Maca root has created a lot of stir in the western alternative medicine industry. Chances are that you have encountered the following claims about this herb; “Herbal fountain of Youth”, “It makes you feel good”, “Maca is health, Maca is life” and “The Peruvian Ginseng”.
Although it is not really a part of the ginseng genus, maca root generates similar effects on the user’s health. To use a technical term, maca, like ginseng, is an adaptogen that helps regulate the hormone balance and stress levels in the body.
The following is a brief history of this wonderful plant.
It is difficult to ascertain when maca root was first consumed. Some stretch its history to 2-3 millennia BC, which means that the herb has been in use for over 5000 years now. However, most probably it came into common knowledge between 1200 and 100 BC, when the Pumpush warrior tribes started growing it in the Andes region of South America.
Till the 15th Century AD, the cultivation of maca had grown to such levels that when the Incas conquered the land, they were given huge quantities of this herb by their subjects as tribute. Later on, the Inca people paid the Spanish in the similar fashion.
In fact, here is when we get one of the earliest evidences of the maca’s importance in the region. Tribute weighing up to 18000 pounds of goods was sent to the Spanish conquerors in 1549. Surprisingly, records show that maca was the only item to be transported!
Why Was Maca Used?
From the ancient times to the Spanish conquest, maca was used for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. Specifically, it was used to improve fertility and fortitude. In fact, the potency of this root was so amazing that the common population was restricted to use it during the Inca rule. Only the establishment was allowed to consume it, particularly because it increased the strength and stamina of the soldiers in battle.
It was also being used as an aphrodisiac, something that has kept maca popular until today. It’s nutritional and medical benefits were not exclusive to the locals, but the livestock was also fed on this herb to improve fertility, for obvious reasons.
As time went on, the secrets of consuming maca root were passed on verbally until both the growth and its use decreased drastically.
Introduction to the West
Maca’s long history remained totally obscure from the world at large until the 1960s, when scientists started exploring this plant. The alarming fact is that even as late as 1992, maca was listed as a plant in the danger of extinction by The Board of Genetic Plant Resources. As a result, interest in this herb grew that not only gave way to increased cultivation but also a lot of research projects.
Dr. Gloria Chacon de Popovici conducted an experiment in 1960 where she isolated the alkaloids in maca that generate hormonal affects. The test was conducted on lab rats and it was noted that the powdered root of maca increased sperm count in male rats and egg follicle saturation in female rats.
Today, maca is available as a tablet, liquid extract, and powder. The internet is the main promotional platform for this exotic plant and maca has become a key product of the alternative medicine market. Specifically, maca is being increasingly used as a libido enhancer for women. It is safer than hormone replacement therapy since it doesn’t harm the body in any way.
William Doyle wrote this article on the history of the maca root.