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Lepidium meyenii, Walp, Lepidium peruvianum Chacon (syn.)

Maca is a true miracle plant - not just for the immense nutritional value it packs into its tuberous root, but even just for the fact that it grows at all. A native of the high Andes, this inconspicuous member of the Cabbage family manages to withstand one of the most inhospitable climates on earth. At about 3500 - 4500m of altitude (8000 - 14500 feet) few plants survive at all. During the day the tropical mountain sun can be intense (although it is rarely hot), while during the night temperatures can plummet to 10°C below freezing, while fierce afternoon winds dry out the soil and carry away what little soil nutrients there may be. Nevertheless, archaeological evidence suggests that Maca root has been extensively cultivated in these harsh mountain regions for thousands of years. Maca is in fact what sustains the highland Indians and their animals. It supplies them not only with valuable nutrients, but also stimulates fertility in man and beast, which, as can be imagined, significantly contributes to the continuation of both. This quality was first noted by outsiders when the Conquistadores began to settle in the high mountains, but found it hard to sustain their animals on the sparse growth. The Indians suggested they feed them Maca root and, lo and behold, the animals' health and stamina - as well as their sexual prowess improved so dramatically that soon the Conquistadores demanded several tons of Maca root as a tribute from the Indians! In recent years Maca has been touted a miracle aphrodisiac and has even been called 'natural Viagra' and 'Andean Ginseng'. While Maca is indeed traded and sold within Peru and Bolivia as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer (especially for women), it also simply serves as a vegetable and is consumed in vast amounts by the highland Indians. It is baked or boiled, mashed to make pudding, cooked as jam or fermented into Chicha (local beer) and can be considered their 'root of life'.

Although there have been several scientific studies concerning the effects of Maca root, most have been funded by Maca marketing companies who obvious have vested interests in the matter. However, what is established beyond any doubt, is the fact that Maca is a very rich source of nutrients, especially amino acids, which are vital for the production of proteins and hormones in the body. Maca does enhance fertility and libido, but it is not certain by what mechanism. It is claimed that Maca has an effect on the endocrine system and may be useful as a nutritional supplement during menopause or to ally menstrual irregularities, though these claims have not yet been substantiated by solid research. In Peruvian herbal medicine Maca is used as an immune system stimulant, for anaemia, tuberculosis, menstrual disorders, menopause symptoms, stomach cancer, sterility (and other reproductive and sexual disorders); and to enhance memory. In the western world it is marketed for its energising, fertility enhancing, hormone balancing, aphrodisiac, and sexual performance enhancing properties.

Magical uses of Maca root are not as yet documented, although as one of the primary food plants it is certain to figure strongly in the spiritual practices of the people of the High Andes. In western practice this herb may be used in fertility magic and as an aphrodisiac for sex magic or tantric rituals. It can also be used to improve stamina and energy levels, though this effect is more noticeable when taken as a tonic over a period of time and does not produce any immediate stimulating effects.