Maca is a tuber that comes from Peru originally. It has been used for food for over 5000 years that we have evidence to support, in a harsh territory where not much else will grow. This tuber (it’s actually called a hypocotyl if you want to get technical about it) grows at very high elevation (8000–14,000 feet), where very little else can live, and somehow packs a nutritive kick to help people survive at elevation as well. It has been a staple in the diet of Peruvian native peoples for thousands of years, for good reason.
It has had a recent resurgence in Western health cliques, being touted as a “superfood” and an “adaptogen,” but is it really? What makes maca so special?
Maca is a nutrient-dense food, containing a complex array of essential nutrients, including amino acids, glycosides, carbohydrates, and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B12, C, and E. I have found over my years of working with very serious health issues nothing is more useful to the body than giving it the building blocks it needs to repair itself and function properly. The density of nutrition alone can explain maca’s health benefits.
Then, we look at how it affects human health. It helps the body moderate stress and balance hormones; and it improves libido for both men and women; and increases stamina, focus, and mental alertness. Because it has such a nutritive, balancing effect, some call it an adaptogen, but that term has a very specific meaning. An adaptogen is an herb that helps balance the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, thereby balancing and supporting
healthy hormone function through this specific pathway. Does maca achieve these goals? Herbalists and studies disagree. Nonetheless, we will explore the nutritive benefits of maca, its effect on human hormone cycles, and how to cook with and use this wonderful plant!