What Is Maca?

Maca (Lepidum meyenil) is an ancient and revered adaptogen and aphrodisiac treasured by a plethora of indigenous peoples living in the Andean mountains of South America. Hand-gathered and eventually cultivated for over 6,000 years, maca is known as a "Superfood" due to its reputation for providing sustained physical energy*.

Sometimes known as Peruvian ginseng, maca root belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaeae), along with broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. It has frilly leaves that grow close to the ground and a bulbous, fleshy root. The root of the maca plant is coveted as a nutrient-dense food and is used in cooking throughout the Andes and beyond. Most closely related to the radish and turnip, maca thrives in the dry mountainous conditions found in its Andean homeland.

Though it is believed that Maca was cultivated as early as 4000 BC it was most likely fully domesticated between 1200 and 100 B.C. by the Pumpush, fierce warrior tribes that migrated up from the jungles. It continued to be cultivated throughout the Andean highlands and was brought to greater perfection by the Yaro peoples, who arrived in the area between 1100 and 1470 AD and cultivated immense fields of maca. Following the Inca conquest of these tribes, great quantities of maca arrived in Cusco as tribute to the new rulers. Much of it was fed to Inca troops to increase their vitality and fortitude. Maca even made its way to Europe after the Spanish conquest of the New World.

The Andean species of maca are especially rich because they grow in high-altitude habitats, up to 15,000 ft above sea level. According to folk belief, maca is an aphrodisiac, enhancing sexual drive and female fertility in humans and domestic animals. Maca also is reported to increase energy and vitality. Other health benefits attributed to maca include the management of daily stress and healthy mood changes; healthy hormonal secretion; stimulation of metabolism; and the support of memory.*

The chemical composition supports the reputed benefits of maca as a food supplement as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids -- a number of which are essential to sustained energy and healthy bodies --sterols, and alkaloids. The nutritional value of the dried maca root is high, resembling that found in cereal grains such as maize, rice, and wheat, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Maca has 50-100 times the glucosinaolates as these vegetables, making this a true superfood!*

Glucosinolates are just some of the products in maca that might have biological activity, translating into desirable attributes. Maca root contains free sugars, amino acids, sterols, alkaloids, tannins, saponins, uridine, imidazole alkaloids (lepidiline A and lepidiline B), isothicyanates, malic acid, macaenes, macamides, macaridine, phenyl acetonitrile, and the glucosinolates, glucotropaeolin and m-methoxyglucotropaeolin.*

In ancient times, maca was cooked whole in pits, layered with coals of charred earth and roots. This they called "huatia". The ancients also made "atunca" by boiling, mashing, and rolling it into balls and cooking it in clay pots lined with straw. Peruvian cooking still features maca root in everything from empanadas to preserves; a common breakfast item consists of maca root boiled and mashed into a kind of porridge and served with milk.

Today maca's uses are quite varied. Its most popular use on the international market is in capsules, but maca's diversity of uses cannot be understated because it is also an excellent ingredient in concoctions both sweet and savory. For instance, it's easy and economical to grind maca root up into flour that can be used in baking much like regular flour. Maca is also popping up as an ingredient in healthy smoothies and hot beverages, as a granola topping, and much more! Maca's sharply appetizing butterscotch character is the foundation of unique products ranging from liquid extracts, capsules, powdered root, maca-infused granola, and Maca-Honey Bee Pollen Energy Shots.

For all of maca's amazing history and its indubitable service to humans, it is shocking to learn that as late as 1992 it was listed as an endangered species. In 1979 the Peruvian Dept. of Agriculture found only 70 acres of maca under cultivation in the entire country! Careful seed harvesting and the resourcefulness of dedicated native people have protected it from extinction. These families are owed an insurmountable debt for their dedication to the preservation of this astounding, health-supporting crop. Since the 1980s, maca cultivation has been rising slowly, and now there is a true renaissance afoot. New life is being breathed again into the soils of the high Andes as the secrets of this lost root are being revealed around the world.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.