Botanical Name:Lepidium meyenii
Species: L. meyenii
Other names: Lepidium meyenii, Peruvian ginseng
Spanish and Quechua names: maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, and ayak willku
Habitat: Native to the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru.
Description: Maca is an herbaceous biennial plant or annual plant (some sources say a perennial plant). It is grown for its fleshy hypocotyl (actually a fused hypocotyl and taproot), which is used as a root vegetable and a medicinal herb.
The growth habit, size, and proportions of the maca are roughly similar to those of the radish and the turnip, to which it is related. The stem is short and lies along the ground, with only the tips curling up. The frilly leaves are born in a rosette at the soil surface, and are continuously renewed from the center as the outer leaves die. The off-white, self-fertile flowers are borne on a central raceme, and are followed by 4-5 mm siliculate fruits, each containing two small (2-2.5 mm) reddish-gray ovoid seeds. The seeds, which are the plant’s only means of reproduction, germinate within five days, given good conditions, and have no dormancy.
Maca is the only member of its genus with a fleshy hypocotyl, which is fused with the taproot to form a radish- or inverted-pear-shaped body roughly 10-15 cm long and 3-5 cm wide.
Maca is traditionally grown at altitudes of approximately 4,100 – 4,500 m. It grows well only in very cold climates with relatively poor soil. Although it has been cultivated outside the Andes it is not yet clear that it has the same constituents or potency when this is done. Hypocotyls do not form in greenhouses or in warm climates.
For approximately 2000 years maca has been an important traditional food and medicinal plant in its growing region. It is regarded as a highly nutritious food and as a medicine that enhances strength and endurance and also acts as an aphrodisiac. During Spanish colonization maca was used as currency
In addition to sugars and proteins, maca contains uridine, malic acid and its benzoyl derivative, and the glucosinolates, glucotropaeolin and m-methoxyglucotropaeolin. The methanol extract of maca tuber also contained (1R,3S)-1-methyltetrahydro–carboline-3-carboxylic acid, a molecule which is reported to exert many activities on the central nervous system. The nutritional value of dried maca root is high, similar to cereal grains such as rice and wheat. It contains 60% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 8.5% dietary fiber, and 2.2% fats. Maca is rich in essential minerals, especially selenium, calcium, magnesium, and iron, and includes fatty acids including linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acids, and 19 amino acids, as well as polysaccharides. Maca’s reported beneficial effects for sexual function could be due to its high concentration of proteins and vital nutrients, though maca contains a chemical called p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which reputedly has aphrodisiac properties.
Uses and preparation
Maca has been harvested and used by humans in the Andean Mountains for centuries. It was eaten by Inca warriors before battles, and was used a form of payment of Spanish imperial taxes.
In Peru, maca is prepared and consumed in several ways. The hypocotyl can be roasted in a pit (called matia). The root can also be mashed and boiled to produce a sweet, thick liquid, dried and mixed with milk to form a porridge or with other vegetables or grains to produce a flour that can be used in baking. If fermented, a weak beer called chicha de maca can be produced. The leaves can also be prepared raw in salads or cooked much like Lepidium sativum and Lepidium campestre, to which it is genetically closely related.
According to folklore, ancient Incan warriors took maca before going off to battle to make them physically strong. However, they were later prohibited from taking it, in order to protect conquered women from their heightened libidos.
One study looked at the effect of 4 months treatment with maca tablets on semen quality in nine adult men. Treatment with maca resulted in increased seminal volume, sperm count, and sperm motility.
A 12-week randomized controlled trial looked at 1,500 mg maca, 3,000 mg maca, or placebo. After 8 weeks, there was an improvement in sexual desire in the men taking maca.
Maca does not appear to affect hormone levels. Serum testosterone and estradiol levels were not different in men treated with maca compared to those who took the placebo. Other studies have found no effect on luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, prolactin, and 17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone.
Maca is consumed as food for humans and livestock, suggesting any risk from consumption is rather minimal. However, maca does contain glucosinolates, which can cause goitres when high consumption is combined with a diet low in iodine. Though this is common in other foods with high levels of glucosinolate, it is uncertain if maca consumption can cause or worsen a goitre. Maca has also been shown to reduce enlarged prostate glands in rats though its effects on humans are unknown.
Small-scale clinical trials performed in men have shown that maca extracts can heighten libido and improve semen quality, though no studies have been performed on men with sexual dysfunction or infertility. Maca has not been shown to affect sex hormone levels in humans In addition, maca has been shown to increase mating behavior in male mice and rats.
No side effects or hazards have been reported and are unknown.
No potential interactions have been reported.
Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider