What is Maca?
The Maca plant (Lepidium Peruvianum) is a member of the Brassica family, which includes carrots, turnips, and broccoli. A clue to its remarkable effects is that an alternative name is “Peruvian ginseng.” It is extraordinary because it grows only at extreme altitudes – that is, above 3800m (12, 500 feet) in the Andes mountains of Central and South America. Studies have shown that the red Maca (pictured above) is the strongest of the 3 main varieties.
That it survives and prospers in such thin soil and with so little oxygen is part of why this is such a rare plant, one endowed with an extraordinary physiology that gives it the properties we use – as well as giving us an insight into how past civilizations flourished and managed to expand their numbers in such arduous conditions. Today, we know a lot of what it can do, but still do not yet fully understand how and why it works. Maca is one of the strongest and strangest products in nature’s medicine chest, one we need to use carefully to safely achieve the greatest benefits. Efforts have been made to grow it in larger, more favorable conditions on sea level farms and in laboratories, but they have all failed, the resulting crop being weak and without any benefits to speak of.
Beware of buying these imitations, as they do practically nothing.
Maca is cultivated as a medicinal crop for locals and as a cash-crop for medical export. It is considered an annual with one crop per year. The root is about the same size as the normal turnip. The seeds are set in September and begin to show above ground with the October rains. Fortunately, they are very resistant to the cold, as temperatures can get down to minus 10C (14F). Nothing happens then until the weather changes in May when both the root and the floppy green leaves which lie along the ground begin to grow. Afterwards, they may be harvested and the roots sun-dried in the traditional way – the leaves being of no value except composting. In order to ensure next year’s crop, some are left in the ground, where by the end of August the roots will have produced up 1000 tiny seeds each, so you don’t need to leave many. They are pulled at the end of August and dried, a cycle that repeats year-by-year as it has for over 2500 years.
Maca is pricey, partly because of the transport difficulty and partly because it is very hard and expensive to grow, needing constant labor – it is largely hand-grown although there are some larger, tractored fields coming into operation as demand for it soars. It also needs a lot of fertilizer daily – again, often done manually. In the poor soil few weeds grow, so Maca is an organic product, any weeds which do make it are pulled by hand. This article describes- in brief- how hard it is to grow in such a climate in order to illustrate how valued this plant is – to justify the sheer effort to grow it.
What will Maca do for you?
That Maca works is beyond doubt as it is one of the few natural products to be well scrutinized and its active compounds listed to any great extent by medical science – ongoing since the 1990’s. It can be eaten boiled, but usually the dry root is made into powder to be added to food (or drinks) as a supplement. It has a slightly sweet, nutty taste.
It is very nutritious:
91 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate,4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, only 1 gram of fat, 133% of daily vitamin c, 85% of daily copper, 23% of iron, 16% of potassium, 15% of the vital, vitamin b6 (which is an important vitamin for the brain and overall enzyme and immune systems and 10 % of the often overlooked Manganese – all this from just 28 grams of root powder).
Having a ginseng-like action it is a blood thinner (anyone taking blood thinners should consult their physician before using Maca) and nootropic-boosting the blood flow to the brain, helping it work more clearly and faster, boosting both memory and overall performance.
More impressive still is its action on the endocrine system, especially the reproductive function, by re-balancing the master gland – the Pituitary – through a complex series of chemical interactions, mostly via its numerous alkaloids. Maca boosts the libido (sex drive) of both men and women, making sex longer-lasting and more arousing. It increases sperm count, activity, and quality. It increases female arousal and fertility and eases menstrual pain and post-menopausal symptoms It should not be used by women who use the contraceptive pill as Maca can make that ineffective – it’s that powerful. The ancient Incas of Peru used it to boost their strength and increase their number, and, on their cattle, as they still do. Experiments have shown that cattle given maca powder produce more meat and stronger, healthier calves, compared with groups receiving a placebo. The same is true for humans.
In addition: It is a blood cleanser, helping liver function, it ups your energy levels, improving sports, work and domestic performance and reduces depression.
Yes, it is not considered a good idea to powder unboiled Maca. The right process is to boil, dry, powder, and consume. Aside from the warnings above, anyone with thyroid problems should consult their doctor as Maca can seriously interact with thyroid medications – it contains Goitrogens. There are claims it lowers blood pressure, reduces bad cholesterol, and in crème form, is an effective sunscreen. None of these are supported by enough evidence to recommend Maca for those purposes until further research is made. I also advise against it for anyone with hormone-related conditions: breast cancer, uterine, prostate or testicular cancer or endometriosis. Maca has estrogen-like actions and can make them worse.
All around, in well-regulated and prepared powder form, Maca has shown big pluses and few minuses and is backed up by nearly 3 millennia of successful human and animal usage. It’s one that any health-conscious person should seriously consider adding to their armory at any age.
Double Wood Supplements provides excellent Maca Root capsules to support your health.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to augment the work of medical specialists, not to replace it. Before taking any supplement or new medication, always consult your Physician.