Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian root vegetable unique to the central Andean plateau that grows over 4000 m. Maca has been used for centuries by the Inca for nutrition and to enhance fertility in humans and animals.1 Stories claim Incan warriors would consume up to 200g of maca per day before battle to energise and prevent symptoms of altitude sickness while fighting and running. Maca belongs to the brassica (mustard) family closely related to mustard, radish, turnip, cabbage, garden cress, and water cress. Maca thrives under the extreme conditions of the high altitudes of central Peru with intense cold, low oxygen, extreme sunlight (UV), and strong winds.

“She (la maca) grows at altitudes with such extreme environmental conditions, yet she thrives under such stress. This resilience to stress is what she will gift you if you respect her and consume her in the correct manner.” – interpretation of shamanic scripts, Junin Peru. 

Maca has an over-ground leafy section (rosetta) and an underground root section (hypocotyl). The over-ground part is small and flat in appearance as a result of an adaptation process to prevent the impact of strong winds and houses the seed capsules. The underground hypocotyl-root axis ranges from 10–14 cm long and 3– 5 cm wide and constitutes the storage organ, nutritional and medicinal components. The root grows about 2-3 cm below the soil with the rosettas visible above, similar to a radish (Figure 1).

Ethically sourced Peruvian maca

Maca is made up of leafy rosettas that house the seeds and an underground hypocotyl that houses the medicinal components.

Maca rosettas

The root grows 2-3 cm below the soil like a radish.

There are 3 main types of maca that can be characterized by the colour of their hypocotyls. The same seeds can produce all 3 colours of maca with yellow maca constituting 70% of the harvest, red maca 20% and black maca 10%. This ratio is determined by a dominant yellow maca phenotype, with rarer red and black sub-versions. A cross-section of the fresh roots show little difference between the colours except the differences in the skin pigmentation. The yellow maca has a slightly darker yellow colour, red maca is more of a cream colour and black maca is a light white colour on the inside. (Figure 2).

3 colours of maca

Maca comes in 3 main colours, yellow, red and black.

Cross section of maca

A cross section of the 3 different colours of maca.

Recently, it has been demonstrated that different types of maca (according to its colour) have different biological properties as proclaimed by the traditional uses of maca.Other studies into various traditional preparations of maca hypocotyls have demonstrated that maca may greatly benefit health, particularly reproductive function, mental health, energy and vitality.3

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1. [a] C. Quiroz and R. Aliaga, “Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.),” in Andean Roots and Tubers: Ahipa, Arracacha, Maca and Yacon. Promoting the Conservation and Use of Underutilized Neglected Crops, M. Hermann and J. Hellers, Eds., vol. 21, pp. 173–197, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy, 1997. [b] B. Cobo, History of the New World, Biblioteca de Autores Espan ̃oles, Madrid, Spain, 1956.
2. [a] C. Gonzales, J. Rubio, M. Gasco, J. Nieto, S. Yucra, and G. F. Gonzales, “Effect of short-term and long-term treatments with three ecotypes of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sper- matogenesis in rats,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 448–454, 2006. [b] G. F. Gonzales, S. Miranda, J. Nieto et al., “Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats,” Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, vol. 3, article 5, 2005. [c] J. Rubio, M. Caldas, S. Da ́vila, M. Gasco, and G. F. Gonzales, “Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 6, article no. 23, 2006.
3. [a] G. F. Gonzales, “Biological effects of Lepidium meyenii, maca, a plant from the highlands of Peru,” in Natural Products, VK Singh, R Bhardwaj, JN Govil, and RK Sharma, Eds., vol. 15 of Recent Progress in Medicinal Plants, pp. 209–234, Studium Press, Houston, Tex, USA, 2006. [b] G. F. Gonzales, “MACA: Del alimento perdido de los Incas al milagro de los Andes: Estudio de seguridad alimentaria y nutricional,” Seguran ̧ca Alimentar e Nutricional, Campinas, vol. 16-17, no. 1, pp. 16–36, 2010. [c] L. G. Valerio and G. F. Gonzales, “Toxicological aspects of the South American herbs cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and maca (Lepidium meyenii): a critical synopsis,” Toxicological Reviews, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 11–35, 2005.

Written by Dr Corin Storkey Founder and Director of Seleno Health.

6 – How does maca work ?

March 29th, 2019|0 Comments

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian root vegetable unique to the central Andean region of Junin that grows over 4000 m above sea level. For the indigenous people of the region maca [...]