Pope Francis drinks coca leaf tea on South American tour

Main ingredient in cocaine given to pontiff in a brew of camomile and anise seeds on the plane to Bolivia as a remedy for altitude sickness.

Pope Francis drank a tea of coca leaves, camomile and anise seeds on the plane to Bolivia from Ecuador to ward off altitude sickness upon arrival at the highest international airport in the world.

Coca is the main ingredient in cocaine but people in the Andean region have chewed coca leaves or drunk coca tea for centuries for its medicinal properties.

The flight attendant said the pope drank a mix called Trimate containing the three ingredients. It was also offered to journalists on the flight.

The pope did not appear to have any difficulties when he walked off the plane and while he was reading his welcoming address. He is visiting three of the poorest countries in Latin America on a trip that will also include Paraguay.

A Bolivian minister said 10 days ago that Francis had told government officials that he would like to chew coca leaves when he visits. A Vatican spokesman said, however, that the Argentine-born pontiff would decide for himself.