Maca, Red (Lepidium peruvianum)
Maca was originally grown in the high valleys of the Andes Mountains of Peru. It can be found widely cultivated today due to its increasing popularity worldwide. Maca has been highly valued and utilized by Indigenous people of the Andes region for almost 3,000 years, but more recently has been rediscovered by people all over the world for it's energizing medicinal roots.
Numerous mountain tribes including the Yaro Tribe grew huge fields of Maca for its fertility enhancing qualities and as an aphrodisiac. Once the Inca invaded the region as the ruling tribe they were quick to feed Maca roots to their troops to increase their vitality and they were so impressed by the results that it became a medicinal food integral to their culture. As the Spanish conquest spread into the highlands of the Andes the Inca provided Maca root to the Spaniards as a form of payment. Records from the 1500's show the Spaniards, who normally had little interest in local foods, became aware of Maca root primarily as an aid to fertility problems in their herds of domesticated livestock. Apparently their herds were having breeding problems in the thin air and harsh Mountain climate as were the Spaniards themselves!! The results of feeding Maca Root to their animals and eating it themselves was quite a dramatic improvement. Eventually the use and cultivation of maca fell out of favor and became quite rare with the plant coming close to extinction, by the late 1970's the Peruvian government reported less than 80 acres in cultivation in the entire country, most of which was local consumption while much of Maca's traditional popularity had been lost. However, interest in the ethno-botanical community was stirring and by the mid 1980's through the 1990's a "rediscovery" of Maca began as a series of studies on Maca root and it's health benefits were documented by several researchers studying plants in Peru paving the way for a huge surge in popularity worldwide. The sudden demand for quantities of Maca Root has led to a large increase in Maca cultivation throughout the Andes Bio region. Locally, Maca root continues to be a popular indigenous food today enjoyed by the descendants of the Inca and providing a highly nutritious and stimulating tuber to supplement their traditional root based diet.
Worldwide, Maca Root consumption has increased by leaps and bounds, primarily in the form of Maca Root Powder made from the ground roots. It has been reported to have a powerful effect on immune function, causes an increase in sexual energy and function and creates a sense of well being and mood stability. Laboratory experiments in rats have proven it's positive effect on fertility and it has also been shown to increase stamina in athletes, help minimize numerous menopausal symptoms from hot flashes to anxiety, enhance memory, and help with difficult issues such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and female hormone imbalance.
The fresh or dried root has a malty/sweet flavor reminiscent of butterscotch. The Maca Root is one of the most nutritionally rich tubers from the Andean region and is chock full of minerals, amino acids and contains more iron than potatoes. Maca is readily available these days in Health Food Stores as a powder and is commonly added to smoothies, energy bars and energizing juice blends as well as encapsulated to take as a supplement and tinctured. In the Andes today dried Maca Roots are boiled with milk into a porridge, made into a jam, enjoyed as a fermented drink, and the dried roots can be stored for years. In Peru alone, there are Maca varieties in many colors Red, Purple, Yellow, White, Black and Spotted. Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia all have strains of Maca that are cultivated but Peru has always been the most prolific producer.
The Maca plant forms a small finely feathered rosette, which is quite delicate for such a hardy plant. It is quite a hardy perennial but is often grown as annual and the root is harvested the fall of the first season. Maca prefers full sun, dryish soils and cooler weather, often going dormant during the heat of summer at the lower elevations. It is drought tolerant, but regular watering is essential for a productive tuber harvest. There has been much discussion as to the value and quality of Maca grown at lower elevations. Certainly, gardeners living at high elevations should give it a try and at this time we offer 2 types of Maca, the Yellow Maca that has performed very well in low elevation growing sites and the Red Maca which is considered to have higher potency roots, but is better adapted for higher altitude gardens. Maca needs to be clean cultivated and does not compete well with weeds, so plant it in an obvious, weed free spot and mark it well as it can go dormant for extended periods. Maca has definitely joined the ranks of other super-foods with its vitality enhancing properties and its colorful history. I encourage experimentation with this humble little plant whose tops are not terribly showy but whose potent roots pack a powerful surge of earth energy helping us to keep up with life as the seasonal cycles seem to spin by faster than ever!! Perennial. Hardy to Zone 8/9.
To Order Maca click here.
Medicinal Herb Plants