Click on the image above to see Expedition Gallery. Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2009

Maca Botanical Sheet

Common Name


Botanical Name

Lepidium meyenii


Ayak Chichira
Ayak Willku
Lepidium meyenii
Ayak Chichira
Ayak Willku
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Medicine Hunter TV Special on Fox News!

Medicine Hunter TV Special on Fox News!
Hunting for Natural Medicine: Maca Root to Energize

The show focuses on the growing interest in the medicinal properties of maca. Grown in the Andes and traditionally harvested by the Inca, maca has gained worldwide popularity for its energizing and sex-enhancing properties. Includes interviews with top maca experts, as well as footage from Peru featuring shamanic rituals, the planting and harvesting of maca and a fantastic maca festival.

Maca, Lepidium meyenii, is a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family. Spanish and Quechua names for maca include maka, maca-maca, ayak chichira and ayak willku.

What Is It?

Maca is an annual plant in the mustard family which grows in the highlands of Peru, and is consumed extensively by the people of that region. Maca is one of only two food crops (the other potato) which grow at high altitudes in the Junin plateau, ranging from 10,000 - 15,000 feet. The root of the plant, which resembles a turnip, is harvested and dried. The root is then used in a porridge called mazzamora, in cookies, baked goods, syrups, juices, blender drinks and liquors.1,2

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” by the Miami Herald. 3 In recent years, maca’s reputation and popularity has spread throughout Peru, and to Europe, Asia and the United States.

Medicinal History

Peruvians attribute panacea-like benefits to maca, claiming that maca is an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer, a laxative, cures rheumatism and respiratory disorders, stimulates metabolism, regulates hormones, improves memory, combats anemia, and fights depression.4

Maca is believed to have been cultivated in the Junin plateau of Peru’s Central Highlands as far back as 2,000 years ago. When the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1526, they found maca among the many treasures held by the Inca.

When Spanish conquistadors ventured into the high altitude of Peru’s central highlands, there were no grasslands for grazing, and the thin air and hostile climate produced a precipitous drop in the fertility of their animals. The Inca recommended that the Spanish feed their horses maca. The Spanish followed this advice, and were thus able to keep their horses well nourished and return their fertility back to normal.

The Spanish found strong, healthy babies and adults in the hostile highlands, a circumstance attributed to a diet consisting mostly of maca. The Inca, and subsequently the Spanish, used maca as a staple food, and fed it to livestock. 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 and Sex“A number of holistic and complementary medical doctors in the US, from general practitioners to psychiatrists, are using maca with a variety of patients. Both men and women report a significant boost in libido. And a number of men who have suffered from erectile dysfunction have improved, as a result of taking maca.” - Chris Kilham, on Maca and Sex

Maca was so highly prized by the Inca that at the height of their civilization, it was used as a form of currency. During the height of the Incan empire, legend has it that Incan warriors would consume maca before entering into battle to make them fiercely strong. But after conquering a city the Incan soldiers were prohibited from using maca, to protect the conquered women from their powerful sexual impulses. From as far back as five hundred years ago, maca’s reputation for enhancing strength, libido and fertility was already well established in Peru.1,2

Habitat & Cultivation

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. Agricultural experts predict that the acreage dedicated to maca cultivation will steadily increase to meet vigorous market demand. 1,2

The Junin plateau is legendary for its hostile conditions. Temperatures often plunge below zero, snow is common in summer, the air is oxygen-thin, and the rocky soil supports very little plant life. Maca is unusually frost-resistant, and thrives in bad conditions.5,6

How It Works

What components can account for maca’s reputed effects? Dried Maca contains about 59% carbohydrate, and 10% protein, a lipid content of 2.2%, and a number of sterols, including sitosterol, campestrol, ergosterol, brassicasterol and ergostadienol. Maca is also a good source of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iodine.1,7

Two groups of novel compounds in maca are the macamides and macaenes. Preliminary experiments with animals point to these two groups of compounds as likely sex and energy enhancers. In the experiments, sexual activity and stamina increased significantly as the quantities of macamides and macaenes in the diet increased.8,9

Contemporary Uses Approved by Authoritative Bodies

No regulatory agency or health organization recognizes any therapeutic effects of maca, or ascribes any health benefits to the plant beyond its nutritive content. This is not atypical among widely consumed plants with long histories of significant therapeutic folk uses.

Potential Risks

There are no safety issues, contraindications, potentially harmful drug interactions, or allergies associated with maca.

There is no known toxicity for maca at any dose. Maca is a nutritious food which is consumed in large quantities in Peru.

Usage Tips

Maca is a food, and is used in significant quantities by Peruvians. Maca foods and beverages will typically contain anywhere from several grams to several ounces of maca. There is no evidence to show that small amounts of maca (100 – 1000 mg) have any effect whatsoever.

Product Choosing/Buying Tips

Look for maca either in easy to use powdered form, or in standardized extracts. Whole maca powder is an easy form in which to consume this nutritious, legendary Incan power food.

Some extracts of maca are standardized to 0.6% macamides and macaenes. A good daily dose (equivalent to a daily food dose of maca) is between 2 – 5 grams of such extract.

Science Update

A study reported in the Journal Of Urology showed that oral administration of maca extract significantly enhanced the sexual function of mice and rats. 8 These findings cannot be used to claim that the same effect occurs in humans, but the study does support claims of traditional folk use.


There are no controversies surrounding maca use.

Fun Facts/Trivia

Substitute powdered maca for half of the flour in a cookie recipe. Maca tastes like graham flour, and makes an impressively good cookie.

Boost your daily exercise workout with a maca shake. Add one or two tablespoons of powdered maca to a blender drink for a stamina boost.

The Inca believed that maca was a gift from the gods. After trying it, maybe you’ll think so too.


1. Hermann, M., Heller, J., (eds) et al. Andean Roots and Tubers: Ahipa, Arracacha, Maca and Yacon, 1st ed., (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, 1997): 173 – 178.

2. National Research Council, “Lost crops of the Incas: little known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation. 1st ed.,(National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1989)

3. The Miami Herald. Peru’s Natural ‘Viagra’ Leads List Of Unusual Crops With Potential. January 11, 1999.

4. Personal interviews, Chris Kilham, Junin Plateau October 1998.

5. Leon, J., “The “maca (Lepidium meyii) A little known food plant of Peru.” Economic Botany. 16 (1964): 122 – 127.

6. Johns, T., “The anu and the maca.” J of Ethnobotany 1 (1981): 2:208-212.

7. Dini, A., Migliuolo, G., Rastrelli L., et al. “Chemical composition of Lepidium meyenii” Food Chem 49 (1994): 347 – 349.

8. Zheng, B., He, K., Kim C.H. et al. Effect of a lipidic extract from Lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats. Urology. (55) (2000): 598 – 602.

9. Zheng, B., He, K., Hwang, Z.Y. et al. Effect of an aqueous extract from Lepidium meyenii on mouse behavior in forced swimming test. Quality Management of Nutraceuticals, ACS symposium series 803. American Chemical Society. Washington, D.C. (2002): 259-269.