Lepidium meyenii

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Lepidium meyenii
Maca.gif
Root
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Lepidium
Species: L. meyenii
Binomial name
Lepidium meyenii
Walp.
Synonyms

Lepidium peruvianum

Lepidium meyenii, known commonly as maca, is an herbaceous biennial plant of the crucifer family native to the high Andes of Peru around Lake Junin.[1] It is grown for its fleshy hypocotyl (a fused hypocotyl and taproot), which is used as a root vegetable, a medicinal herb, and a supposed aphrodisiac. Its Spanish and Quechua names include maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, and ayak willku.

Botanical characteristics[edit]

The first westerner to describe this species was Gerhard Walpers who, in 1843, named it Lepidium meyenii. In the 1990s Dr. Gloria Chacon made a further distinction of different species. She considered the widely cultivated natural maca of today to be a newer domesticated species, L. peruvianum.[2] Most botanists today doubt this distinction, however, and continue to call the cultivated maca L. meyenii. The Latin name recognized by the USDA also continues to be Lepidium meyenii.[3] There is a still ongoing debate about the correct nomenclature, and whether the distinction between meyenii and peruvianum is botanically correct or if they are the same species.[1]

The growth habit, size, and proportions of maca are roughly similar to those of the radish and the turnip, to which it is related. The green, fragrant tops are short and lie along the ground.[4] The thin, frilly leaves sprout in a rosette at the soil surface, not growing more than 12 to 20 cm in height. The leaves show a dimorphism according to reproductive stage. They are more prominent in the vegetative phase, and are continuously renewed from the center as the outer leaves die. The off-white, self-fertile flowers are borne on a central raceme, and are followed by 4–5 mm siliculate fruits, each containing two small (2-2.5 mm) reddish-gray ovoid seeds. Seeds are the maca’s only means of reproduction. Maca reproduces mainly through self-pollination and is an autogamous species. The genome consists of 2n=8x=64 chromosomes. From experiments with different day lengths it may be concluded that maca is a short-day plant.[1] Some sources consider the maca to be an annual plant, as in favorable years it can complete a life cycle within a year.[4]

Root[edit]

Maca root powder

Maca is the only member of its genus with a fleshy hypocotyl, which is fused with the taproot to form a rough inverted-pear-shaped body. Maca does vary greatly in the size and shape of the root, which may be triangular, flattened circular, spherical, or rectangular, the latter of which forms the largest roots. Maca hypocotyls may be gold or cream, red, purple, blue, black, or green. Each is considered a genetically unique variety, as seeds of the parent plants grow to have roots of the same color. Recently, specific phenotypes (in maca, 'phenotype' pertains mainly to root color) have been propagated exclusively to ascertain their different nutritional and therapeutic properties.[5] Cream colored roots are the most widely grown and are favored in Peru for their enhanced sweetness and size.

Darker colored maca roots (red, purple, black) contain significant amounts of natural iodine that may avoid the growth of goiters resulting from consumption of the lighter colored maca. Black maca is considered the strongest in energy and stamina-promoting properties, being both sweet and slightly bitter in taste.[6] Red maca is becoming popular with many people, and has been clinically shown to reduce prostate size in rats.[5][7]

Agronomy[edit]

Growth conditions[edit]

The natural environment of the maca is at 11-12ºS latitude and at an elevation of 3800–4400 m above sea level.[5] At this elevation, temperatures of the growing season vary between -2 to 13°C in monthly mean minimum or maximum respectively. Temperatures can decline, however, as low as -10°C and frosts are common. Strong winds and sunlight also are characteristics of the native habitat of the Maca. Maca today is still mainly cultivated in Peru, in the high Andes of Bolivia, and to a small extent also in Brazil.[4]

Alpaca manure is used to fertilize maca croplands

Cultivation[edit]

Maca seedlings usually emerge about one month after sowing with the onset of the rainy season in October. In the vegetative phase, until May to June, the lower part of the hypocotyl as well as the upper part of the tap root grows in size. After 260 to 280 days it is formed to the harvestable hypocotyl. If the root is left in the soil, it is dormant for two to three months in the time of the cold, dry season until August. Then it will form a generative shoot on which the seeds ripen five months later. One plant is capable of forming up to thousand tiny seeds of which 1600 weigh approximately one gram. Thus only relatively few plants are needed for propagation. The plants for cultivation are selected for preferred size and color, then placed 50–100 cm deep in pits with alternate layers of grass and soil to protect them from drying out. They are fertilized heavily. The cultivation cycle is strictly linked to seasonality.[1][4]

Traditionally, land preparation was done by hand. Nowadays, also tractor plowing is used. As maca grows on sites where no other crops can be cultivated, it is often found after long fallows of sheep grazing pastures.[1] Maca croplands thus traditionally are only fertilized with sheep and alpaca manure, however, fertilizer application could prevent soils from depleting in nutrients.

Weeding or pesticide application usually is not necessary as the climate is not suitable for most weeds or pests. Nearly all maca cultivation in Peru is carried out organically, as maca itself is seldom attacked. Maca is sometimes interplanted with potatoes, as it is known to maca farmers that the plant naturally repels most root crop pests.

The harvest is done manually, with the leaves left on the field as livestock feed or organic fertilizer.

The yield for a cultivated hectare may reach an estimated 15 tons in fresh hypocotyls resulting in approximately 5 tons of dried material.[4] According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Peru however, average maca yields for 2005 were only 7t/ha, with a great variation between different sites.[1] Although maca has been cultivated outside the Andes, it is not yet clear whether it develops the same active constituents or potency outside of its natural habitat. Hypocotyls grown from Peruvian seeds form with difficulty at low elevations, in greenhouses or in warm climates.

Constituents[edit]

The nutritional value of dried maca root is high, similar to cereal grains such as rice and wheat. The average composition is 60-75% carbohydrates, 10-14% protein, 8.5% dietary fiber, and 2.2% fats. Maca is rich in the dietary minerals calcium and potassium (with low content of sodium), and contains the essential trace elements iron, iodine, copper, manganese, and zinc as well as fatty acids including linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acids, and 19 amino acids.[8]

(1R,3S)-1-Methyltetrahydro-carboline-3-carboxylic acid

In addition to sugars and proteins, maca contains uridine, malic acid, and its benzoyl derivative, and the glucosinolates, glucotropaeolin and m-methoxyglucotropaeolin. The methanol extract of maca tuber also contains (1R,3S)-1-methyltetrahydro-carboline-3-carboxylic acid, a molecule which is reported to exert many activities on the central nervous system.[9] Many different alkamides were found in maca.[10]

Further, maca contains selenium and magnesium,[citation needed] and includes polysaccharides.[11] Maca's reported beneficial effects for sexual function could be due to its high concentration of proteins and vital nutrients;[12] maca contains a chemical called p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which reputedly has aphrodisiac properties.[2][5]

Uses and preparation[edit]

Maca is mainly grown for the nutritional and health value of its root. The majority of harvested maca is dried. In this form, the hypocotyls can be stored for several years.[1][13] In Peru, maca is prepared and consumed in various ways, although traditionally it always is cooked. The freshly harvested hypocotyl may be roasted in a pit (called huatia), and is considered a delicacy. Fresh roots usually are available only in the vicinity of the growers. The root also can be mashed and boiled to produce a sweet, thick liquid, then dried and mixed with milk to form a porridge. The cooked roots are also used with other vegetables in empanadas, jams, or soups. The root may be ground to produce a flour for bread, cakes, or pancakes. If fermented, a weak beer called chicha de maca may be produced. In 2010 a U.S.-based brewery called Andean Brewing Company, became the first company to produce and commercialize beer made from Maca under the brand KUKA Beer. From the black morphotype a liquor is produced. Also the leaves are edible or may serve as animal fodder. They can be prepared raw in salads or cooked much like Lepidium sativum and Lepidium campestre, to which it is closely related genetically.[14]

The growing demand of the supplement industry has been one of the primary reasons for maca's expanding cultivation in Peru and Bolivia.[15] The prominent product for export is maca flour, which is a baking flour ground from the hard, dried roots. It is called "harina de maca." Maca flour (powder) is a relatively inexpensive bulk commodity, much like wheat flour or potato flour. The supplement industry uses both the dry roots and maca flour for different types of processing and concentrated extracts. An internet query will show dozens of different extracts available, each touting a particular efficaciousness for a traditional use or health claim. Another common form is maca processed by gelatinization. This is an extrusion process which separates and removes the tough fiber from the roots using gentle heat and pressure, as raw maca is difficult to digest due to its thick fibers and goitrogen content. Gelatinization was developed for maca specifically to mimic the activity of cooking, and to allow gentler digestion. Gelatinized maca is employed mainly for therapeutic and supplement purposes, but also can be used like maca flour, as a flavor in cooking. Available also is a freeze-dried maca juice, which is squeezed from the macerated fresh root, and subsequently freeze-dried high in the Andes.

Maca has been harvested and used by humans in the Andean Mountains for centuries. Contrary to frequent claims that maca's cultivation was common in what is today Peru, it has been shown that until the late 1980s, maca has been cultivated only in a limited area around Lake Junin, in Central Peru. Historically, maca often was traded for lowland tropical food staples, such as corn, rice, manioc (tapioca roots), quinoa, and papaya. It also was used as a form of payment of Spanish imperial taxes.[4][16][17] It is cited that maca was eaten by Inca imperial warriors before battles. Their legendary strength allegedly was imparted by the preparatory consumption of copious amounts of maca, fueling formidable warriors. After a city was conquered, the women had to be protected from the Inca warriors, as reportedly they became ambitiously virile from eating such quantities of maca. This is of course an appealing endorsement for the masculine angle of maca's recent marketing campaign.[12] Whether or not this often-repeated legendary use is true has yet to be determined. Those who have studied maca's history have not been able to locate formal mention of this particular use historically.[14][18]

Maca root powder

Health effects[edit]

Maca is consumed as food for humans and livestock, suggesting any risk from consumption is rather minimal. It is considered as safe to eat as any other vegetable food, however, maca does contain glucosinolates, which can cause goiters when high consumption is combined with a diet low in iodine. However, darker colored maca roots (red, purple, black) contain significant amounts of natural iodine, a 10-gram serving of dried maca generally containing 52 µg of iodine.[2] Although this is common in other foods with high levels of glucosinolate, it is uncertain if maca consumption can cause or worsen a goiter.[citation needed]

Aphrodisiac claims[edit]

Maca has been marketed for its supposed benefits for sexual performance, however there is no evidence that it benefits sexual or erectile dysfunction in older people,[19] and overall any evidence of aphrodisiac properties is limited.[20]

Marketing potential[edit]

Due to its purported effects on fertility, maca has experienced a major gain of commercial interest as well as research in the last few decades. In the 1990s, a quick expansion of cultivated land with maca was observable. As the demand raised rapidly, the producer’s prices increased. Due to high expectations, however, the production expanded too rapidly and in the year 2000 the prices fell again.[1]

Market studies have shown a very low acceptance of the particular maca taste in consumers when first exposed to it. Apparently the taste is acquired, which creates a barrier for the further propagation of this food as a vegetable. The economic interest lies hence more in the medical application of the root's constituents.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hermann, M, Bernet T. "The transition of maca from neglect to market prominence: Lessons for improving use strategies and market chains of minor crops."[dead link] Agricultural Biodiversity and Livelihoods Discussion Papers 1. Bioversity International, Rome, Italy, 101 p., 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Taylor LG (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs: a guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers. ISBN 0-7570-0144-0. 
  3. ^ "Lepidium meyenii Walp.". USDA PLANTS database. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Flores, Hector; Walker, Guimares (April 2003). "Anean Root and Tuber Crops: Undergroun Rainbows". Hort science 38. 
  5. ^ a b c d Clément, Céline; Diaz Grados; Diego A.; Bharathi A.; Khan I. A.; Mayer A. C.; Ponce A.; Dante D.; Manrique I.; Kreuzer M. (2010). "Influence of colour type and previous cultivation on secondary metabolites in hypocotyls and leaves of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walpers)". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 90 (5): 861–869. 
  6. ^ "Maca (lepidium peruvianum): Botanical Characteristics". Free Online Botanical Encyclopedia. Skyfield Tropical. 
  7. ^ Gonzales GF, Miranda S, Nieto J, et al. (2005). "Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats". Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 3 (1): 5. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-3-5. PMC 548136. PMID 15661081. 
  8. ^ "Database entry for Maca Lepidium meyenii Maca - Lepidium peruvianum, Chacon - Maca - Lepidium meyenii Maca - Lepidium meyenii Maca". Rain-tree.com. Retrieved 2012-10-26. 
  9. ^ Piacente, Sonia; Carbone, V., Plaza, A., Zampelli, A. & Pizza, C. (2002). "Investigation of the Tuber Constituents of Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.)". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 50 (20): 5621–5625. doi:10.1021/jf020280x. PMID 12236688. 
  10. ^ Zhao J, Muhammad I, Dunbar DC, Mustafa J, Khan IA (February 2005). "New alkamides from maca (Lepidium meyenii)". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53 (3): 690–3. doi:10.1021/jf048529t. PMID 15686421. 
  11. ^ Muhammad, I; Zhao J., Dunbar D.C. & Khan I.A. (2002). "Constituents of Lepidium meyenii 'maca'". Phytochemistry 59 (1): 105–110. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(01)00395-8. PMID 11754952. 
  12. ^ a b Chacón de Popovici, G (1997). La importancia de Lepidium peruvianum ("Maca") en la alimentacion y salud del ser humano y animal 2,000 anos antes y desputes del Cristo y en el siglo XXI. Lima: Servicios Gráficos "ROMERO". 
  13. ^ National Research Council (1989). Lost crops of the Incas: little-known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. p. 57. 
  14. ^ a b "Maca Root". Retrieved 2007-05-24. 
  15. ^ Downie, Andrew. "On a Remote Path to Cures" New York Times. January 1, 2008.
  16. ^ Valentova, K.; Ulrichova J. (2003). "Smallanthus sonchifolius and Lepidium meyenii - prospective Andean crops for the prevention of chronic diseases". Biomedical papers of the Medical Faculty of the University Palacký, Olomouc, Czechoslovakia 147 (2): 119–30. doi:10.5507/bp.2003.017. PMID 15037892. 
  17. ^ Cam, Sergio."http://web.archive.org/web/20090130151135/http://chakarunas.com/chke-historical.htm" Maca in Early Peruvian Records
  18. ^ Kilham, Christopher (2000). Tales from the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis, and Other Healers. [Emmaus PA]: Rodale Press. ISBN 1-5 7954-185-2. 
  19. ^ Ernst E, Posadzki P, Lee MS (September 2011). "Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction in older men and women: an overview of systematic reviews". Maturitas 70 (1): 37–41. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.06.011. PMID 21782365. 
  20. ^ Shin BC, Lee MS, Yang EJ, Lim HS, Ernst E (2010). "Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review". BMC Complement Altern Med 10: 44. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-44. PMC 2928177. PMID 20691074. 

External links[edit]