What is Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii or Lepidium peruvianum) traditionally grows in the Peruvian Andes at an incredible altitude of between 4000 and 4500 metres. It has truly earned its place in superfood history. This wonderful plant successfully withstands the harsh thrashing winds, intense sunlight, and extremely cold weather of such a climate for at least 3000 years. Other edible plants are not able to survive at such elevations. Related to the brassica family, maca looks a bit like a turnip and grows to somewhere between golf and tennis ball size. We consume the root of this plant which comes in red, black and yellow. It’s eaten as a powder, added to smoothies, breakfasts, drinks or in capsules (unless you live in the Andes of course, where you’d be able to harvest the fresh root).

The great health of the natives who’ve used this amazing plant since pre-Incan times speaks volumes about its health benefits. Something that can survive such an intense climate must have a truly special purpose on earth. Maca is full of amazing health benefits.

The amazing health benefits of Maca

Bowl of maca powderHere are a few of the widely known benefits of maca:

  • Maca has powerful adaptogenic properties
  • It increases energy and vitality
  • Maca can relieve menopausal symptoms
  • It is an aphrodisiac for some people
  • Maca helps to control the glucose level in blood
  • It helps combat stress
  • It is a powerful hormonal balancing aid
  • Maca has been shown to prevent osteoporosis
  • It supports bone health
  • It encourages healthy thyroid function
  • It can prevent skin damage caused by UV radiation
  • It supports memory and brain function
  • It enhances fertility in both men and women
  • Maca can relieve pre-menstrual syndrome
  • Maca supports sexual function in men and women
  • It is excellent for adrenal support

Maca is the ultimate adaptogen

Maca is one of the few plants in the world known as an adaptogen, in other words, eating it helps us to cope with challenging situations on physical, mental and emotional levels. It is very beneficial against anxiety, over-stimulation and the stress to which we commit our endocrine (hormone) system on a daily basis. This amazing plant is the quintessential antidote for the turmoil that modern living has on our health.

Maca for all-round hormone support

Maca is well known for supporting hormonal health. Natives have used this herb to counteract hormonal issues (including menopausal and post menopause symptoms) for centuries.

Sexual and reproductive health and libido also spring to mind when we think of hormones – all of which are greatly supported by maca – however, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Hormones are in fact chemical messengers that tell our cells what they need to do, regulating the balance of our entire body. Hormone function includes digestion control, sleep regulation, brain development, mood, heart behaviour, blood pressure, fat metabolism, skin health, mental health, immune system, reproductive health, sexual health, and bone maintenance. Hormones also manage our fight or flight response, induce calm, and control the rate at which we age. Maca’s powerful ability to balance hormones makes it one incredible plant food to include in your daily life!

Raw versus cooked (gelatinised) MacaMaca root image

It is common to hear that the native people of the Andes only eat maca once it has been boiled or roasted. They have apparently done so ever since we can trace back in history. On the other hand, the modern trend of eating raw maca does occasionally have its pitfalls. Some people who eat it in its raw form find that it irritates the stomach. When in doubt, I say, do what the indigenous folk do – and eat the cooked version (i.e. gelatanised) – they have, after all, been doing it for aeons!

My personal experience of raw Maca…

I went through a period of consuming raw maca root powder many years ago. Whilst I truly appreciate the benefits of eating raw foods, I learned there are times when it isn’t always optimal for our digestion. The truth is, I couldn’t stomach raw maca for long, so I only enjoyed it as an occasional treat, rather than on a daily basis as I do now. It didn’t feel ‘bad’ for me as such… I just felt as if it wasn’t digesting properly and I started developing an aversion to it.

I have since learned that it’s not uncommon that people to struggle to digest this plant in its raw form.

My personal experience of gelatinised Maca…

I am so glad that I gave maca a second chance. It has become one of my all time favourite foods!  It helps to balance my hormones (and boy – do I need help with that!). Maca also supports me to cope with stressful situations, where my fight or flight mode has a tendency to go into total overdrive. By consuming the non-raw, gelatinised version I experienced a world of difference. Finally, I got to experience maca to it’s full potential. My body soaked up those health benefits like there was no tomorrow. Now, I enjoy it on a daily basis.

What is gelatanised Maca?

Gelatinisation happens when the maca is heated on low heat, allowing the roots to separate from their fibrous parts. Most of the nutrients are maintained during this process. Gelatinisation essentially removes starchy carbohydrates, creating a high concentration of beneficial nutrients. It contains a higher ratio of nutrients than when it is raw.

Ethics of buying Maca and biopiracy

Big topic! Our world has changed drastically in recent generations, making global trade the norm. The global maca trade is fairly new and was initially ethical by nature, supporting small scale farmers. Over the last decade, it has increased in popularity, which sadly means that greedy marketeers have caught wind of this trend, stepping in with unscrupulous and shady practices.

Maca is traditionally grown in Peru, using traditional, organic methods. Rather sadly, China has been sneaking out the product and growing it in the mountainous Yunnan region (which is known to be a massive chromium dump). Needless to say, it produces an inferior product. They’ve also been caught out creating a synthetic version and trying to pass it off as the real thing! They now have quite a number GMO patents pending on the stuff. This dishonest, money-grabbing attempt at dominating the market is causing massive imbalance. This is a sacred plant, not to be tampered with. It belongs in the Andes, where it grows to perfection. You can read more about the Chinese Maca pitfalls here: Peruvian Maca -v- Maca in China

“Biopiracy refers to the appropriation of the knowledge and genetic resources of farming and indigenous communities by individuals or institutions who seek exclusive monopoly control (patents or intellectual property) over these resources and knowledge.”  (Source)

Where to get your Maca Root Powder from?

Your health is important, so be sure to buy

  1. Certified organic
  2. GMO free
  3. Peruvian Maca

It might be tempting to cut corners and go for inferior products for convenience, but it’s not worth it. Maca not particularly cheap to buy, however, you would probably only use between a teaspoon and tablespoon every day. Therefore a 500g (1lb) packet could last you up to three months. A small price to pay for such healthful properties.

I only recommend products that I have used, tried and tested myself. The following two companies both have excellent ethical standards and I’ve been in touch with them personally. Here are my suggestions…

North America (scroll down for UK & Europe)
My favourite brand in the USA is now Terrasoul. I was looking for an alternative to the Sevenhills one that I use, for my mother who lives out there. They grow it with small family-owned, organic farms high in the Peruvian Andes and selectively harvest their roots. I’ve used this when I visit the USA and love it

Check it out here:
Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Gelatinised Maca Powder

UK and Europe
My favourite company in the UK is Sevenhills Wholefoods. They sell the product that I use the vast majority of the time. Sevenhills are very much in contact with their farmers and are proud of the direct-supply line they have established, with ethics, fairtrade, organic and sustainability as priorities. Whilst it isn’t cheap, considering the quality of their product, their price is very good value.

Check it out here:
Sevenhills Wholefoods Organic Gelatinised Maca Powder 500g

Super Healthy Maca Recipes

My favourite way to use this plant food is in a smoothie blend. Not only does it bring incredible health benefits, but it adds a delicious malty taste. To celebrate this article I’ve also published my favourite superfood Maca Chocolate recipe and very nutritious Maca Granola.

Homemade Maca Granola

Maca granola by Trinity

Maca Superfood Chocolates

Maca Chocolates with Coconut Sugar by Anastasia Kind Earth

Moringa Maca SmoothieMoringa superfood smoothie with maca, flax and tahini

Maca Chia Latte with Plant-Based Milk

Maca Turmeric Wellness Chai - vegan

Malty Maca Mango Smoothie

Maca Mango Coconut Smoothie

Healing Superfood Smoothie Bowl with Maca, Hemp & Ginger

hemp-ginger-breakfast-bowl_1

Enjoy! Please do feel free to comment below.

Resources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_meyenii
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/#B5
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614596/
  • http://www.imjournal.com/resources/web_pdfs/imcj_hudson.pdf
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23674952 (post menopause)