Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) root

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) other names: Ayak Chichira, Ayuk Willku, Ginseng Andin, Ginseng Péruvien, Lepidium meyenii, Lepidium peruvianum, Maca Maca, Maca Péruvien, Maino, Maka, Peruvian Ginseng, Peruvian Maca.

Maca has been cultivated as a vegetable crop in Peru for at least 3000 years. Maca is a relative of the radish and has an odor similar to butterscotch. Its root is used to make medicine.

Maca is a tough, perennially growing plant that is cultivated in high altitudes in the Andes Mountains, at heights ranging from 8,000 feet to 14,500 feet. This plant is known to be extremely resilient to frost among all indigenous cultivated plant species. The stem system of maca, a member of the mustard family, is low-growing and akin to that of a mat. In fact, this plant often goes unnoticed in the field of a farmer. The disc-shaped leaves of maca emerge very nearly on the ground and this plant bears tiny, off-white and self-fertile flowers characteristic to those of the plants belonging to the mustard family.

Maca has a tuberous root and it is used for a number of purposes, including therapeutic and culinary. The root of maca has resemblance to a large radish often growing up to 8 cm across and its color may vary from off-white (beige) to yellow. Dissimilar to several other plants having tuberous roots, the maca plant is generally propagated by its seeds. While the plant is known to be perennial in nature, maca is also cultivated as an annual plant. It takes anything between seven to nine months for the plants to produce healthy tuberous roots for harvesting.

The region in the high altitudes of the Andes where maca is found growing is basically an uncongenial or unfriendly area receiving extreme sunlight. In addition, the area is swept by violent winds and the weather there is below freezing. The extreme temperatures couples with the infertile, mountainous soil, the region is known to be among the worst farmlands across the globe. Despite such conditions, the maca has evolved and flourished in the inhospitable region for several centuries. 

Maca seeds are generally sown during October, the rainy season, and it takes about a month’s time for them to germinate. The growth of the upper portion of maca’s tap root as well as the lower portion of its harvestable hypocotyls takes place during the plant’s vegetative stage, which continues between May and June. 

The hypocotyls become fit for harvesting after the plant has grown for about anything between 260 and 280 days. After harvesting the hypocotyls, the root of the plant remains in the soil in a dormant stage for about two or three months during the cold, dry season which continues till August. After this period, the root develops a shoot, which bears the seeds. It takes about five months for the maca seeds to mature. One maca plant usually produces several thousand tiny seeds - they are so minute that as many as 1,600 seeds weight just about one gram. Therefore, comparatively just a few maca plants are required to propagate this species.

In foods, maca is eaten baked or roasted, prepared as a soup, and used for making a fermented drink called maca chicha.

In agriculture, it is used to increase fertility in livestock.

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Health Benefits

Maca is a very important commodity for all Andean Indians as well as the natives of the region. 

As a habit, the natives of Peru have used maca since the pre-Incan era in the form of food as well as medicine. Maca is definitely a very vital staple in these people’s diet, because it possesses the maximum nutritional worth among all foods cultivated in their region. Maca contains elevated levels of protein, sugar, starches as well as several other essential nutriments, such as iron and iodine.

Maca is used for “tired blood” (anemia); chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); and enhancing energy, stamina, athletic performance, memory, and fertility.

The tuberous root of maca can be eaten fresh as well as dried. The freshly obtained roots of maca are believed to be a delicacy and may be consumed after baking or roasting them in ashes, much in the same way as people consume sweet potatoes. The dried out tuberous roots of maca are stored and used later. These dry roots are boiled in milk or water to prepare porridge. In addition, the dried roots may also be used to make a popular sugary, aromatic, fermented beverage known as maca chicha. Peruvians also use the dry maca roots to prepare jams, sodas as well as puddings, which are all popular among the locals. The maca roots taste flavourful and sweet and their scent are akin to that of butterscotch.

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) picture

Women use maca for female hormone imbalance, menstrual problems, and symptoms of menopause. Maca is also used for weak bones (osteoporosis), depression, stomach cancer, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction (ED), to arouse sexual desire, and to boost the immune system.

Maca is an energizing plant that is also known as the Peruvian ginseng. However, it needs to be noted that maca does not belong to the same family as ginseng. People in the Andes region have been using maca for several centuries now to augment the fertility in humans as well as animals. 

In the current herbal medicine of Peru, maca is said to be employed in the form of an immunostimulant (to invigorate the immune system); for treating anemia, stomach cancer, tuberculosis (TB), symptoms related to menopause, menstrual problems, infertility (several reproductive as well as sexual problems) and even to improve the memory. 

Presently, the dried out roots of maca are pulverized to produce a powder and marketed in the form of food supplement capsules that are meant to enhance stamina (both athletic and sexual) as well as fertility. 

Maca is primarily cultivated for its tuberous roots, which have very high nutritional value and are beneficial for our health. Most of the maca that is cultivated is dried after harvesting its roots. This helps to store the hypocotyls for many years and can be used when needed in future. Generally, freshly harvested maca roots are only available in the region where the plant is cultivated. In addition, you can also mash the roots and boil them to make a sweet, dense liquid, which is dried and blended with milk to make porridge. The cooked maca roots may also be used together with different vegetables in soups, jams or empanadas.

Alternatively, the roots may be dried out and pulverized to make flour, which is used to make bread, pancakes or cakes. A very low potent beer known as chicha de maca may be produced by fermenting the maca roots. The leaves of the maca plant are also edible or they may also be used in the form of animal fodder. The leaves can also be consumed raw by blending them in salads or cooked in the same manner as Lepidium campestre (field pepperweed) and Lepidium sativum (garden cress), which are genetically close to maca.

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Side effects

As both humans as well as livestock consume maca as a food, there is hardly any risk associated with its consumption. In fact, consumption of maca is known to be safe like any other vegetable. 

Maca is likely safe for most people when taken in amounts found in foods. Maca is possibly safe when taken in larger amounts as medicine (up to 3 grams daily) for up to four months. Maca seems to be well tolerated by most people.

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) plant

Nevertheless, maca encloses glucosinolates that may result in goiter, especially when one consumes it in excessive amount coupled with a diet low in iodine content. It is said that the dark hued roots of maca (for instance, red, black and purple) enclose considerable amounts of usual iodine. In fact, a serving of 10 gram dried maca usually contains 52 µg of iodine. While all other foods containing a high concentration of glucosinolate also have a similar level of iodine content, it is yet to be ascertained whether consuming maca may lead to or deteriorate a goiter.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of maca during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Extracts from maca might act like estrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, do not use these extracts.