Herb Library: Natural Herbs and Herbal Supplements Directory: Maca





This fact sheet provides basic information about Maca. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is an indigenous plant of the Peruvian and Bolivian highlands in the Andes Mountains. Native Peruvians have cultivated the plant for centuries using the root as a food staple. The plant grows best at high altitudes (above 11,000 feet) and in poor soils.

Maca was domesticated at least 1,300 to 2,000 years ago and used as an important food by native Andean people because of its high nutritional value as well as to enhance fertility and sexual performance. Throughout the Inca empire, maca consumption was limited to the privileged classes and often given as a prize to warriors. Indigenous people used maca to treat numerous conditions including anemia, tuberculosis, sterility, and fatigue. Because of its claimed anabolic and aphrodisiac effects, maca is often referred to as the "ginseng of the Andes" or "Peruvian ginseng." Although its efficacy is not proven, some athletes have used maca as an alternative to anabolic steroids. Ethnobotanical studies document the use of maca for depression, cancer, as well as menstrual and sexual disorders. Other studies document its use for regulation of hormonal secretion, immunostimulation, and memory improvement.

Common Names

Maca, Peruvian Ginseng, Maino, Ayuk Willku, Ayak Chichira

Latin Names

Lepidium meyenii

What It Is Used For

  • Enhance fertility in both men and women
  • Improve libido
  • Provide energy boost
  • Help with stress
  • Change hormone levels during menopause
  • Help control irregular menstrual bleeding

How It Is Used

The tuberous hypocotyl of the plant or root may be eaten raw or cooked, and dried and stored for years without serious deterioration. The root has a tangy taste and an aroma similar to that of butterscotch. The dried roots may be mixed with honey or fruits to prepare juices, gelatins, jams, and alcoholic beverages. In South America, the roots are used to make porridge (known as mazamorra), jam, and pudding. In Peru, the roots are made into a sweet, fragrant drink called maca chichi. Flour may be added to the roots to prepare bread and cookies. A maca coffee is made from toasted and grounded hypocotyl roots. Ground hypocotyl is sold as a nutraceutical under several commercial names and purported to enhance fertility and act as an aphrodisiac in men, women, and livestock.

Maca is available commercially in several dosage forms including powder, liquid, tablets, and capsules. Most commercial Web sites recommend a daily dose of 1 dried maca extract 450 mg capsule 3 times daily taken orally with food.

What the Science Says

  • Numerous animal and human studies on the aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties of maca are found in the scientific literature. The exact mechanism of action remains to be elucidated. One study established that maca does not directly modulate androgen receptors.
  • Maca improved sexual desire in 57 healthy men (21 to 56 years of age) treated with 1.5 to 3 g/day of gelatinized maca root (500 or 1,000 mg 3 times a day) in a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, parallel trial. A dose-response effect was not demonstrated with the 3 versus 1.5 g dose. The improvement of sexual desire was independent of any changes in mood, serum testosterone, or estradiol levels.

Side Effects and Cautions

  • Patients with thyroid conditions should avoid maca because glucosinolates taken in excess and combined with a low-iodine diet can cause goiter.
  • Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation due to lack of safety and efficacy data.


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