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Maca has nutrient rich adaptogenic properties, used to enhance mental and cognitive function and in fertility conditions.

Maca

Lepidium meyenii Brassicaceae

Maca is an elevating and nutritive medicine and food, native to South America. It is a medicine that is used to enhance fertility and as an aphrodisiac. It also improves performance and supports through times of increased stress.

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Commonly cultivated though may be sourced from the wild. Only source cultivated supplies or from certified sustainable wild collection. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Sustainability Status
Key benefits
  • Adaptogen
  • Fertility enhancement
  • Aphrodisiac
  • Stamina and performance
  • Hormonal amphoteric
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Cognitive function
  • Blood glucose balancing
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • How does it feel?

    A cooling nutritive nerve tonic, Maca instantly delivers a rich sweet flavour profile, making it a herb that feels instantly nurturing and sustaining. Growing at the highest altitudes in one of the most botanically difficult climates in the world, Maca is a plant that can survive highly stressful environments and is interestingly used as an adaptogen to improve our ability to endure stress.

    Maca has a sweet, earthy, nutty smooth taste. The sweetness can be likened to vanilla or butterscotch, with earthy, mineral rich tones making it instantly nutritive and pleasing to taste.

  • What can I use it for?

    Maca is a deeply nutritive, nourishing herbal medicine, native to South America. Considered a superfood as well as a medicine, providing key macro and micronutrients that help to maintain health.

    The primary applications of this herb are as an adaptogen (adaptogens are herbs that are used to increase the body’s resilience to high levels of stress hormones).

    Maca may be of use to take during times of increased stress, or to help support with symptoms of prolonged stress exposure. An adaptogenic plant like Maca effectively works to support the systems most affected by high levels of stress hormones such as the immune system and the endocrine system (3).

    Maca is also a popular herb for promoting libido and sexual fertility and overall function, as well as hormonal imbalances in men and women (5, 6). Like any herbal medicine taking Maca to achieve these effects needs to be in regular medicinal doses. It is also useful for post-menopausal women to help prevent osteoporosis, and to improve fertility in both men and women (2).

    Maca is useful for adapting to altitude sickness, and for athletes or academics as it is thought to improve energy and cognitive function (2,8).

  • Into the heart of Maca

    Maca is used both in culinary and medicinal preparations. The same seed crop of Maca produces three different coloured roots- yellow, red and black. According to ancient Andean shamans, this is no mistake – they believe that ‘la maca’ will provide you with the variety that you need for its unique medicine.

    The most abundant form, yellow root, is considered best for daily use. Red and black are considered rarer and more sacred.

    In traditional medicinal systems of the Andes, red maca is considered feminine and is used to nourish and nurture. Black maca is masculine – uplifting and energising, it is associated with external energy and power enhancing properties.Maca as a root medicine that is high in nutritive substances has a deeply nourishing and nurturing energy. The Incan people call maca the ‘food of the brain’, considering it their most sacred plant that brings happiness and balance back to the body during stress.

    The majority of Maca products for culinary and medicinal uses are made using the yellow root and for all purposes this is known to be most versatile. The slight variations in use of the different colours is associated with minor pharmacological differences associated with the coloured root skin. The substance at the centre of the root is the same pharmacologically.

  • Traditional uses

    Maca has been domesticated for about the last 2000 years by the Incan tribes of Peruvian mountains, and archaeologists have found primitive cultivars of the plant dating back as far as 1600 B.C.

    The root has long been considered a highly important source of nutrition and in South America it is traditionally used either fresh, or dried, and is often cooked in a similar fashion as sweet potatoes. Maca has been used for centuries by various cultures in the Andes, as a fertility medicine, in both humans and animals.

    It is still used in Peruvian medical systems to treat anemia, tuberculosis, menstrual disorders, menopausal symptoms, memory loss, reproductive disorders, and as an immunostimulant, it is even used traditionally for certain cancers (4).

  • Traditional actions

  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: Maca has been shown to modulate the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis), which is critically involved with the body’s stress response feedback loop (2). Maca is also used by herbalists for its Neuroprotective effects (5). Herbalists would choose an adaptogenic herb like Maca to support patients who are experiencing prolonged exposure to stress hormones, this would be suitable in burn out, chronic fatigue syndrome and other similar stress related conditions.

    Endocrine system: Maca has an amphoteric effect upon the endocrine (hormonal) system so it may be indicated for a number of different hormonal conditions. Its effects upon HPA axis, indirectly improve the function of many endocrine systems throughout the body, improving vitality, and adaptability in the body. These actions can be reflected in Macas antidiabetic, neuroprotective, antidepressant, anti-stress, fertility enhancing, aphrodisiac, antihypertensive, and menopausal supportive effects (5).

    Reproductive system

    Male: Maca is used to increase sperm production and improve sperm function therefore enhancing male fertility. This works also as an aphrodisiac, increasing libido and sexual desire. Maca has also been used in practice as part of a supportive approach in other male health conditions such as benign prostate hyperplasia (6).

    Female: Maca is also used as a tonic to the female reproductive system, and improves libido. Maca may also help with fertility issues. Maca is also used for support in hormonal conditions, including PMS, menopause, and hot flashes (6). It can support women’s hormonal health in every life stage.

    Cardiovascular system: Maca significantly inhibits angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) in vitro. ACE is an enzyme that along with potassium, is relevant in the pathophysiology of hypertension. Thus Maca may produce antihypertensive effects and support balanced blood pressure and cardiovascular health through studies on humans need to be conducted to confirm this (5).

    Metabolism: Maca has many benefits to the production and maintenance of the cells in the body, as a herb that offers a complex nutritional profile, Maca is both an antioxidant and a trophorestorative.

    Maca is rich in energy producing compounds and has a long history of use for enhancing energy levels. Maca has been shown to improve athletic performance, therefore it is an excellent choice for both maintaining energy and enhancing stamina, and can be used for both physical and cognitive enhancement (6).

  • Research

    Since the rise in maca’s popularity there has been an increase in research on maca’s aphrodisiac and fertility enhancing properties. Overall the in vivo studies and clinical trials conducted have yielded inconclusive results, and this is largely due to small sample sizes or limitations in the methodology. Some active compounds have been found but we cannot confirm their efficacy due to lack of data (11).

    Athletic enhancement

    A randomized cross-over design, pilot investigation into the effects of maca on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen, 8 participants each completed a 40 km cycling trial before and after 14 days of supplementation with both Maca extract and placebo. Subjects also completed a sexual desire inventory during each visit. The study results show improved performance and sexual desire in trained male cyclists (6).

    Altitude sickness

    In a randomised, double-blind placebo controlled study a total of 175 participants were given 3 g of either placebo, spray-dried extracts black, or red maca extract daily for 12 weeks. Primary outcomes were changes in sexual desire, mood, energy, health-related quality of life score (HRQL), and chronic mountain sickness (CMS) score, or in glycaemia, blood pressure, and haemoglobin levels.

    Low altitude participants started the study receiving placebo, red maca, or black maca, respectively. At high altitudes participants started the study receiving placebo, red maca, and black maca, respectively.

    Consumption of spray-dried extracts of red and black maca resulted in improvement in mood, energy, and health status, and reduced CMS score. The study also showed that fatty acids and macamides were higher in spray-dried extracts of black maca than in red maca.

    GABA predominated in spray-dried extracts of red maca. Effects on mood, energy, and CMS score were better with red maca, also reducing haemoglobin levels only in highlanders with abnormally high haemoglobin levels. Neither variety of maca reduced haemoglobin levels in lowlanders.

    Black maca reduced blood glucose levels. Both varieties produced similar outcomes in mood, and HRQL score. The study concluded that Maca improves multiple quality of life parameters and reduces the risk of altitude sickness (8).

    Depression

    Yellow maca is especially rich in Macamides. A unique compound that works in the brain to preserve and increase levels of natural endocannabinoids, such as anandamide (also known as the bliss molecule). Macamides work by inhibiting an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) which usually break down the endocannabinoids. As the macamides and anandamide have a similar chemical structure, they confuse the enzyme and slow the breakdown of natural anandamide, meaning the brain sustains higher and more resilient levels of anandamide for longer (8,9).

    Diabetes

    An in vitro study on Maca extracts to determine Maca’s ability to regulate glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin-resistant HepG2 cells. Using Maca extracts on glucose and lipid homeostasis in insulin-resistant cells the possible underlying mechanism involving the PI3K/AKT signalling pathway was investigated. The results showed that maca ethanol extracts exhibited significant antioxidant capacity. In addition, subfractions of maca ethanol extract could improve glucose and lipid metabolic disorders in HepG2 cells. The study concludes that Maca shows strong potential as a herbal medicine to improve glucose and lipid homeostasis (10).

  • Did you know?

    The Incan people call maca the “food of the brain” and consider it their most sacred plant that brings happiness and balance back to the body during stress. What is unique about maca is that it comes in 3 colours, with seeds from any colour producing all 3 colours again. Therefore all 3 coloured roots come from the same species of the plant.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Maca is safe to take for most people with no WHO adverse reaction reports to note.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    Maca is a member of the Brassicaceae (Cabbage) family and therefore contains high level of vitamin K. It is recommended to consult a Medical professional or herbalist if you are taking medications that may affect blood clotting before using Maca.

  • Preparation

    Maca can be included in the diet in powdered form or fresh where available.

    Considering that 50–100 g per day of maca typically is consumed as food in Middle Andean countries, the use of 1–3 g per day as a dietary supplement is comparatively low to the required dose for medicinal actions. However some supplements are extracts and therefore stronger than plain ground root powder so it is important to check the extraction ratio and make sure you are sourcing a good quality product.

  • Dosage

    Powdered herb: approximately 70-85 g per week, depending on one’s size

  • Plant parts used

    Root

  • Constituents

    • Alkaloids
    • Amino acids
    • Beta-ecdysone
    • Calcium
    • Carbohydrates
    • Fatty acids
    • Glucosinolates
    • Iron
    • Magnesium
    • P-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate
    • Phosphorous
    • Potassium
    • Protein
    • Saponins
    • Sitosterols
    • Stigmasterol
    • Tannins
    • Vitamin B1
    • Vitamin B2
    • Vitamin B12
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin E
    • Calcium
    • Copper
    • Zinc (2)
  • Habitat

    Maca grows natively in the Peruvian highlands at elevations over 4000 m. While there are related species in Europe and North America, Maca’s habitat of intense cold and sunlight, along with extreme winds is unique. It has been cultivated in the Andes for 1500-2000 years, which is known for being one of the most botanically difficult climates in the world.

  • Sustainability

    The IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database was accessed on 14.09.22 with no record of this plants endangered rating.

    Maca was introduced onto the global market and demand has risen dramatically over this time. It has marketed as “Peruvian Ginseng” for fertility and libido enhancement amongst other things. The booming demand has seen a shift from traditional cultivation practises to the use of fertilisers and pesticides, which can change phytochemistry of the plant. This can effect the quality, safety and efficacy of a plant. Now maca is grown in various areas around the world such as the Yunnan province in China, where it is not naturally found. This globalisation has had serious consequences for local producers in Peru. There is a lack of protocols to regulate the production and marketing of maca further facilitating rapid expansion, which can threaten the sustainability of supply and consumer safety. This is why finding reputable suppliers is very important as products are often adulterated too (11).

  • Quality control

    It is said that boiling or otherwise heating Maca roots changes their metabolite levels. The aqueous extract of maca is effective if it has been boiled, and suggests that the boiled aqueous extract, has similar effect as hydroalcoholic extract of Lepidium spp (5).

    Maca also contains glucosinolates, which are sensitive to heat. On the other hand, sulforaphane in Maca is actually increased in heat extraction preparations. Other metabolites influenced by heat include antioxidants in Maca (found to increase with heat) (5).

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/ botanical name is used.

    A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Store Maca seeds at or below 60 °F (16 °C) so they stay viable. Maca grows in cold mountainous climates, so it is important to avoid damp, humid conditions.

    Maca is suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils.

    Sow seeds directly into soil in a spot that has full sun. Ideally locate your Maca where it gets at least 8–10 hours of sunlight throughout the day.

  • Recipe

    Maca and hempseed ‘brain boost’ smoothie

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries
    • 1 cup of almond milk or oat milk
    • 1 heaped teaspoon of unsweetened cacao powder
    • 1 banana
    • 1 teaspoon of powdered Maca
    • 1 teaspoon of hulled hempseeds

    To prepare your smoothie, blend all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth, and then sip and enjoy!

  • References

    1. DSC USP Safety Review of Maca: https://www.usp.org/sites/default/files/usp/document/products-services/dsc-sample-safety-review-2012.pdf. Accessed 13.19.2022
    2. The Sunlight Experiment. (n.d.). Maca Monograph (Lepidium meyenii). [online] Available at: https://thesunlightexperiment.com/herb/maca [Accessed 13 Sep. 2022].
    3. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2019). Adaptogens : herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
    4. Taylor, L. (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs. Raintree Nutrition Inc., Carson City, NV, 89701, 122-125.
    5. Gonzales, G. F. (2012). Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a plant from the Peruvian highlands. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012
    6. Stone, M., Ibarra, A., Roller, M., Zangara, A. and Stevenson, E. (2009). A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 126(3), pp.574–576. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.012.
    7. org. (n.d.). Lepidium meyenii Maca PFAF Plant Database. [online] Available at: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Lepidium+meyenii.
    8. Gonzales-Arimborgo, C., Yupanqui, I., Montero, E., Alarcón-Yaquetto, D.E., Zevallos-Concha, A., Caballero, L., Gasco, M., Zhao, J., Khan, I.A. and Gonzales, G.F. (2016). Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pharmaceuticals, [online] 9(3), p.49. doi:10.3390/ph9030049.
    9. Indigo Herbs. (n.d.). Red, Yellow or Black Maca – Whats the Difference? [online] Available at: https://www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/blog/coloured-maca-whats-the-difference [Accessed 13 Sep. 2022].
    10. Li, A., Liu, J., Ding, F., Wu, X., Pan, C., Wang, Q., Gao, M., Duan, S., Han, X., Xia, K., Liu, S., Wu, Y., Zhou, Z., Zhang, X. and Gao, X. (2021). Maca extracts regulate glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin‐resistant HepG2 cells via the PI3K/AKT signalling pathway. Food Science & Nutrition, 9(6), pp.2894–2907. doi:10.1002/fsn3.2246.
    11. Beharry S, Heinrich M. Is the hype around the reproductive health claims of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) justified?. J Ethnopharmacol. 2018;211:126-170. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2017.08.003
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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