Dried Purple and Gold Maca. Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2011

Maca and Sex

Common Name


Botanical Name

Lepidium meyenii


Peruvian Ginseng
Lepidium meyenii
Peruvian Ginseng
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Maca Botanical Sheet

“Maca has been dubbed “Peruvian ginseng,” even though it bears no botanical relation to ginseng. But like ginseng, the root is reputed to increase strength, energy, stamina, libido and sexual function. For this reason maca was named Peru’s Natural Viagra.” - Chris Kilham

Maca, Lepidium meyenii , is the only cruciferous plant native to Peru. The cruciferous plants include rapeseed (the source of canola oil), radish, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, mustard, garden rocket, and watercress. Maca is an annual plant with a rosette of frilly leaves lying close to the ground. The plant produces a turnip-like “hypocotyl,” a tuber which matures within approximately seven months after seeds are planted. The tubers may be red, green, black, pink, purplish, yellow, or cream colored. Locals in the Peruvian highlands claim that yellow roots are preferable, because they are sweeter. Yellow maca accounts for just over 36 percent of harvest on average. The root of maca is dried and stored before use and will keep for seven years.

Details about the origins of maca are sketchy, but the plant is believed to have been cultivated in the San Blas area of the Junin plateau of Peru’s Central Highlands as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Maca grows in a limited geographic area at elevations between 3500 nd 4575 meters (10,000 and 15,000 feet). The primary area of maca cultivation is the Junin plateau.

Maca’s Inner Secrets

Maca is a nutritious food. Dried maca contains about 59 percent carbohydrate, and has a protein value of slightly more than 10 percent. It possesses a higher lipid content than other root crops at 2.2 percent, of which linoleic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid are the primary fatty acids. Maca is also a rich source of sterols, including sitosterol, campestrol, ergosterol, brassicasterol and ergostadienol. Maca also possesses a good amount of iron, potassium and calcium.

What agents in maca are responsible for its potent sex-enhancing effects? The plant sterols listed may possibly be some of the chemical agents of desire, as may be isothiocyanates discovered in the root. Though these compounds occur in small amounts, they may enhance fertility. Two other groups of compounds, recently discovered, appear to be the sexual keys to this high altitude root.

Spanish Conquistador Leading his Horse, Peru“The Spanish didn’t take long to conjecture that whatever was in maca that enhanced animal fertility might promote a sexual effect in humans. Maca was so highly prized by the Inca that at the height of their civilization, it was used as a form of currency.” - Chris Kilham, on Maca

At PureWorld Botanicals, Dr. Qun Yi Zheng and his team of analytical chemists discovered two previously unknown groups of novel compounds in maca, the macamides and macaenes. And though these compounds occur in very small quantities, their effect is significant. Experiments with animals show these two groups of compounds to be very powerful sex and energy enhancers. In the experiments, frequency of copulation and stamina increased radically as the quantities of macamides and macaenes in the diet increased.

Discovering the activity of new compounds in plants is not a complete process until the results are published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. In April 2000, an article entitled “Effect of a lipidic extract from Lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats” ran in the medical journal Urology. In the article, Dr Zheng and his colleagues described experiments in which increased doses of the macamides and macaenes resulted in greatly increased sexual activity among the animals studied.

Yet another article on the stamina-enhancing effects of maca extract appeared in the American Chemical Society proceedings in 2002. In this article, Zheng and colleagues reported increased stamina in animals given the proprietary extract of maca manufactured by PureWorld, MacaPure. Use of maca significantly improved stamina in animals studied.

Following the science conducted at PureWorld, Dr Michael Balick of the New York Botanical Garden and Dr Roberta Lee MD wrote a feature for Alternative Therapies magazine, entitled “Maca: from traditional food to energy and libido stimulant.” In the paper, the two authors described the path that maca has taken to arrive in the present as a scientifically established sex enhancer. Toward the end of the article, the authors quoted PureWorld’s president Natalie Koether, the person who directed me to head to Peru. When asked if maca was being positioned as a natural Viagra, she said “Not so much as that it acts more on the libido, whereas Viagra acts more on mechanical function. Response to the extracts of maca has been terrific, and while men report it works, we have also gotten some good feedback from a physician who uses it with success for menopausal women.”

Physicians and Maca

The use of maca for sexual and reproductive purposes is not just limited to the cookie and flan market. The plant is prescribed in Peruvian medical practices as well. Hugo Malaspina M.D., a cardiologist practicing complementary medicine In Lima, has been using maca in his practice for more than a dozen years, and commonly recommends maca to women experiencing premenstrual discomfort or menopausal symptoms.

Maca Country“Maca grows in a limited geographic area in Peru at elevations between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The primary area of maca cultivation is the Junin plateau, where approximately one thousand acres of maca are grown annually, mostly in small family plots.” - Chris Kilham, on Maca Country

“There are different medicinal plants that work on the ovaries by stimulating them. With maca though, we should say that it regulates the ovarian function.” Doctor Malaspina further commented that “Maca regulates the organs of internal secretion, such as the pituitary, the adrenal glands, the pancreas, etc. I have had perhaps two hundred female patients whose perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms are alleviated by taking maca.”

Aguila Calderon, M.D., is the former Dean of the Faculty of Human Medicine at the National University of Federico Villarreal in Lima. In his medical practice, Dr. Calderon prescribes maca for male impotence, erectile dysfunction, menopausal symptoms and general fatigue. “Maca has a lot of easily absorbable calcium in it, plus magnesium, and a fair amount of silica which we are finding very useful in treating the decalcification of bones in children and adults.” Maca has proven itself as a superior sex tonic.

A number of holistic and complementary medical doctors in the US, from general practitioners to psychitarists, are using maca with a variety of patients. Menopausal women experience relief of various uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Both men and women report a significant boost in libido. And a number of men who have suffered from erectile dysfucntion have improved, as a result of taking maca. One New York psychiatrist I know recommends maca to those who take Prozac. That anti-depressant often sends libido plummeting, and he finds that maca brings it back. It takes many years to inculcate a plant medicine into a large number of medical practices, but with maca this process is happening.


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