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Maca (Lepidium meyenii or Lepidium peruvianum) is a perennial plant that grows at high altitude (up to almost 15,000 feet) in the Amazon highlands. It is one of few plants that is successfully cultivated in this cold, rocky region. It grew as long ago as during the pre-Columbian period.
The part used for food and medicinal purposes is the root, which looks like a radish and can be dried and stored for years. It contains almost 60 phytonutrients, and has a role in metabolism, growth, energy, and sexual development. It is said to have a taste and smell reminiscent of butterscotch, and is sometimes called "herbal Viagra" or "Peruvian ginseng".
It has high levels of starches, protein, and essential minerals including iron and iodine, as well as alkaloids, tannins, and a small level of saponins.
Maca can be used in a variety of forms as a supplement, or added as powder to juice or smoothies. Whole maca extract is preferable to products that just use chemical extracts of components of maca.
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Benefits of Maca
Maca is believed to increase fertility in people and animals. In fact the Spanish are said to have discovered the effects of maca on fertility in livestock after the conquest.
Maca is recommended for boosting sexual desire and performance in older men, and for improving symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Studies show maca can increase the volume of semen as well as the number and motility of sperm. These changes were not due to changes in production of male hormones, alleviating concerns about overtaxing the endocrine system.
Some claims are made about balancing female hormones, but documentation is scarce.
Maca is effective as an aphrodisiac, perhaps due to the substance p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate which has this property.The high histidine level may be responsible for increasing ejaculation.
Maca is used by natives in large quantities for stamina and energy. Its impact may be due to its high content of nutrients such as amino acids and complex carbohydrates, rather than to any specific substance's action. It has been shown to promote growth in young animals.
It is used for general fatigue and for individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Other uses for maca include supporting immune function, dealing with symptoms of menopause and menstrual problems, and recovering from anemia.
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Sources & Resources
Amazon Herbs A-Z: Herbal Recipes & Remedies, V. Osalina Berman
Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation, National Research Council (U.S.). Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation
Do You Want to Have a Baby?: Natural Fertility Solutions and Pregnancy Care, Sarah Abernathy & Linda Page
Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, James A. Duke & Mary Jo Bogenschutz-Godwin
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis A. Balch