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Get Back Your Get-Up-and-Go with Maca

This ancient Peruvian herb is a great health booster.

| November/December 2005

  • Bags of maca ready to take to the marketplace.
    Photos courtesy of Ed Smith, Herb Pharm
  • A child of maca farmers at Caracancha Farm in Junín, Peru, takes a break atop sun-drying maca roots.
    Photos courtesy of Ed Smith, Herb Pharm
  • The maca display at the 2003 International Maca Festival in Junín, Peru.
    Photos courtesy of Ed Smith, Herb Pharm
  • Maca farmers preparing traditional watia (roasted maca roots) in an earth oven.
  • Maca farmers exhibit fresh maca roots at the 5th International Maca Festival in Junín, Peru.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) has all the makings of a great story: It’s rare, sexy, exotic, ancient and a little mysterious. But, more important, it has unique health benefits with documented results.

Maca is an herbaceous perennial crop grown in the central highlands of Peru at elevations of 12,000 feet and higher. The Quechua Indians native to the area are the principle producers and consumers of the plant, and the oldest recorded date of maca use in Peru is around 1600 b.c. Peruvians traditionally have used maca root to promote mental acuity, physical vitality, endurance and stamina. The herb also is well-known as an aphrodisiacal tonic that enhances sexual desire and performance and is especially reputed to increase fertility in men and women, as well as in domesticated animals.

Maca's Amazing Effects

Maca is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes turnips and radishes. A highly nutritious food, it contains carbohydrates, proteins, calcium, fiber and lipids, as well as iodine and anticancer compounds similar to those found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage. It also contains antioxidants, such as catechins, which also are found in green tea, and sterols similar to those found in echinacea.

The greatest health benefit of maca may be its overall nutritive effect. As Stephanie Sulgar, founder of Medicine Plants, a supplement company in Middletown, New York, explains, maca’s nutrition alone can have a positive effect on people who are overworked, overstressed and nutritionally unfulfilled. “If you can imagine going from not sleeping correctly or relaxing or eating the right foods and all of a sudden you change those things, your body’s going to start responding appropriately to those things you’re doing,” Sulgar says. “Maca is a densely nutritious plant and it seems to fuel the body so well.”

According to Ed Smith, co-owner of Herb Pharm, a manufacturer of herbal extracts in Williams, Oregon, it is this overall nutritive effect that gives maca its ability to restore vigor and stamina. These overall health benefits lead, in turn, to what maca is probably most noted for in the United States: sexual enhancement and increased fertility. Smith is careful to point out that, unlike other herbal sexual aids, maca is not a sexual stimulant. Rather, it is nourishing to the overall health and vitality of the individual.

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