The Secret Behind The Superfood “Maca”
Located in the Peruvian Andes Mountain is an herbaceous biennial plant known as “Lepidium Meyenii” or popularly called as the maca plant. This plant is not only a root vegetable that is a daily source of food for the locals but it also serves as a medicinal herb. The plant was used during the Incan times as a type of currency as it is highly valued due to its purported ability to enhance the person’s libido as well as increase one’s stamina. Aside from its supposedly sexual enhancing ability, the maca plant is currently sold as a supplement for improving and building strength and stamina as well as enhancing one’s fertility. Due to its high fiber content, it is also marketed as a type of laxative.
The maca plant looks and is somewhat similar to that of a turnip or radish plant with the roots resembling the latter for its triangular appearance; however, the maca plant has other variations in terms of size and shape depending on the variety. Its green tops are quite short, with white flowers that bear small fruits. The plant reproduces and usually germinates within a week with the outer tops dying and replaced by new ones. What makes the plant unique is that it can thrive at an altitude of 8,000 up to 14,000 feet, which very few plants can.
Depending on the variety of the maca plant that one plants, one may harvest a variety of maca roots with different colors from gold to red, black, purple, green, cream and even blue. Each variety is known to have different therapeutic abilities. Red for example is said to be effective for prostrate size reduction and black ones are for improving one’s stamina or energy.
Maca Plants Thrive Where other Plants Don’t
The maca plant is cultivated in a cold climate at a higher elevation where regular crops don’t thrive. Like other root crops, the maca plant can exhaust the nutrients in the soil and as such, it is important that they are tended and rotated to replenish the soil’s nutrients. Due to the high altitude and climate condition where the plant is grown, most maca plants are grown organically as there are few pests that can survive in such climate. Some locals would plant the maca together with other plants as pests rarely attack the latter. There are trials where the maca was planted at a lower elevation; however, the plant grows poorly under such conditions and many question the potency of the plant.
Maca and the Ancient Incans
The ancient Incan people not only use the maca as a form of currency, but also as a medicine to cure illness. The plant was used as an herbal medicine to cure menopausal symptoms, stomach cancer, TB, anemia, stress reduction and improve mental clarity and attention. Aside from these, it is also used to help improve memory, increase energy as well as act as an immunostimulant which improves the person’s health.
The plant is also rich in vitamins and nutrients making it one of the important foods for the Incans and was often traded for other food staples such as rice, corn, papaya and quinoa. The Incans also believe that the maca plant will enhance stamina and increase the energy of the person and as such, Incan warriors would eat the plant before going to battle. Once the battle is won, they are prevented from eating the plant to protect the slaves and women of the enemy from any sexual activities as the Incans believe that the maca increases the warrior’s virility and libido.
When the Incan empire expanded their territory almost 3 thousand years ago, the maca plant was considered highly valued and as such its use was restricted to the use of the royalty. When the Spaniards came and conquered the empire, they exported the maca root to Spain where the Spanish royalties use the roots until such a time when the knowledge of the maca root was buried in history.
The maca plant was rediscovered in the early 60’s when researchers came across the crop in the Peruvian mountains and have classified the root crop as one of the lost crops of the Andes.
Maca and the Modern Times
Today, the maca is slowly gaining back its popularity and has been dubbed as the Peruvian ginseng due to its many health benefits. Aside from its supposed ability to improve sexual function and enhance fertility, it is also said to have the ability to improve one’s stamina and strength. The use of the maca extracts is not only exclusive for sports or athletes but is also said to help elderly people as well as those who are suffering from mental issues such as depression, traumas and those who are into addiction.
Due to its thick fiber and goitrogen content, maca roots should be cooked to prevent gastric problems. The locals would usually roast the roots; it can also be boiled and then mashed to extract the sweet liquid. Dried or powdered maca is added to baking as one of the ingredients and may be added to porridge or milk. A weak beer may also be produced if the roots are fermented. The tops or leaves are added to salads.
The popularity of the maca plant resulted in the introduction of different products with the maca extracts sold to the market today. One can buy maca flour, gelatinized maca, supplements and even freeze-dried maca extract.
Aside from human consumption, the maca plant also serves as a food for livestock as it is considered as a vegetable as well. That said, consumption should be done in moderation as too much of the root crop increases the chances of one developing goiter as the plant contains glucosinate. The dark colored variety does contain iodine and safely eaten by people with low iodine level.
Further studies of the maca plant shows promising results when it comes to its effects on mental activities, decrease in anxiety, improvement in sexual desire as well as improvement for sperm production and motility.