Maca originated in South America and has been cultivated as a root plant there for at least 2000 years. It was first introduced to North America, Europe, and Japan in the late 1990s. Known as a panacea (disease remedy), it is often referred to as Peruvian Ginseng because of its healing qualities and has recently gotten a lot of attention in the holistic world because of its nutritional and medicinal properties.
Maca grows wild in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina but has primarily been cultivated in the Peruvian Andes and is considered one of the highest elevation foods, flourishing and surviving above 10,000. It has had a long history as a highly valuable food source, and its medicinal qualities were first recognized when Latin conquistadors noticed the impressive effect it had on their horses who struggled with the rugged environment and high elevations.
Botanical Properties of Maca
Maca has a rough pear shape similar to beets, and varies in colors from red to yellow, to black. It is part of the Brassicaceae family of flowering plants containing glucosinolates (natural components of many pungent plants such as mustard, cabbage, and broccoli). The pungency of these plants is due to the mustard oils produced when the plant material is chewed, cut, or otherwise damaged, and its pungency contributes to the plant deference against pests and diseases.
Recently there has been some experimentation growing Maca at lower elevations in the Pacific Northwest and China but has taken 5-10 months to produce a harvestable root at these lower elevations and has not been deemed successful. Additionally, there is a lot of controversy about the exportation of Maca seeds because, as a South American heritage food, it has been against the law to transport them since 2003.
Maca Benefits and Uses
Maca is considered an adaptogen, which is a non-toxic plant or substance with the ability to affect the endocrine (glandular and hormonal system) i.e., alleviating stress and anxiety and bring balance and nourishment in today's fast-paced world.
The Incan civilization has used Maca for centuries in many natural remedies believing it to have unique properties that enhance energy and stamina. For women, it has shown promising benefits to health, such as relief of fatigue and the reduction of menopausal symptoms. It reduces cramping, heavy or irregular periods, as well as PMS. It is also believed to increase the body's level of serotonin, which can relieve the symptoms of mild depression.
Traditional Uses of Maca
Although today Maca is marketed as a medicinal product, it was also used as a food source. The root was baked or roasting as a side dish, or used in a soup, and used in a local drink called Maca Chica. The root is also dried and powdered and then used in baking or added to beverages. The leaves are used as food also and are best consumed cooked because their pungency can have a powerful effect on the stomach lining.
Maca Root is a nutritional powerhouse high in protein, natural sugars, vitamins, minerals and contains all eight essential amino acids.
Ayurvedic Perspective on Maca
From an Ayurvedic point of view, Maca has the energetics and qualities of having a sweet, bitter, and pungent taste is warming in nature and has a heavy and grounding effect on the body, mind, and spirit. It is generally is balancing for Vata but can increase Pitta and Kapha in excess. It's bio-medical actions adaptogenic, nutritive tonic and immune modulator.
Maca Dosage and Cautions
As a medicinal supplement, Maca generally comes in capsule or powder form, and the strength of the active ingredients can vary, so start with smaller doses, 1 or 2 500 mg capsules per day, or 1-3 teaspoons per day in a smoothie. These dosages can increase, but it is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products. Contradictions for Maca include pregnancy and nursing. It can also aggravate pre-existing hypothyroid conditions (Kapha) in excess.
A Delicious "Adaptogenic" Lassi
This adaptogenic lassi can be enjoyed at any time of the day but does make an enjoyable good night beverage.
The recipe below will make 4oz. of powdered, which can be stored in an airtight jar, and the dosage is 1-3 teaspoons per 8oz. of milk or alternative dairy product.