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  • Identifying the variation of forms and collecting superior varieties;

  • Analyzing the nutritional content and antinutritional factors;

  • Investigating the reputed fertility enhancement, probably the primary economic value of maca at this stage;

  • 6 and
  • Testing maca outside the Puna to determine how the plant will perform under more benign conditions.


    Botanical Name Lepidium meyenii Walpers

    Family Cruciferae (mustard family)7

    Common Names

    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.8

    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.

    6 In native Andean medicine, the potency of both maca and mashua (see next chapter) is traditionally judged by a particular odor yielded by the chemical p-methoxybenzyl glucosinolate, which both plants share. Johns, 1981.
    7 Cruciferae includes some of the most widely grown vegetable crops: radish, turnip, cabbage, mustard, and rape, for instance. Maca is the only Lepidium species whose roots are used as a food, but the leaves of other species are used as greens, especially the common cress, Lepidium sativum, which occurs naturally from Europe to the Sudan and to the Himalayas, and has been cultivated since ancient times as a green vegetable.
    8 Information from D. Pearsall.

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