Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca is something of a unique, wonder crop. The only cruciferae known to have been domesticated in the Americas, it is found only in Peru, growing at altitudes over 4,000 meters, where no other crop gives reliable yields.
It is extremely hardy and thrives in this inhospitable environment, which is characterized by regular frosts and mean monthly maximum temperatures under 12 degrees C during the growing season.
The maca root varies widely in color from yellow and whitish red to black. It has long held a reputation among local people for its miracle properties.
It is credited with energizing mind and body, reducing stress, strengthening the immune system, balancing hormone levels, increasinglibido and sexual stamina, enhancing fertility in men, and helping to mitigate the negative effects of menopause in women.
Experiments have also found maca to contain glucosinolates, substances that prevent the development of cancerous cells.
An interesting fact about maca is that even though it has been cultivated outside of the Andes (in greenhouses or in warm climates), some data shows that these cultivations do not develop the same constituents as the Andean Maca.
Traditionally the root is boiled, and then mixed with fruit juice and milk to make a thick broth. The fermented juice is also sometimes mixed with other liquors or used in desserts.
Since initial scientific studies began to prove the veracity of maca’s almost mythical power, the crop has experienced a commercial boom. The root is processed to make flour for bread and biscuits, dried powder, and gelatinized capsules.
Much of this is organic. Export volume reached over 700,000 kilograms in 2010, and brought in revenues of over US$6 million.