Whole Food Center
The history of maca
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is an annual herbaceous plant of the Brassicaceae family, native to the region of Junin, Peru. It grows within the range of 3,500 – 4,500m where the extreme conditions provide little competition within the soil from other plants. The cultivation of maca dates back to the days of the Pre-Columbian Inca who would refer to the plant as the ‘food of the gods’ due to its medicinal properties. Legend says that the Inca were in search of gold in the mountains of San Blas (near Junin) when they came across a cave (the Cradle of Pachamacay) containing a mummified body buried with no more than a simple box of seeds from a mysterious plant. They cultivated the seeds into the resulting maca bulb and so began a 2000-year history that would play a vital role within their evolution and culture. It is said the Inca would trade in maca as currency and that they valued it even more than gold itself. They claimed the gods had given them maca to ensure life-long health, fertility and strength. It is believed that Incan warriors would consume up to 200g per day before battle to help with stamina and endurance at altitude. Shamans would use boiled preparations for the treatment of fertility for both humans and animals and noble elites in the society would consume maca daily for longevity and well-being. Today the harvest of maca continues to celebrate the plant through a month-long festival that gives thanks to Pachamama (mother earth) for providing them with the Incan medicine. The opening of this festival is held annually in Junin at the original site of cultivation, in front of the cave at the Cradle of Pachamacay. The ceremony
consists of a blessing from a local shaman, followed by stories, song and dance from representatives of the different maca growing regions within Junin. Each region has their own unique way to celebrate maca, including street festivals,
music, ceremonies and feasts in the form of pachamanca (food cooked underground – similar to a New Zealand Hangi). For these people, maca is not merely a plant - it is a culture, tradition, history and way of life.
The colors of maca
Maca comes in 3 main colours, with each colour having different unique properties. All 3 colours are cultivated from the same seed crop, so in essence you cannot independently cultivate a single colour. This leaves you at the mercy of genetic phenotype dominance and a set ratio of approximately 70% yellow maca, 20% red maca and 10% black maca after harvest. The shamans claim this is not by chance, but more about how ‘she’ (la maca) wants to you consume her. As such, the 3 different colours are prepared and taken differently depending on the body’s requirements and condition(s) being treated. Yellow is for daily use and long-term balance, red and black are sacred and saved for acute or chronic therapeutic use.
Yellow Maca is the most abundant of the 3 colours and is claimed to be the neutral form that should be taken daily and used for long-term balance and resilience to stress. Scientifically, we know that yellow maca has the most broad and general array of macamides and other bioactives.
Red Maca is more rare and is thought to be more sacred and saved for acute treatment of constitutional imbalances. Red is considered feminine and can promote internal balance for those lacking in internal nourishment.
Black Maca is the rarest form of maca and is thought to be the most sacred and saved for acute treatment of constitutional insufficiencies. Black is considered masculine and can promote external strength, power, stamina and brain function.
Maca naturally grows in a mixed ratio of colours. It is important to combine the colours following the traditional uses to ensure optimum effect. These are the rules that have been followed for thousands of years in Peru by the shamans and the rules we want to promote for those wanting to get the best out of their maca.
Why your maca should not be raw -
In Junin, maca bulbs are always dried before being boiled in teas, porridge, soups or stews. In recent times, dry maca has also been ground into powders to increase surface area and to allow easier inclusion into various meals. The Inca
believed that cooking maca made it more potent as a therapeutic and more easily digestible. Why does maca need to be cooked? Science has shown that the bioactive macamides in maca are heat activated molecules. Their formation occurs from breakdown of heat sensitive glucosinolates in the fresh bulb during the drying and cooking processes. Our studies have shown that cooked maca is more bioactive than its raw counterpart. Futhermore, it is sanitized, lower in starch and much easier on the stomach.
Raw maca root can contain high levels of aflatoxin producing mold. Aflatoxins are poisonous carcinogens (cancer causing) and can have serious negative effects on the body and gastrointestinal system. Raw maca also contains high levels of starch (amylose and amylopectin). Starch can often be hard to digest if eaten raw and may give some people symptoms such as bloating, gas, distention and abdominal discomfort. Think of it like eating a raw potato. Maca has always been traditionally cooked or heated and studies show that the health benefits are not diminished by these processes, if anything they are enhanced. If you are eating raw maca, you may not be getting the benefits you desire.
Why we chose Seleno Health
Seleno Health's maca is direct from farm to table. They and their volunteers help harvest and plant maca in Peru with their farmer and family. They empower their farmer to create a complete product, not just a powdered commodity. They then buy each bag direct from the farmer and profit share together in partnership. The farmer receives almost 20x more per kg than selling in bulk to a broker. They run community and developmental programs funded by their profits, fund-raising initiatives and donations. They give back to community and create a better quality of life for all. They run a volunteer program that brings eco-tourists to the farm to assist our farmer and our local community and school. This experience shares the incredible culture and history of maca and gives people the opportunity to connect with their food and the community that produces it. They specialize in maca. They have industry knowledge, product knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms behind maca’s benefits. They also conduct a research program at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) which investigates the bioactive components in maca.
You can find more information about Seleno Health's Peruvian volunteer program here.
As with all herbs & foods, the dosage and time necessary to notice the positive effects of maca will vary from person to person. Some of the effects may be felt within the first week, but for the more long-term benefits, it is advised to take maca regularly for 4-8+ weeks. To assist you with some delicious and simple ways you can incorporate maca into your daily routine, Seleno Health has created recipes that can be quickly and easily prepared at home. We hope you enjoy our maca and feel a connection with the land and the people of Peru every time you use it.
In Peru, they say “She has strength and resilience unsurpassed by no other. Her journey is sacred and blessed. You must respect her and the way she wants to be nurtured and grown. If you follow her rules and prepare her in the way she requires then she will instill her properties to you” (la maca – she).