Scientific name: Lepidium meyenii
Family: Brassicaceae (mustards)
Common Name: maino, ayak chichira, ayuk willku, Peruvian ginseng
Efficacy: Ethno or other evidence of efficacy
Safety Rating: no safety concerns reported
A Brief on the Maca Plant
The top part of the plant is usually made up of leaves with mat-like appearance; its creeping stems grow close to the soil. The lower part is the hypocotyl, which resembles a root crop tuber appearance, which is sold commercially. The root or hypocotyl can come in various colors ranging from cream, red, purple, and yellow to black. The size ranges from three to five cm wide and 10 to 14 cm long. The cold climate in the Andean mountain help shape the plant’s shape and size.
The maca plant is cultivated in the high altitude area of the Andean Mountain and grows at an altitude of 3800 to 4800 cm above the sea level. As the climate is extreme, only few crops survive in the area including the alpine grasses and bitter potatoes. Aside from the bitter potatoes, the maca plant is the only other plant that can survive such altitude. That said, there are also wild maca to be found in the Bolivian Andes.
Although the plant is traditionally cultivated to serve as a part of daily food staple, the root crop is quite popular as a medicinal herb in Peru.
Due to its high nutritional content, the maca plant has long been a source of food for the native Andean people for as far back as 1300 years. The locals not only use it as food source but they also use it to treat various ailments such as anemia, sterility, TB and fatigue. Aside from these conditions, they also use it to treat sexual disorders, cancer, mild depression and menstrual symptoms.
The tuberous hypocotyl or the plant’s root is edible raw but can also be eaten cooked. Some would dry the roots and store these for years without any deterioration. The root has a tangy taste to it and a butterscotch smell. The dried roots may be mixed with other fruits or honey and are prepared as jam, juice, and gelatin and even as an alcoholic beverage.
A number of significant studies documents the maca’s ability as an aphrodisiac as well as helping increase fertility.
The maca plant is available as an extract and commercially sold in powdered form, tablet, capsule and liquid. Depending on the type that one would consume, a daily dose of 1 450mg dried powder extract capsule thrice a day with food is recommended.
- Individuals who are suffering from thyroid conditions should avoid consuming maca. The plant contains glucosinate that can cause goiter.
- Pregnant women or nursing mothers should consult their health provider as no sufficient literature is provided as to the efficacy or side effects of the maca.
- There is no evidence showing any adverse effects caused by consuming maca. Research studies indicate no oral toxicity in animals and low cellular toxicity in vitro.
- Currently there are no adverse reactions seen in clinical studies involving rats as test subjects. Long-time use as food shows low potential for toxicity.