What is maca?

Maca is a Peruvian medicinal root vegetable unique to the central Andes that grows above 4000 m. It is the highest cultivated crop on the planet.

Maca is made up of leafy rosettas that house the seeds and an underground hypocotyl that houses the medicinal components.

Maca is made up of leafy rosettas that house the seeds and an underground hypocotyl that houses the medicinal components.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) has been used for centuries by the Incan people of Peru for its medicinal properties. Called the food of the brain, maca is an adaptogen that helps the brain and body respond and adapt to stress to return balance to the body’s natural endocrine function. In clinical studies maca has been able to show benefit for those suffering from hormonal imbalances like PMS, menopause, PCOS, endometriosis. It also can assist in managing stress related conditions such as CFS, fibromyalgia, auto-immunity, adrenal and thyroid issues. And finally maca can assist with mental health, mental focus and motor neuron function. To learn more about how to use maca in treatment review our treatment plans here.

The root grows 2-3 cm below the soil like a radish.

The root grows 2-3 cm below the soil like a radish.

Maca is a herbaceous biennial plant of the family Brassicaceae and is closely related to the radish. Similar to the radish it has an over-ground leafy section (rosetta) and an underground root section (hypocotyl). The over-ground part is small and flat in appearance as a result of an adaptation process to prevent the impact of strong winds and houses the seed capsules. The underground hypocotyl-root axis ranges from 10–14 cm long and 3–5 cm wide and constitutes the storage organ, nutritional and medicinal components. The root grows about 2–3 cm below the soil with the rosettas visible above.

She (maca) grows at altitudes with such extreme environmental conditions, yet she endures and thrives.
This resilience to stress is what she will gift you if you respect her and connect with her.
She will bring you back to balance and build strength and resilience to stress.

There are three main types of maca that can be characterized by the colour of their hypocotyls. The same seeds can produce all three colours of maca with yellow maca constituting 60-70% of the harvest, red maca 20-30% and black maca 10%. This ratio is determined by plant genetics, with a dominant yellow maca phenotype producing more yellow maca, followed by recessive and rarer red and black sub-types. A cross-section of the fresh roots shows little difference between the colours except differences in the outer skin pigmentation. The yellow maca has a slightly darker yellow colour, red maca is more of a cream colour and black maca is a light white colour on the inside. However, biochemical analysis of the roots shows significant differences in the concentration and composition of bioactive molecules in the different colours, supporting the idea that the different colour have different medicinal properties. To learn more about the different colours of maca and their medicinal properties review our article here.

Cross section of maca roots

A cross-section of the different coloured maca roots

Dried maca roots

After harvest maca is firstly dried before being cooked

Traditionally maca is sun dried till hard then either used whole or grated into fine pieces and boiled into a tea, porridge, broth, soup or stew. The Incan people believe maca is only medicinal once sun dried and it then must be cooked before being consumed. In more recent times, for export, sun dried maca has been ground into raw or heat treated powders (activated maca) as it is illegal to export the whole root out of Peru. To learn more about the different types of maca powders and how to prepare them click here.

Note: There is no upper limit with maca and everybody is different, so it is important to find your ideal dose that is right for your body, for some this may be less than the recommended for others it may be more. If you experience positive health benefits then we suggest you continue treatment at that ideal dosage. The material provided on this website is for information purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice or be a treatment for any medical condition. Users should consult a health professional if you have any concerns about your health, are starting any health or nutritional related treatment, or for any questions you may have regarding your own or any other party’s medical condition. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Bibliography

1. [a] C. Quiroz and R. Aliaga, “Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.),” in Andean Roots and Tubers: Ahipa, Arracacha, Maca and Yacon. Promoting the Conservation and Use of Underutilized Neglected Crops, M. Hermann and J. Hellers, Eds., vol. 21, pp. 173–197, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy, 1997. [b] B. Cobo, History of the New World, Biblioteca de Autores Espan ̃oles, Madrid, Spain, 1956.
2. [a] C. Gonzales, J. Rubio, M. Gasco, J. Nieto, S. Yucra, and G. F. Gonzales, “Effect of short-term and long-term treatments with three ecotypes of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sper- matogenesis in rats,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 448–454, 2006. [b] G. F. Gonzales, S. Miranda, J. Nieto et al., “Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats,” Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, vol. 3, article 5, 2005. [c] J. Rubio, M. Caldas, S. Da ́vila, M. Gasco, and G. F. Gonzales, “Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 6, article no. 23, 2006.

3. [a] G. F. Gonzales, “Biological effects of Lepidium meyenii, maca, a plant from the highlands of Peru,” in Natural Products, VK Singh, R Bhardwaj, JN Govil, and RK Sharma, Eds., vol. 15 of Recent Progress in Medicinal Plants, pp. 209–234, Studium Press, Houston, Tex, USA, 2006. [b] G. F. Gonzales, “MACA: Del alimento perdido de los Incas al milagro de los Andes: Estudio de seguridad alimentaria y nutricional,” Seguran ̧ca Alimentar e Nutricional, Campinas, vol. 16-17, no. 1, pp. 16–36, 2010. [c] L. G. Valerio and G. F. Gonzales, “Toxicological aspects of the South American herbs cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and maca (Lepidium meyenii): a critical synopsis,” Toxicological Reviews, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 11–35, 2005.

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