Maca root or lepidium Meyenii is the root of a vegetable native to the Peruvian Andes and Bolivia. Known as "Peruvian ginseng" (even though it doesn't belong to the same botanical family as ginseng), maca is consumed as a food and is said to boost energy and libido. Typically added to smoothies, juice, and shakes, the ground root powder can also be used as an ingredient in such foods as coffee, chocolate, or oils. In Peru, whole maca root is often added to soup and oatmeal, roasted and consumed as a vegetable, or made into a fermented beverage known as "maca chica."
It is a root vegetable with a leafy herbaceous top, similar to the radish or turnip family, except that it grows at high altitudes of 8,000 to 14,500 feet. The plant thrives only at higher levels with poor soils and needs to be rotated because it tends to exhaust the soil nutrients. Most maca is grown organically due to few pests thriving in the same conditions maca prefers. In fact, it is often used as a companion plant to repel pests from other plants as maca is rarely attacked. Maca is categorised based on the colour of its roots and is most commonly yellow, black or red. All colours of maca have similar benefits, although specific maca types and colours are thought to be more beneficial for certain medical conditions.
Maca was used by the ancient Peruvians as currency for trade and played an important role in their traditional foods, with medicinal uses for 3,000 or more years. During the Incan Empire, maca was considered such a potent and valuable herb, its use was restricted to the royal court and the imperial family. Peruvian herbal medicine have used maca for the treatment of menstrual problems, menopause, memory, anaemia, stomach cancers, tuberculosis and stress reduction as well as increasing energy. Inca warriors ate large quantities of the root before going into battle and their stamina, ferocity and strength in battle has been attributed to this herb. Legend has it that after a city was conquered, the women had to be protected due to the increased libido and 'ambitious virility' imparted by the maca.
When the Spaniards arrived and learned about it, they exported maca roots to Spain. It was used by Spanish royalty for nutrition and energy until knowledge of it died out. It was the 1960s before maca started to become known by the rest of the world, as botanists that were researching botanicals in Peru came across it, analysed it for nutrition, and designated it as one of the 'lost crops of the Andes.'
Peruvians use maca today as much as they always have - to increase strength and stamina, and to improve sexual function and fertility. Maca root is also used in the treatment of enlarged prostate glands, for mental clarity, an immune stimulant. It is used by professional athletes as an energy supplement, and the elderly, as well as those recovering from addictions, depression, disease, or traumas. It has been used to improve sperm production, motility and volume of semen for men and in women improvements have been seen in menstrual dysfunction and sexual functions. It has anti-aging properties and has been used as a tonic. It’s also considered an “adaptogen,” a name given to certain herbs, plants and natural substances that help the body naturally adapt to stressors like a busy schedule, demanding job or illness. As a cruciferous vegetable (like cabbage, broccoli, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and kale), maca contains glucosinolates, plant compounds that are being studied for their role in cancer prevention.
Traditionally, maca is cooked; as the freshly harvested root is available only in close proximity to growers and raw maca can cause gastric upset, due to its thick fibers and goitrogen content. It can be cooked in a variety of ways, sometimes it is roasted as a delicacy, but usually it is boiled or mashed to produce a sweet, thick liquid. It is also dried and mixed with milk, porridge, other vegetables, or grains to produce a flour used for baking. It is even fermented and made into a weak beer. The leaves are cooked, or eaten raw in salads. Gelatinized maca is available for therapeutic and supplementation uses. A freeze dried maca juice is available also. Maca root is generally dried and consumed in powder form, but it's also available in capsules and as a liquid extract.
· Maca root powder is an excellent source of protein, fibre and several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, copper and iron.
· It also contains over 20 amino acids, including all eight essential amino acids, and plenty of health-promoting phytonutrients and various plant compounds, including glucosinolates and polyphenols.
· Maca root acts as a natural antioxidant, boosting levels of antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase in the body.
· Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, fighting off chronic disease and preventing damage to cells.
· Those who regularly use maca powder report that it makes them feel more awake, energised and driven, often relatively quickly after beginning to use it. Plus, maca can help increase energy without giving you the “jitters” or a sense of shakiness like high level of caffeine can.
· Supplementing with maca may improve exercise performance, particularly during endurance events. However, its effects on muscle mass and strength have yet to be studied.
· One small study in eight male cyclists found that they improved the time it took them to complete a nearly 25-mile (40-km) bike ride after 14 days of supplementing with maca extract.
· Maca may improve your mental well-being and mood by reducing depression and anxiety, especially in menopausal women.
· Maca contains plant compounds called flavonoids, which have been suggested to be at least partly responsible for these psychological benefits.
· Some evidence indicates that maca, in particular the black variety, can improve learning and memory.
· Maca may improve brain function.
· It has traditionally been used by natives in Peru to improve children's performance in school.
· In animal studies, maca has improved learning and memory in rodents that have memory impairment.
Improves Female Sexual Health
· Maca is able to balance female sex hormones and has even been shown to alleviate symptoms of menopause. Balancing hormone levels is crucial to many aspects of reproductive health and can help reduce symptoms like infertility, weight gain and bloating.
· Maca root may be able to improve sexual dysfunction and boost sex drive in women.
· One study looked at the effects of maca root on post-menopausal women with sexual dysfunction caused by the use of antidepressants. Compared to a placebo, maca root was able to significantly improve sexual function.
· A study in 2008 also found that maca root benefits both psychological symptoms and sexual function in post-menopausal women. Maca was able to reduce menopause-associated depression and anxiety after six weeks of treatment.
Balances Oestrogen Levels
· Maca root can help balance hormone levels and control the amount of oestrogen in the body. Regulating oestrogen levels may also help with improving reproductive health and fertility and decreasing symptoms related to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), such as excess hair growth, weight gain and acne.
· One study published in the International Journal of Biomedical Science gave 34 early post-menopausal women a tablet containing either maca or a placebo twice daily for four months. Not only did maca help balance hormone levels, but it also relieved symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats and hot flashes, and even increased bone density.
· One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca helped alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep.
Boosts Male Fertility
· One study from Peru found that supplementing with maca for eight weeks increased sexual desire in men.
· A study in 2001 found that maca helped improve sperm quality and motility, two important factors when it comes to male infertility.
· A 2010 review summarised the results of four clinical trials evaluating the effects of maca on libido and reported that two of the studies showed an improvement in sexual dysfunction and sexual desire in both men and women. However, the other two trials did not find a positive result, so further research is still needed.
· Maca can increase sperm production and improve sperm quality, thereby enhancing fertility in men.
· A study conducted with nine healthy men found that after consuming maca for four months, researchers detected an increase in the volume, count and motility of sperm.
UV Rays Protection for Skin
· There is some evidence that applying maca extract, a concentrated form of the plant, to your skin may help protect it from UV radiation. Over time, UV radiation could cause sunburn, wrinkles and increase your risk to skin cancer.
· One study found that maca extract applied to the skin of five rats over a three-week period prevented skin damage from UV exposure.
· The protective effect was attributed to the polyphenol antioxidants and glucosinolates found in maca.
· Keep in mind that maca extract cannot replace a conventional sunscreen. Also, it only protects the skin when applied to the skin, not when eaten.
Recipes for Health
Maca has an earthy, slightly nutty taste with a hint of butterscotch that works especially well when added to porridge or cereal. The flavour can also vary based on the type of maca, with black maca being a bit more bitter and the cream-coloured roots having a sweeter taste. Maca powder can be easily added to smoothies and drinks or mixed into recipes.
Although there is no official recommended maca powder dosage, it’s best to start out with about one teaspoon (in powder form) daily and work your way up to two tablespoons spread throughout the day. Because maca is known for increasing energy and stamina, many people like to take it before exercising to get a burst of extra energy. Most people supplement with somewhere between one gram to 20 grams daily in powder form.
Coconut and Maca Snack Balls
· 1 heaping cup of dried dates
· 1 cup of desiccated coconut
· 2 tbsp of coconut oil
· 1/4 cup of maca powder
· pinch of salt
1. Process the dates and coconut in a food processor until they start to clump together
2. Add the maca powder and salt, then melt the coconut oil until it becomes liquid
3. Turn the food processor on and drizzle in the coconut oil until well combined
4. Remove the mixture from the food processor and roll into balls
5. Kept in the fridge, these should last at least a week if not longer. They could also be frozen.
6. Instead of balls, you could press the mixture into a pan and cut into bars or squares.
Mocha Maca Matcha
This mocha maca matcha is the perfect healthy pick me up drink to start your morning. It's full of healthy and energising ingredients and you can make it in minutes.
· 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder
· 1/2 teaspoon maca powder
· 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
· 1 cup water or almond milk or a combination of the two
· 1 tablespoon coconut oil
· 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
· sprinkle of cinnamon and cayenne to taste
· sweetener to taste such as stevia or maple syrup
1. Boil your water.
2. In a blender add your boiling water and all the ingredients.
3. Blend on high until frothy.
4. Pour and enjoy!
Maca is safe for most people and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects. That being said, there are some people who may want to moderate their intake.
If you have any thyroid problems, you should keep maca intake in moderation and avoid consuming it raw. This is because it contains goitrogens, which are substances that can impair thyroid function, especially in those with thyroid issues. It also contains glucosinolates that can increase chance of goiters, if a lot is eaten in combination with a diet low in iodine. The darker coloured roots (red, purple, black) contain iodine, making it a better choice for those planning on using a lot of maca. Check with your doctor before taking maca if you have hypothyroidism or a history of thyroid problems.
Because of maca’s effects on hormone levels, physicians believe that maca should not be consumed by people who rely on hormone-altering medications for the treatment of illnesses like breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example, or for other serious conditions. People who have high blood pressure are also advised to not consume maca to avoid adverse side effects.
Finally, there is limited research on the safety of maca for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Until it is confirmed to be safe, it’s best for these women to avoid maca.
To Sum Up…
This is the root from which warriors are made of. The Incan Empire in Peru was built by these warriors winning battles eating huge amounts of this root vegetable. It was so highly prized in that era that it had become a form of currency and was only available to the royal family.
Maca only grows when its 14000 feet off the ground and will always be organic as even pests can’t thrive in these harsh conditions. This highly nutritious food was used often in Peruvian herbal medicine to treat many conditions such as infertility, sexual function, anaemia, memory and much more, and it is still used today for the same reasons. So if you’re looking to add more stamina, strength and endurance into your exercise routine this is the herb for you.
Maca is more readily available in powder form and with its earthy nutty taste it goes well in smoothies, juices and yoghurts. If you have thyroid problems, are pregnant or breast-feeding, or taking hormone-altering medications, its best to avoid this herb. Nonetheless, more research is still needed to fully understand maca’s effects and risks. As with all medicinal herbs, it is best to consult a trained health professional for advice.