Maca: secret of the Incas

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Travel to Peru? Not necessary! Pick up this enhancer right here.

What would you say to an herb with over 1,000 years of safe use, which is proven to enhance libido and sexual function? You'd probably say "yes," which is what people throughout Peru, Europe, and Japan are saying to maca (Lepidium meyenii), a radishlike tuber that grows in the high altitudes of Peru's central highlands. This simple plant may be one of the most potent sex enhancers in all of nature.

Though I had known about maca's reputed sexual-enhancing properties for a couple of years, recent developments with the drug Viagra gave urgency to a maca research trip in Peru. While the drug does improve male sexual potency, the FDA has identified at least 30 deaths associated with Viagra use. This conundrum has spurred market demand for safe, natural aphrodisiac herbs without harmful side effects. It would be even better if such plants would be equally valuable for both men and women.

I travel around the world researching medicinal plants with my wife, Shahannah, an environmental biologist. Ready to hit the maca trail, we got our gear together and flew to Lima, Peru, where we hooked up with a maca trader named Sergio, and a shaman, named Enrique. Together, we travelled nine hours by truck up twisted gravel mountain roads to the rugged Junin Plateau, a barren region known for its thin air, c01d nights, and hail in summer. In this inhospitable environment at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet, maca thrives. The only other food crop which grows in that region besides potatoes, maca is an important staple for native Peruvians there. Highly nutritious, the plant contains about 13 percent protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals. During the Incan empire, maca was cultivated for use as both a nutritious food, and for its enhancement of energy and sexual function. When European explorers arrived in Peru, they discovered that the sexual fertility of their farm animals declined at high altitudes. Taking the advice of the Inca, the explorers fed maca to the animals, whose fertility was quickly restored. It didn't take the Europeans long to learn what the Inca already knew, that the plant has the same sexual-enhancing effects on people. Today, maca is consumed throughout Peru, and the plant has achieved status as a bona fide aphrodisiac.

We made our way to the grimy mining town of Cerro de Pasco for the Third Annual National Maca Festival. The two-day event featured maca growers and traders, plant geneticists, researchers, and manufacturers, as well as baked goods and puddings made from ground maca flour, maca jello, maca blender drinks, maca chips, and distilled maca liquors. Taking our research seriously, we sampled every product there over the course of two days. Throughout the festival, we heard dozens of accounts from male and female maca users who claimed that the plant significantly enhanced their libido and sexual function.

In scientific literature and in the company of research scientists, both in Peru and back in the United States, we learned about maca's rich composition of plant sterols, including beta sitosterol. These compounds, along with benzyl and p-methoxybenzyl glucosinolates, are believed to produce the sexual enhancement for which maca is now increasingly popular. Tests conducted on maca reveal no toxicity and a complete absence of adverse pharmacalogic effects.

For every health need, nature offers a solution, usually in the form of a safe, healthful plant. Maca may well provide tough competition for Viagra, and become a popular aphrodisiac -- for men and women alike --in the United States.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Chris Kilham
REFERENCES

Dini, A., Migliulo, G., Rastrelli, L., Saturnino, P., and Schettino, O. "Chemical composition of Lepidium meyenii," Food Chem. 49:347-349, 1994.

John, T. "The anu and the maca," J. Ethnobiol. 1(2):208-212, 1981.

Leon, J. "The 'maca' (Lepidium meyenii), a little-known food plant of Peru," Econ. Bot. 18(2):122-127, 1964.

Quiros, C.F., and Aliaga Cardenas, R. "Maca, Lepidium meyenii Walp," In "Andean roots and tubers: Ahipa, arracacha, maca and yacon," pp. 173-198, 1997.

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By Chris Kilham

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