Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future

Maca: Andes Aphrodisiac

 

Latin Names:

Lepidium meyenii, Lepidium peruvianum

Common Names:

Maca, maca root, Peruvian ginseng

Superfood Type:

Root

History, Facts, and Legends

According to archeological evidence, maca has been cultivated and grown high in the Peruvian Andes of South America for approximately 2,600 years.

In her book Maca: Adaptogen and Hormonal Regulator, Beth M. Ley, PhD, says that maca was domesticated by the Pumpush, a fierce warrior tribe that migrated into the Andes from the Amazon jungle. Later, the Yaro peoples arrived in the Andean highlands and cultivated immense fields of maca. Eventually, the Incan empire conquered the maca-growing regions of the Andes. Legend has it that during the height of the Incan empire Incan warriors would consume maca before entering into battle to make them fiercely strong, but after conquering a city the Incan soldiers were prohibited from using maca, to protect the women from the excessive sexual desires of the men.

Today the Quechua people, descendants of the Incans, continue to grow this superfood at its natural altitude of 9,000–10,000 feet (2,700–3,000 meters) above sea level and as high as 14,000 feet (4,300 meters), making maca the highest-altitude crop on Earth.

Maca is a member of the cruciferous family of plants that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, and radishes.

Maca is grown for its root, which resembles that of the radish, and is off-white, yellow, purple, or yellow in color. Sometimes purple bands streak through the root. Below ground, maca is slightly larger on average than a radish, with a typical diameter of two to three inches. Above ground, maca is quite a bit smaller than its relatives. It produces leaves that grow close to the ground and the plant produces a small, off-white, four-petal flower typical of members of the cruciferous family. Like other cruciferous vegetables and unlike most tuberous plants, maca is propagated by seed instead of by root. Although it is a perennial, it is grown as an annual. Seven to nine months after planting, maca is harvested.

The area where maca is found, high in the Andes, is a barren, treeless, inhospitable region of intense sunlight, turbulent winds, and radical fluctuations in temperature. Daily temperature fluctuations are so great that at sunset temperatures may plummet from a beautiful 64 degrees (18°C) down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (–10°C) freezing conditions. Because of this, maca has one of the highest frost tolerances among native cultivated species. The character and properties of maca have been developed by the extreme conditions under which it grows, which makes maca an excellent superfood choice for individuals living in cold climates, at high altitudes, and/or with extreme adventure lifestyles.

Maca has been used medicinally for centuries in South America to enhance fertility in humans and animals. As traditional Andean shamans (pacos) state: “When maca is consumed the spirits are close. Maca draws in spirits to be birthed.” Soon after the Spanish conquest, the Spanish found that they and their livestock were faring poorly in the barren Andean highlands. The local natives recommended the Spanish eat maca and feed their animals maca. So remarkable were the results that Spanish chroniclers gave in-depth reports. Apparently, some of the first written Spanish records from the Andes are treatises on maca.

Maca was so revered in pre- and post-Spanish conquest times that it was used as currency. Maca was sent to Cusco as tribute to the Incan rulers when they conquered the maca-growing regions. According to Dr. Ley, in 1549 the colonial Spanish government received 15,000 to 18,000 pounds of maca as tribute. Colonial records, now two hundred years old, indicate that payments of roughly nine tons of maca were demanded from the Junin area of the Andes alone for the payment of colonial taxes.

Even today, for many indigenous inhabitants of the Andes, maca is still one of the most vital and valuable of all commodities.

Once harvested, the maca root was traditionally dried, powdered, or cooked. Once dried and/or powdered, it was either eaten or put into sacs and traded for other commodities. Oftentimes cacao nibs and beans (raw chocolate) were traded for maca. Maca and cacao have a unique affinity and history that becomes evident when one eats them together.

In the twentieth century, knowledge about maca nearly died out. In 1979 the Peruvian Department of Agriculture found only seventy acres of maca under cultivation in their country.

There is no doubt that maca has been revivified by one of Peru’s leading biologists, Gloria Chacon de Popovici, PhD. Dr. Chacon first published her studies on maca’s ability to increase fertility in animals in 1961 and has continued as maca’s champion ever since. Her continuing research has demonstrated that maca increases fertility in rats, dogs, guinea pigs, rams, cows, and humans. This research has since been replicated by numerous researchers worldwide.

Maca has not only been a favorite superfood of the Peruvian Quechua people, it has also been enjoyed by raw foodists, vegetarians, adventurers, extreme athletes, dessert chefs, and food alchemists. Now, maca is finally available to individuals across the world.

The renowned effects of maca are creating market demand in Japan, Europe, and North America. With maca cultivation on the increase and a number of Peruvian government experts and agencies actively promoting maca agriculture and development, maca is poised to become a major botanical product on the international superfood and herbal scene.

Benefits

As we’ve seen, maca’s reputation as a powerful strength and stamina enhancer as well as libido-enhancing superfood stretches back into history.

Maca, like the goji berry, reishi mushroom, asparagus root, rhodiola, ginseng, AFA algae, and other superfoods and superherbs, is a powerful adaptogen, which means it has the ability to balance and stabilize the body’s glandular-hormonal system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and musculature.

In 1947, Russian scientist Nikolai Lazarev first defined an adaptogen as a nutritive substance that counters adverse physical, chemical, or biological sources of stress by raising nonspecific resistance, allowing the organism to “adapt” to stressful circumstances.

In 1968, Israel I. Brekhman, PhD, and I. V. Dardymov defined an adaptogen as follows:

1.     An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.

2.  An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.

3.  An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

Essentially, adaptogens are nontoxic, produce an adaptive response to stress, and improve homeostasis in the body.

According to research, maca as an adaptogenic superfood increases energy, endurance, oxygen in the blood, physical strength, neurotransmitter production, and libido. It supports the endocrine system, the adrenals, and the thyroid, typically improves one’s mood, and helps support healthy hormone production.

Consider that maca is known to improve the following conditions:

Anemia

Chronic fatigue

Depression

Infertility and sterility in humans and livestock

Lack of libido

Malnutrition

Menopausal symptoms

Menstrual discomfort and disorders

Poor memory

Stomach cancer

Stress tension

Tuberculosis

Dried maca powder contains approximately 59 percent carbohydrates, 8.5 percent fiber, and slightly more than 10 percent protein. The protein in dried maca powder contains twenty amino acids and seven essential amino acids. Compared to another local Andean root, the potato, maca contains five times more protein and four times more fiber. Although maca is not a complete protein, it is such a great source of hormone precursors and amino acids that it provides many of the same effects created by a high-protein diet.

Maca has a higher lipid (fat) content than other root crops (2.2 percent), of which linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid are the primary fatty acids, respectively, and is also a rich source of immune-enhancing sterols, including sitosterol, campesterol, ergosterol, brassicasterol, and ergostadienol. Maca contains biologically active aromatic isothiocyanates, especially p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which have reputed aphrodisiac properties. Maca is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, and iron and contains trace minerals including zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese, tin, and silicon. It is also rich in vitamins B1, B2, C, and E.

Women with menstrual irregularities using maca have experienced greater consistency, while women with hot flashes, mood swings, and most associated perimenopause and menopause symptoms have diminished dramatically using maca.

—Beth M. Ley, PhD,

Maca: Adaptogen and Hormonal Regulator

Oxygen and Energy

Maca is known to help us effectively deal with stresses of all types. Because maca increases blood oxygen content it helps to alleviate the environmental stress of altitude sickness (the volume of oxygen at 18,000 feet elevation is typically half of what it is at sea level). When used along with coca tea, nearly all symptoms of altitude sickness can be alleviated in less than an hour.

As an adaptogen, maca can provide more energy if it is needed, but if it is not, it will not overstimulate. According to most studies, adaptogens also boost immunity and increase the body’s overall vitality by 10 to 15 percent. Rather than addressing a specific symptom, adaptogens improve the overall adaptability of the whole body to challenging situations and stress.

Endocrine System

Peruvian biologist Gloria Chacon de Popovici, PhD, suggests that maca acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands as well as the adrenals. She has theorized that by activating these endocrine glands maca is able to increase energy, vitality, and libido. Other researchers indicate that the effect of maca may be more basic and that when the body is well nourished, libido rises, and depression lowers. Maca’s nutrient value could explain some, but not all, of these purported actions.

Dr. Chacon is probably closer to the truth in her scientific reasoning. As Chacon describes, maca works on the master gland of the brain, the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is generally considered the sex-hormone center of the brain. From the hypothalamus derivative effects occur “downstream” in the way the pituitary gland is stimulated to secrete luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, and the way that the adrenal glands and gonads are stimulated to secrete testosterone, progesterone, and DHEA.

The proper functioning of the endocrine system is deeply correlated with the proper functioning of the immune system. If any part of the endocrine system is out of balance (for example, the adrenals are exhausted), one becomes susceptible to immune system challenges.

In addition, we now know that as we age, the hormone content of our blood, organs, and tissues decreases. Individuals who naturally have a high production of progesterone and/or testosterone are known to stay younger longer. Traditional Western medicine hormone replacement therapies are swiftly converting to more sustainable, reasonable, and intelligent “bio-identical” hormone replacement approaches. However, before we reach for any supplemental hormones, we should first do our best to increase our hormone production with natural superfoods, herbs, and supplements; these include maca and coconut products (wild coconut water and flesh as well as coconut oil and pregnenolone).

Unlike soy products, cohoshes, Mexican wild yams, and flaxseeds, maca is free of plant hormones (such as phytoestrogens and isoflavones).

Aphrodisiac Qualities

We all hear rumors about various products like maca. But using this Peruvian root myself, I personally experienced a significant improvement in erectile tissue response. I call it nature’s answer to Viagra. What I see in maca is a means of normalizing our steroid hormones like testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. Therefore it has the facility to forestall the hormonal changes of aging. It acts on men to restore them to a healthy functional status in which they experience a more active libido.

 —Garry F. Gordon, former president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine

Maca has a high nutritional value providing macro and micro nutrients, including traces of 31 different minerals, to support the cellular structures and functioning in the body. Maca can optimize function as it optimizes and balances on a cellular level.

—Dr. Gloria Chacon de Popovici, Biological Sciences, Mayor de San Marcos National University, Lima, Peru

Maca’s actions on sexual function are better researched than its effects on mood and memory. Dr. Gloria Chacon initially demonstrated in her research that when rats were given maca powder, the male rats had increased sperm counts and motility rates and the female rats showed multiple egg follicle maturations. These effects were measurable within seventy-two hours of feeding the rats maca. Later came studies of guinea pigs, rams, and cows, each of which corroborated maca’s libido-enhancing effects. For example, maca significantly increased ram semen volume and sperm count. Researchers such as Dr. Chacon consider plant sterols, isothiocyanates, macamides, and glucosinolates to be maca’s active libido- and fertility-enhancing constituents because when isolated and fed to animals, these substances demonstrated aphrodisiac qualities.

Maca is one of the greatest superfoods not only because of its caliber of nutrients, amino acids, and fatty acids, but also because it helps to increase fertility, so if you are having trouble conceiving a child, maca is a great superfood to add to your diet. After pregnancy, maca also helps women to produce more breast milk.

Thyroid Support

Over the years I have had numerous individuals report to me that the regular use of maca either decreased or completely eliminated their thyroid problems. I have even seen lab reports where medical lab data indicated that the person should have thyroid problems, but that person did not because they were taking maca. This indicates an indirect effect that alters the endocrine system while improving thyroid health without directly changing the chemistry of the thyroid in a way we know how to test for at this time.

What to Look For …

Maca Product Types

Only select reputable, organic brands of maca root—not other parts of the plant. There are no “original” or “true” species of maca, so beware of dubious claims. Below is a list of maca products to look for on the Internet or in your health food store or supplement shop.

Dried, powdered maca root

Encapsulated, dried, powdered maca root (excellent for traveling)

Red maca

Black maca

Yellow maca

Dried, powdered maca extracts (e.g. Maca Extreme)

Roasted maca

Liquid, alcohol-based maca concentrates

Dried, powdered superfood formulas containing maca as one ingredient

Maca chocolate bars, chocolate brittles, and energy bars

How to Use Maca

Since maca is a superfood, it can be used in greater quantities than other medicinal herbs. It can also be used over a long period of time with no harmful side effects. Maca is a warming food, and therefore is better suited for use in cooler weather and colder climates.

Maca is generally purchased as a dried, raw, organic root powder. You may use a tablespoon or more of this powder in smoothies, teas, nut milks, coffee, or just about any natural beverage you can think of.

As previously mentioned, maca has an unusual relationship with cacao. Mix maca into all your favorite raw chocolate treats and experience real culinary magic.

Maca may also be added to homemade desserts, sweet treats, salads, salad dressings, jams, broths, soups, and puddings.

Maca has a slightly malted flavor and other flavor notes that are sweet and decorated with butterscotch overtones. It also has some minor taste qualities reminiscent of other cruciferous vegetables such as the radish; these qualities add some mild, subtle, spicy elements.

Maca powder is a great emulsifier. It can be used to draw fats/oils together with starches/sugars in a beverage, dessert, or recipe. For example, if one makes a drink containing agave nectar and cacao nibs, maca may be used to draw these two foods smoothly together and create a beautiful, rounded flavor. Another example would be a raw fruit pie with a nutty crust containing figs or dates. If one makes the crust with maca, the nuts and figs or dates will be drawn together for a more wholesome and complete flavor.

A minimum of 0.35 ounces (10 grams per day, or one heaping tablespoon) of the dried root is required for you to notice any real benefit with 0.7 ounces (20 grams per day, or two heaping tablespoons) being the recommended amount. You can increase this considerably if you so desire. It is recommended that you take a week off during every month of consistent use. Sometimes the irregular use of superfoods and superherbs can actually enhance their efficacy.

Can I eat too much maca?

Yes, of course—as with anything in extreme quantities. Maca is a powerful superfood/food/herb and should be consumed with respect, especially by beginners. The first time I ever served maca to one of my best friends, we were in Miami doing a book tour. We kept visiting a favorite juice bar where they served gallons of coconut milk. I had several kilos of maca with me. I asked my friend how many scoops of maca he would like in his coconut milk. He’d never had it before, and said “ten.” After consuming ten scoops of maca for his first time ever, it knocked him out. He took more maca than his body could handle because he had never had it before. What was supposed to be a night on the town turned into an early evening.

In toxicity studies conducted in the United States and Peru, maca showed no toxicity and no adverse pharmacological effects. In animal studies, the more maca animals consumed, the stronger and more sexually active they became. In spite of these results, moderation is still advised at least until one is adapted to taking maca.

Can I combine maca with other hormonal types of supplements and herbs?

Yes. Maca can be combined with pregnenolone, DHEA, DIM, black cohosh, wild yam, nettle root, passion flower, etc. with positive effects.

Can maca be used to improve prostate health?

Yes. For men wishing to regain their prostate health and sexual vigor, maca may be mixed or taken with diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as a broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts that helps regulate hormone balance and cell behavior. DIM is one of the most effective phytonutrients in the prevention and treatment of breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers.

Studies on the use of DIM in men indicates that it promotes healthy cell formation in the prostate gland. Various research studies have shown that DIM can help reduce the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. An increase in testosterone to estrogen ratio is associated with a healthy prostate gland. Scientific research also shows DIM increases the level of good estrogens (2-hydroxyestrogen) while reducing the level of bad estrogens (16-hydroxyestrogen). Nettle root may also be effectively added to this formula.

Maca Recipes

Sweet Guaca-Maca Collard Wraps

3 avocados

3 tsp. maca

½ tbsp. Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt

1 tbsp. raw honey

juice of 1 lime

1–½ tsp. spirulina

1 cup sprouted sunflower seeds

1–2 tbsp. raw sesame tahini

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mash or blend in a blender to a creamy consistency. Stuff into collard greens and wrap it up! For an extra kick, add cacao nibs to the guaca-maca!

Maca Extreme Recipes

All the recipes below have a minimum measurement of maca, representing a very light flavor of maca. Use a higher dosage for a stronger flavor. These recipes use Maca Extreme for several reasons:

·        The taste may be easier to integrate into balancing flavors

·           It is a higher-quality product due to being dried at lower temperatures

·           The absence of fiber in this product allows a higher concentration of certain medicinal properties to be absorbed

·           Lastly, depending on when in their cycle certain cruciferous vegetables are harvested, they absorb pollutants, especially of the aldehyde family, from the air, which is great for the environment but not so great for the body, so we have found that when these vegetables have their fiber removed (as is the case with Maca Extreme), the aldehyde concentration is mostly removed as well.

Extreme Warrior Maca Smoothie

4 cups hemp milk

1 scoop Sun Warrior™ barley (activated barley)

1 scoop Sun Warrior™ Natural protein powder (rice protein)

1 handful goji berries

1 tbsp. coconut oil

1 tbsp. Maca Extreme

1 tbsp. bee pollen

2 tbsp. raw honey

Blend well. You can also add an also add some cinnamon, vanilla bean, and chocolate powder!

Maca Thai Dressing

Recipe by Kimberly Reschke

½ cup coconut cream or coconut meat

juice of 1 lime

2 tsp. raw honey

½ cup hemp oil

½ cup spring water

½–4 tbsp. Maca Extreme

1 tbsp. basil

½ tbsp. hot chilies

salt to taste (use Celtic, Himalayan, or your favorite salt)

Mix in blender until smooth and it is ready to devour! Use as a salad dressing or with noodle dishes. Pour over cucumber or kelp noodles. Serves 2.

Maca Onion Bread

Recipe by Kimberly Reschke

6 large onions peeled

1½ cups golden flaxseeds, freshly ground

1½ cups hempseed nuts, freshly ground

1 cup Nama Shoyu soy sauce

⅔ cup olive oil

2–10 tbsp. Maca Extreme

Toss peeled onions, freshly ground seeds, liquids, and maca into a food processor, blending to even consistency.

Spread about 2 cups of the mixture on a dehydrator tray lined with a Teflex sheet. Repeat to fill four trays. Dehydrate at 110 degrees F for approximately 12 hours, flipping over and peeling off Teflex sheet and dehydrating until ready, usually 4 to 6 more hours.

Enjoy as is, with avocado and tomato for a sandwich, or as a base for raw pizza. A great way to get a healthy, delicious amount of long-chain sugars from onions!

Maca Vanilla Ice Cream

Recipe by Kimberly Reschke

1½ cups cool processed raw cashews

½ cup coconut cream or coconut meat

½ cup lucuma powder

½ cup raw honey

½ tbsp. raw vanilla powder or 2 scraped insides of vanilla beans

1½ tbsp. psyllium hulls (essential for creating a soft ice cream that can be scooped)

½ cup spring water, or more to allow blending to thick consistency

1–6 tbsp. Maca Extreme

salt to taste

Mix the above ingredients into a smooth consistency, pour the mixture into a bowl, and place in the freezer until set. This recipe serves 6.

For an extra-delicious addition, after the ice cream has set for approximately two hours, swirl in the following ingredients to create a hard fudge in creamy vanilla. Warning: it might make you devour the whole bowl in one day!

½ cup coconut oil warmed to liquid consistency (easy in a dehydrator below 115 degrees)

¼ cup cacao butter warmed to liquid consistency

2 tbsp. raw honey

½ cup cacao powder

White Goddess Chocolate—Jungle Maca Style!

Recipe by Kimberly Reschke

2 cups cacao butter (melted on a stove via the double-boiler method or in the dehydrator)

1½ cups coconut cream (sometimes called coconut butter, it contains the fiber)

½–1 cup raw honey, depending on how sweet you are!

¾ cup jungle peanut butter or ground jungle peanuts

¼ cup lucuma powder

1 ½–5 tbsp. Maca Extreme

1 tbsp. raw vanilla powder or 2 scraped vanilla beans

In a food processor, combine the melted cacao butter with the remaining ingredients. Pour into a pie plate or individual chocolate molds and allow to set in the fridge or freezer. A nice mellow chocolate for kids and adults!