Lepidium meyenii Walpers
Family Cruciferae (mustard family)
Quechua and Spanish: maca, maka, maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, ayak willku
English: maca, Peruvian ginseng
Origins. Maca is a true Puna plant. It was widely grown during the pre-Columbian period. In Junín there are hundreds of square kilometers of ancient terraces that probably were used to cultivate it. Although it does not appear to be represented in the ancient Peruvian pottery, primitive cultivars have been found in archaeological sites dating as far back as 1600 B.C.
Description. The plant has 12–20 entire and scalloped leaves that lie close to the ground. This rosette is roughly circular, and is formed from the flat and fleshy central axis. As the outer leaves die, there is a continuous formation of new leaves from the center of the rosette.
The off-white, self-fertile flowers arise from a central stalk and are typical of the mustard family. The ovoid seeds are about 2 mm long.
The edible part is derived from the tuberous hypocotyl, that portion of the plant where the root joins the stem. These enlarged “roots” resemble inverted pears both in size (up to 8 cm in diameter) and shape. They end in thick, strong roots with numerous lateral rootlets, as in a radish. The flesh is pearly white and has a marbled appearance.