Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2007

Maca’s Inner Secrets

Common Name


Botanical Name

Lepidium meyenii
Lepidium meyenii
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By the time this article is posted, I will be high up in the Andes mountains of Peru working with maca, a plant I have focused on for over 12 years. It seems fitting, then, to share some information about maca with you.

Maca, Lepidium meyenii , is the only cruciferous plant native to Peru. The cruciferous plants include rapeseed (the source of canola oil), radish, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel 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.

In the 1990’s, 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 a proprietary extract of maca. Use of maca significantly improved stamina in animals studied.

Following the science conducted by Zheng and his colleagues, Dr. Michael Balick of the New York Botanical Garden and Dr. Roberta Lee 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.

Physicians and Maca

The use of maca for sexual and reproductive purposes is prescribed in Peruvian medical practices as well. Dr. Hugo Malaspina, a cardiologist practicing complementary medicine in Lima, Peru has been using maca in his practice for more than fifteen years, and commonly recommends maca to women experiencing premenstrual discomfort or menopausal symptoms. “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.”

Dr. Aguila Calderon, 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.

In fact, a study on people who have experienced diminished sex drive due to taking antidepressants showed that taking maca can rebuild lost libido. Maca, a humble plant from high in the Peruvian Andes, is helping people all over the world to get their mojo going.