Maca is a potent superfood with a 5,000+ year history yet has only been recently introduced to the Western world. Hailed as “Nature’s Viagra” and “Peruvian Ginseng” maca has a lot to offer both genders of all ages, as well as boasting a wide and impressive range of nutritional properties. Read on for more information about this wonder food and how you can bring its potency and multi-faceted health benefits into your diet.
What is maca?
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) is a tuberous perennial plant that grows high in the Andean Mountains at altitudes of between 11,000 and 14,000 feet. Colour-wise it looks like a potato, but it is shaped like a large radish. It grows as a mat-like stem system. Its roots are the parts that are dried and stored and made into powder, which is how we buy it today.
- The maca plant is related to the radish.
- Maca is the only plant that can survive at this altitude because of the extreme weather conditions there – i.e. brutally hot temperatures by day and freezing cold temperatures by night.
- Maca is technically an herb but is eaten as a food.
- The root is approximately 8cm in diameter and of a pale white colour.
- Although it is perennial it is reproduced by seeds which require around 7-9 months for harvesting.
- The Incas, a well-organised and developed Peruvian civilisation, would eat maca before battle for extra power and fierce strength. However, after battle they were prohibited from eating it to protect the conquered women from their powerful sexual impulses.
- The messengers and couriers had to walk vast distances throughout the huge Incan Empire – for their efforts they received maca from the Inca king.
- The Spanish became familiar with maca because of the conquest of the South American continent. They had found that their horses had become infertile due to the high altitude so the local population recommended that the Spaniards give mace to their horses – to excellent effect. Later they even collected their taxes in maca, which they transported back to Spain. For reasons unknown, maca fell into oblivion in Europe and only the Peruvians continued using maca - until recently.
- During the 1960’s and 70’s scientists carried out botanical research in Peru. They studied “the lost vegetation of the Andes” - one of these lost plants was maca. In 1998 Dr. Qun Yi Zheng and his colleagues conducted an in-depth analysis of maca, looking closely at maca’s nutritional properties (see later).
- Today maca’s popularity is on the increase. Acreage in Peru is increasing every year to meet demand and a number of scientists have turned their attention to the root. In Europe, the USA and Japan dietary supplements containing maca are gaining increasing numbers of fans.
In Peru maca is consumed in different ways: raw, baked or dried. Peruvians make cookies, tarts, hot porridge, chips and beverages with maca.
In Europe and North America maca is mainly sold in dried powder form, which keeps safely and successfully for a number of years.
Standard Maca Powder vs. Maca Extract Extreme
Maca Extract Extreme is the most powerful form of maca currently available. It is produced by juicing freshly-harvested maca roots, and then drying the juice at low temperatures into a fine powder (More than twice the potency of regular maca!).
Standard maca is made by first sun drying the roots, then grinding these roots at a low temperature. During this drying and grinding process some active components are inevitably lost. In Maca Extract Extreme the process is enhanced. First the roots are washed with pure water, then juiced. Afterwards the juice is low-temperature dried in a proprietary process that retains nearly all of the actives present in the fresh root. And since it is dried at low temperatures the enzymes are retained as well. Once dried the powder is sifted so that only the finest particles make it through into the final product.
Maca is not a medicine but rather a very nutritious food with medicinal properties. It has been used as a food for thousands of years and is used primarily for:
• Energy and stamina
• Libido stimulation/enhancement
• Memory improvement
• Anemia and depression (the treatment of)
• Adrenal restoration
• Raise low blood pressure or lower high blood pressure
Research has shown that maca improves sexual functioning in many ways. It is said to improve sexual performance, the frequency with which people have sex and even to significantly increase sperm count! In men maca increases energy, athletic performance and stamina and regulates the hormonal balance and increases testosterone. It also acts as an aphrodisiac and fights erective dysfunctions and impotency. It can also ease the problems of male menopause. Older people say that they feel younger while taking maca. In women, maca increases lust or the sexual appetite and is also said to increase fertility.
Maca is well known as being a hormonal adaptogen, this means that in women the hormones are also regulated, leading to more stamina, vitality and the considerable easing of menopause and PMT (pre-menstrual tension). It is reported that Peruvian women never get hot flushes (or “flashes” as they are known stateside). Many women feel better after using maca for just one week – it is the ideal natural replacement for H.R.T (hormone replacement therapy) and I know one person who I know for sure has completely eradicated previously crippling period pains and sickness that she thought only surgery could remedy.
The soil in which it grows contains huge amounts of minerals which make the maca high in nutritional value. It is significantly high in potassium, calcium (higher levels than in milk), magnesium and iron.
Dried maca weighs in at about 60% carbohydrate, 9% fibre, and just over 10% protein. Its trace minerals include zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese and silica as well as B vitamins and an assortment of fatty acids.
This is just the basics; research is being carried out all the time. In modern times two groups of novel compounds have been discovered – the macamides and the macaenes. These agents are believed to be directly responsible for maca’s sex-boosting powers.
How to eat maca
As maca is a food it should be taken in decent sized quantities – in this case less is NOT more! To be consistent with Peruvian use the ideal “dosage” is 3000 – 5000 mg per day – but more is no bad idea. A tablespoon blended into a smoothie is the quickest and easiest way to get a good amount of maca into your daily diet. As it is a food and not a medicine, you cannot overdose. (Toxicity studies have been carried out in the US and have showed absolutely no toxicity and no adverse pharmalogic effects). Maca has a malty taste to it which is fairly strong, for this reason it is best taken in a capsule or taken as part of a drink or mixed into your food rather than taken alone.
Maca has such a strong taste that it’s not always easy to find a way to take it in – but it’s so worth it! This is a drink that’s a great post breakfast drink or snack or one for late evening when it’s too late to eat.
© Karen Knowler 2006
- 1 cup almonds*
- 3 cups water
- 1 level Tablespoon maca powder*
- 2 Medjool dates OR 2 Tbsps agave nectar*
- Place almonds and water in a blender and blend on high speed until nuts are completely broken and almond milk is created.
- Strain the almond milk through a fine sieve or nut milk bag into a bowl or jug. Save pulp for a dessert recipe, for dehydrating into almond flour, or compost.
- Rinse blender and add back in the strained nut milk.
- Add the maca powder and your chosen sweetener and blend.
- Taste test for sweetness and add more maca or dates or agave if required.
- Serve and savour!
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* Denotes ingredients available from The Fresh Network.