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Is Maca Really a Superfood?

6 min read time Sep 17, 2020


The Great Peruvian Adaptogen or Nourishing Tonic?

Every region of the world has superstar foods.

Foods that have been eaten for thousands of years --

Proving its ability to nourish generation after generation

South America is on the top of this list.

Gelatinized Maca Root PowderPeru is one of my favorite places in the world.  And for someone who has visited, studied and experienced the foods and cultures of 12 countries that is saying something. The food, people, atmosphere and of course, the rainforest (nature’s greatest pharmacy) make it an almost unbeatable place to be.

Peru is also the home to one of my favorite foods: Maca root

Like any “special food”, Maca is a “labor of love” --  especially for those who work to grow, pick and process it.  If you want this beautiful powdered gold, you have to travel 15,000 feet into the Andes of Peru where this beautiful, nourishing staple in the South American diet grows.

Make no mistake, tradition, and science has taught us that while maca can grow anywhere (lord knows people have tried), the end-result will never come close to what is found growing in the Andes.

Like all foods with adaptogen-like qualities, maca grows best at a very high altitude. It is at high altitudes where pure, rich soil and optimal weather conditions produce the perfect maca root.    

When maca is harvested it looks a lot like a turnip

Maca is a part of the mustard family and the only known cruciferous plant native to Peru. When you cut into a fresh root, it has a very pungent odor and strong “horseradish” like flavor. Once it is ground up and dried you end up with a more pleasant, slightly sweeter flavor.

Once it has been gelatinized (cooked), you will think gold is falling from the heavens

Maca is so much more than an “herb”. It is a nourishing and very versatile food. Maca can be added to just about anything such as drinks, pancakes, baked goods and if you are really feeling froggy, make some maca humus or maca lemon sponge pound cake.

A Brief History of Maca:

Historically, maca has a unique background. When the Incan empire took over Peru, maca was considered such a prized food that it was only given to the elite and fighting warriors to support strength and stamina before battle.

According to a site called ‘the maca team,’ the following was stated in regards to maca’s history.  

  • In 1653 Father Cabo was the first to document the properties of maca. He referred to Maca’s use for fertility and for nourishment in the high mountains.
  • During the 200-year colonial period (1550-1750) it is reported that roughly nine tons of Maca were demanded from the native population annually.
  • Other literature from the Spanish conquest of America indicates that both indigenous and Spanish soldiers used a high dosage of Maca to prepare themselves for battle. One chronicle relates that maca was banned for use by some Spanish soldiers after battle because it heightened their libido too much.

 Should You Use Maca as an Adaptogen or a Nourishing Tonic?

Known as the Peruvian ginseng (due to its ability to support vitality), maca is not a true adaptogen based on the specific criteria that define an adaptogen.

Technically, maca is actually a nourishing tonic. While Maca does have many adaptogen-like qualities, it has several unique qualities that make it better than an adaptogen. Maca (because it is a food) can be eaten every day without potential diminishing effects and is very versatile.

Here are a few of the many reasons it is a valued food in South America:  

A Truly Nourishing Food...

According to a research paper titled “Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), A Plant from the Peruvian Highlands” the following was stated about its primary nourishing qualities.

A more complete description of the composition of dry maca shows 10.2% proteins, 59% carbohydrates, 2.2% lipids, and 8.5% of fibre. Free fatty acids are also present in maca, the most abundant being linoleic, palmitic, and oleic acids. Saturated fatty acids represent 40.1% whereas unsaturated fatty acids are present at 52.7%”. (1)

Maca contains amino acids (mg/g protein) such as:

  • leucine (91.0 mg),
  • arginine (99.4 mg),
  • phenylalanine (55.3 mg),
  • lysine (54.3 mg),
  • glycin (68.30 mg),
  • alanine (63.1 mg),
  • valine (79.3 mg),
  • isoleucine (47.4 mg),
  • glutamic acid (156.5 mg),
  • serine (50.4 mg), and
  • aspartic acid (91.7 mg)

Other amino acids are present but in less proportion" (1)

Maca also contains powerful compounds which provides the body a beautiful synergy of nourishment. Macamides, Macaenes and glucosinolates seem to be what research feels helps to give maca some of its possible “medicinal” effects. The research has been quite conclusive in determining that it is most powerful as a whole concentrated food (versus standardizing it). While macamides, macaenes and glucosinolates are only found in small amounts, it is the synergy of these compounds that pack a powerful punch. What makes maca unique, it’s the only food in the brassicaceae family where this combination of compounds occurs.    

How does Maca work?

Maca has quite a reputation for its ability to revitalize one’s vitality and energy.

Contrary to popular belief, the effects of maca on different physiological processes do not seem to be regulated by direct changes to specific hormone levels.

For example, sexual desire is controlled by the balancing of hormone levels. The specific effects maca has on one’s vitality is not because it directly affects individual hormone levels but the natural sterols found in maca are performing healthy “hormone-like functions”. The macamides and macaenes found in maca may in fact influence centers of the brain that are responsible for regulation of the endocrine system.

Here’s what the research shows:

  1. A double blind placebo controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction in women concluded “Maca root may alleviate AISD (antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction) as women age, particularly in the domain of orgasm”. (2)
  2. Another study showing the effects of maca on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen levels (Maca) (3.5 g/d) reduces psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowers measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity”. (3)
  3. Finally, a study on the neuroprotective effects of maca stated “A significant concentration-neuroprotective effect relationship was demonstrated” and “higher doses increased infarct volumes compared to controls”. (4)

Peru is a truly amazing country.

It is home to some of the greatest foods like maca, cacao, coffee, 4000 varieties of potatoes and 5 varieties of quinoa, just to name a few.

The amazing mountains of Peru have a long time tradition of respecting the powerful foods grown within this beautiful country. Maca is a food that truly defines what it means to be functional and versatile.

Traditional foods are the number one factor which brings people together and produce a true sense of community. That is how you define what it means to nourish and nurture.  

About Michael Stuchiner

Michael Stuchiner is an experienced Master Herbalist, the Head of Education for Z Natural Foods, a teacher, and an accomplished author.  With a 16-year specialization in medicinal herbs, Mike also has a vast knowledge of tonic and adaptogenic herbalism. Mike has enjoyed a 25-year career as an elite-level competitive powerlifter where he learned to heal his ‘mind and body’ as an avid user of herbal remedies.

        As an “in-the-trenches” herbalist, Mike has done more than 85 speaking engagements, consulted with clients ranging from young to elderly, worked with athletes in virtually all sports and with clients who have “dis-ease” states of a wide variety. Mike also mentors student Master Herbalists and will continue to teach the next generation to grow a deeper wisdom of the human body through appropriate herbal remedies.

For Bulk inquiries and custom formulations click here: https://www.znaturalfoods.com/pages/bulk


1)Gustavo F. Gonzales. 2011. “Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands” Pubmed.gov. Accessed 3/23/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/

2)Christina M. Dording, 1 , * Pamela J. Schettler, 2 Elizabeth D. Dalton, 1 Susannah R. Parkin, 1 Rosemary S. W. Walker,1 Kara B. Fehling, 1 Maurizio Fava, 1 and David Mischoulon. 2015 “A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women” Pubmed.gov. Accessed 3/23/18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4411442/

3)Brooks NA1, Wilcox G, Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska L. 2008. “Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.”. Pubmed.gov. Accessed 3/23/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18784609

4)Pino-Figueroa A1, Nguyen D, Maher TJ. 2010. “Neuroprotective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca)”. Pubmed.gov Accessed 3/23/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633111


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