Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous herb that is often compared to a turnip or radish because of its appearance.1 Also called Peruvian ginseng,2 this plant was first documented in the Peruvian Andes, where the Incas used it as a stamina and strength booster for their warriors.3 At one time, only the elite and the royals were permitted to consume this herb.
Today, the maca root is utilized in different parts of the globe. Maca extract is now valued as a liquid extract or tincture or as a nutritional supplement because of its impressive nutrient content. It contains amino acids, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and many other compounds that can provide the body with wholesome benefits.4
Maca for Men: Improving Sexual Drive and Fertility
Maca has been called "Peru's Natural Viagra" because of its strong effect on male sexual drive and stamina.5 As an aphrodisiac, maca has the ability to boost libido and endurance in males,6 even in people who are affected by impotency and infertility.7
In an animal study, it was observed that daily intake of maca helped improve and preserve spermatogenesis. It has also been found out that maca generally protects prostate health by increasing zinc levels and helping convert testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).8
Studies also revealed that ingesting maca helped improve the quality, quantity and motility of the sperm of both fertile and infertile men. It does not directly affect or increase the amount of testosterone in the male body, but it normalizes the production of hormones.9
For Women, Maca May Help Regulate Menstruation and Ease Menopause Symptoms
Maca can be used by women as a supplement to boost sexual drive.10 Lack of sex drive in women can be caused by numerous factors, such as a decrease in hormone production, fatigue, intake of certain medications, relationship problems and illness.11 However, while it has been proven that maca helps in improving sexual drive, it is still not clear on how it's able to yield this kind of result.12
According to numerous sources, maca is an adaptogen, a natural substance that helps you deal with different stressors.13 This may be one of the reasons why maca may help address decreased sex drive. Additional research also showed that women who added maca to their diet were able to ease menstruation-related pain and cramps14 and had improved fertility.15,16 Maca helps regulate women's menstruation cycles as well.17
Maca may help address menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness and loss of libido.18 It is also being used as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).19 Instead of introducing external hormones into the body, maca works to help balance the estrogen and progesterone levels.20
Other Maca Root Benefits
Maca is famous for its aphrodisiac effects, but its benefits are not limited to this. It contains numerous vitamins and minerals that provide you with more than a healthier sex drive.21 Here are some of the benefits that you can get when you add maca to your diet:
- Relieves mild depression — According to an animal study, maca may be effective as an antidepressant and anxiolytic.22
- Helps in dealing with stress — As an adaptogen, maca promotes homeostasis by normalizing the production of stress hormones, keeping you calm during stressful situations.23,24
- Supports skin health — Applying maca topically gives you protection from UV radiation, so you don't have to be as concerned about premature aging and skin damage.25
- Restores red blood cells — Maca contains high amounts of iron,26 which help restore red blood cells,27 and in preventing anemia and other cardiovascular diseases.28
How Do You Use Maca?
Because of the increasing demand for maca, different forms of this herb have been introduced to the market:29
- Maca powder comes in two forms: regular maca powder and gelatinized maca powder. The gelatinized version is processed to achieve a more effective and concentrated powder from the root. These are usually added to smoothies, juices and baked goods.
- Maca capsules are taken with either food30 or water.
- Maca tincture is the liquid extract of the maca root, and is usually added to recipes.
Be aware of the proper guidelines when taking maca products so you can reap its benefits without the side effects. Learn the ideal ways to incorporate maca in your lifestyle by reading "Maca Is Good for More Than Your Mojo."
Grow Your Own Maca and Reap Exciting Benefits
Maca was originally grown in the Andes, where the temperatures reach below 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C). It is a very tolerant plant that can survive cold temperatures, poor soil conditions31 and drought.32 The maca plant yields a root that's off-white, yellow or purple, and produces leaves that grow close to the ground and flowers with four small and white petals.33
To grow a maca plant you need to gather seeds from the roots.34 It's typically grown as an annual, although it's a perennial,35 and requires well-drained and alkaline soil and full sun. According to "Rodale's 21st Century Herbal," try planting maca in the early fall, so it'll produce crops in the winter.36
Try These Maca Powder Recipes
While maca is usually taken as a supplement, it is also added to smoothies and other food recipes to provide a unique nutty flavor. Here are some tasty and healthy recipes that you can try:
Seedy Chocolate, Banana and Maca Smoothie Recipe
- 2 cups (480ml) raw milk
- 1 cup (30g) chard
- 1/4 cup (18g) raw cacao powder
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
- 1 teaspoon gelatinized maca powder
- 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
- 2 pitted dates
- A pinch of Himalayan salt (optional)
- 2 medium-sized frozen sliced bananas
- 1 cup (125g) ice cubes
- Combine all of the ingredients into your blender and blend on high for 30 to 60 seconds until smooth and creamy.
- Consume immediately, as the maca flavor intensifies when left to sit.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
This recipe makes 2 16-ounce glasses.
(Recipe adapted from The Blender Girl37)
Golden Milk Recipe
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups coconut milk or raw grass fed milk
- 3 to 4 drops stevia or raw honey or add sweetener of your choice
- Fresh vanilla beans (optional)
- Pinch of Himalayan salt (optional)
- Cardamom (pods)
- Warm coconut milk on the stove on low heat.
- Add the spices and stevia or sweetener and continue to stir with a wooden spoon, or whisk until all the spices are well-combined and the milk is hot.
- Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy.
Total time: 10 minutes
This recipe makes 1 serving
Recipe adapted from New Nostalgia38
Maca Side Effects You Should Look Out For
While maca root has not been directly linked to serious side effects, you should still exercise caution if you plan to use this extract, as certain side effects have been noted during the first few days of taking maca-based products. Side effects to watch out for include:
- Allergic reactions and dermatitis — If you're allergic to this plant, avoid intake or use to prevent unwanted side effects.
- Digestive issues — Maca can also cause diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, vomiting and other intestinal issues.39 For people with sensitive digestive systems, gelatinized maca powder is recommended because of its low or zero starch content. This may help your body absorb and digest the maca extract more efficiently.40
- Feeling jittery — While maca provides you with an energy boost, it can also make you feel jittery. This may be caused by the sudden introduction of maca into the body, so you may need to minimize your dosage until your body gets used to it.41
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid intake of maca because there is little research concerning its potential adverse effects on these groups of women.42