Maca Peruvian Ginseng Lepidium Meyenii Seeds Ma Ka
Lepidium Meyenii 玛卡
Lepidium meyenii, known commonly as Peruvian Ginseng or maca, is an herbaceous biennial plant of the crucifer family native to the high Andes of Peru around Lake Junin. It is grown for its fleshy hypocotyl (a fused hypocotyl and taproot), which is used as a root vegetable, a medicinal herb, and an aphrodisiac. Its Spanish and Quechua names include maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, and ayak willku.
The first westerner to describe this species was Gerhard Walpers who, in 1843, named it Lepidium meyenii. In the 1990s Dr. Gloria Chacon made a further distinction of different species. She considered the widely cultivated natural maca of today to be a newer domesticated species, L. peruvianum. Most botanists today doubt this distinction, however, and continue to call the cultivated maca L. meyenii. The Latin name recognized by the USDA also continues to be Lepidium meyenii. Debate is a still ongoing about the correct nomenclature, and whether the distinction between meyenii and peruvianum is botanically correct or if they are the same species.
The growth habit, size, and proportions of maca are roughly similar to those of the radish and the turnip, to which it is related. The green, fragrant tops are short and lie along the ground. The thin, frilly leaves sprout in a rosette at the soil surface, not growing more than 12 to 20 cm in height. The leaves show a dimorphism according to reproductive stage. They are more prominent in the vegetative phase, and are continuously renewed from the center as the outer leaves die. The off-white, self-fertile flowers are borne on a central raceme, and are followed by 4– to 5-mm siliculate fruits, each containing two small (2.0-2.5 mm) reddish-gray ovoid seeds. Seeds are the maca’s only means of reproduction. Maca reproduces mainly through self-pollination and is an autogamous species. The genome consists of 2n=8x=64 chromosomes. From experiments with different day lengths, maca is a short-day plant. Some sources consider the maca to be an annual plant, as in favorable years it can complete a lifecycle within a year.
Peruvian Ginseng is the only member of its genus with a fleshy hypocotyl, which is fused with the taproot to form a rough inverted pear-shaped body. Maca does vary greatly in the size and shape of the root, which may be triangular, flattened circular, spherical, or rectangular, the latter of which forms the largest roots. Maca hypocotyls may be gold or cream, red, purple, blue, black, or green. Each is considered a genetically unique variety, as seeds of the parent plants grow to have roots of the same color. Recently, specific phenotypes (in maca, 'phenotype' pertains mainly to root color) have been propagated exclusively to ascertain their different nutritional and therapeutic properties. Cream-colored roots are the most widely grown and are favored in Peru for their enhanced sweetness and size.
Darker-colored maca roots (red, purple, black) contain significant amounts of natural iodine that may avoid the growth of goiters resulting from consumption of the lighter-colored maca. Black maca is considered the strongest in energy and stamina-promoting properties, being both sweet and slightly bitter in taste. Red maca is becoming popular with many people, and has been shown in laboratory experiments to reduce prostate size in rats.
The natural environment of the maca is at 11-12ºS latitude and at an elevation of 3800–4400 m above sea level. At this elevation, temperatures of the growing season vary between -2 and 13°C in monthly mean minimum or maximum, respectively. Temperatures can decline, however, as low as -10°C and frosts are common. Strong winds and sunlight also are characteristics of the native habitat of the maca. Maca today is still mainly cultivated in Peru, in the high Andes of Bolivia, and to a small extent also in Brazil.
Maca (Peruvian Ginseng)seedlings usually emerge about one month after sowing with the onset of the rainy season in October. In the vegetative phase, until May to June, the lower part of the hypocotyl, as well as the upper part of the tap root, grows in size. After 260 to 280 days, it is formed to the harvestable hypocotyl. If the root is left in the soil, it is dormant for two to three months in the time of the cold, dry season until August. Then it will form a generative shoot on which the seeds ripen five months later. One plant is capable of forming up to 1000 tiny seeds, 1600 of which weigh about one gram. Thus, only relatively few plants are needed for propagation. The plants for cultivation are selected for preferred size and color, then placed 50–100 mm deep in pits with alternate layers of grass and soil to protect them from drying out. They are fertilized heavily. The cultivation cycle is strictly linked to seasonality.
Traditionally, land preparation was done by hand. Nowadays, tractor plowing also is used. As maca grows on sites where no other crops can be cultivated, it is often found after long fallows of sheep grazing pastures. Maca croplands thus traditionally are only fertilized with sheep and alpaca manure; however, fertilizer application could prevent soils from depleting in nutrients.
Weeding or pesticide application usually is not necessary as the climate is not suitable for most weeds or pests. Nearly all maca cultivation in Peru is carried out organically, as maca itself is seldom attacked. Maca is sometimes interplanted with potatoes, as it is known to maca farmers that the plant naturally repels most root crop pests.
The harvest is done manually, with the leaves left on the field as livestock feed or organic fertilizer.
The yield for a cultivated hectare may reach an estimated 15 tons in fresh hypocotyls resulting in around 5 tons of dried material. According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Peru, however, average maca yields for 2005 were only 7 t/ha, with a great variation between different sites. Although maca has been cultivated outside the Andes, it is not yet clear whether it develops the same active constituents or potency outside of its natural habitat. Hypocotyls grown from Peruvian seeds form with difficulty at low elevations, in greenhouses, or in warm climates.
The nutritional value of dried maca root is high, similar to cereal grains such as rice and wheat. The average composition is 60-75% carbohydrates, 10-14% protein, 8.5% dietary fiber, and 2.2% fats. Maca is rich in the dietary minerals calcium and potassium (with low content of sodium), and contains the essential trace elements iron, iodine, copper, manganese, and zinc, as well as fatty acids including linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acids, and 19 amino acids.
In addition to sugars and proteins, maca contains uridine, malic acid, and its benzoyl derivative, and the glucosinolates, glucotropaeolin and m-methoxyglucotropaeolin. The methanol extract of maca tuber also contains (1R,3S)-1-methyltetrahydro-carboline-3-carboxylic acid, a molecule which is reported to exert many activities on the central nervous system. Many different alkamides were found in maca.
Further, maca contains selenium and magnesium, and includes polysaccharides. Maca's reported beneficial effects for sexual function could be due to its high concentration of proteins and vital nutrients; maca contains a chemical called p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which reputedly has aphrodisiac properties.
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