An ancient Peruvian plant holds hope for the future as a natural energy booster. Patients with severe conditions such as CFS may soon have a new herbal ally to turn to. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) has been used for centuries in South America to increase energy, stamina and endurance. Not surprisingly, Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, has been called described as everything from “a powerhouse herb” to a “lost crop of the Andes,” by herbalists looking for a natural way to support the immune system.
A root vegetable related to the potato family, Maca is a hardy perennial plant cultivated in the Andean mountains at high altitudes ranging from 11,000-14,500 feet. The Peruvians have used this tuberous plant as a food for many centuries, during which time it has gained a reputation as a great source of nutritional necessities, and as a powerful natural medicine.
Maca’s folk name hints at its restorative properties. Also known as ‘Peruvian ginseng’, Maca’s legendary abilities include strengthening endurance and increasing energy. In Peruvian folk medicine Maca is used as an immunostimulant. Traditionally, herbalists have also found other uses for this plant including the treatment of rheumatism, menstrual disorders, respiratory disorders, memory enhancement and as an aphrodisiac.
The fact that little else grows in the region is a testament to the strengths of the Maca plant. Since before the time of the Incas, Maca has served as an important staple in the diets of the people indigenous to the region. Used by Spanish royalty for its nutritional value, Maca is rich in sugars, protein, starches, and essential minerals, especially iodine and iron. In addition, Maca also contains a large amount of essential amino acids, and important fatty acids such as linolenic, palmitic and oleic acids. Maca is rich in sterols too.
In the region where Maca is traditionally grown, people eat the fresh root, mashing it like potatoes, or they dry it and later boil it to make porridge. Fortunately, for those of us who prefer not to go to this trouble, Maca is increasingly available in the form of powder-filled capsules and tablets.
Although Maca has been gaining in popularity outside South America since the late 1990’s, few scientific studies exist to support its use. However, it is always useful to bear in mind that many of the herbs currently used extensively by herbalists also remain to be studied scientifically.
Doctors have been reporting anecdotally on the benefits of Maca for several years. Dr. Aguila Calderon, MD, former Dean of the Faculty of Human Medicine at the National University of Federico Villarreal in Lima, reported successfully using Maca for general fatigue. Herbalists in this country, such as Mark Blumenthal, have also written about the use of Maca to fight fatigue and about its promise as a medicinal tool.
Maca’s reputation is beginning to spread in the USA and elsewhere. This month it was the featured herb of the leading herb research organization in the USA, the Herb Research Foundation. It’s possible that in no time at all, Maca will be as familiar a name as echinacea for people turning to herbs to support their immune health.
Deborah Cooper, ImmuneSupport Editor, is also a Certified Herbalist. If you have any questions regarding herbs and their uses you may send them to: email@example.com. She cannot guarantee to answer all of your questions but we will publish the information that’s the most relevant to our readers.
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