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The Ancient History of the Maca Plant

The maca plant which gives rise to maca powder has been in use for thousands of years. Maca powder is preferred by many for its energy-boosting properties as well as nutritional composition and balance. It contains most of the vital minerals and nutrients. The plant is also referred to as Peruvian Ginseng.  The root is the most useful part of the maca plant. It is the plant part that is dried and ground into maca powder. Its earliest use is traced back to South America, especially Bolivia and Peru more than 3,000 years ago. It was used for different purposes by native Indians. The Peruvian Indians grew the plant massively in their farms, just like any other plant. It was harvested and taken as both a meal and medicine due to its nutritional and medicinal values respectively. The plant normally grows best in the Andes of Central Peru where the climatic conditions are quite tough. Also, it thrives best in very high altitudes which average about 4,000-5,000 meters.

maca roots

History of the Maca plant

The maca plant has quite a rich and lengthy history. The plant was first domesticated more than 2,000 years ago in Junin region, Central Peru. The inhabitants of Junin decided to try it out after seeing the impressive benefits it had of replenishing energy and fertility in their livestock. Spanish explorers, chroniclers, and soldiers are among those who popularised the herbal plant, especially outside of South America.  In 1549, Juan Tello de Sotoy was gifted with maca roots which he used to improve the fertility of the cattle imported over from Spain. During his visit to Peru, the Spanish explorer was given the maca plant as a sign of appreciation from the locals. He had been of great help to the inhabitants of Peruvian Castille region. In 1553, Cieza De Leon wrote in is excerpt Chronicle of Peru how the natives used the maca roots to better their lives and their overall health. Between 1550 and 1750, demand for maca increased greatly and more than nine tons of maca were grown and harvested annually for the native population and other people who needed it.

ancient peru maca

In 1653, Father Bernabe Cobo became the first individual to record the properties of the maca plant in detail after conducting satisfactory research. The most prominent features of the maca plant that he highlighted were its nourishment properties and ability to impact on fertility. In 1843, Gerhard Walpers, a German botanist described maca as a distinctive species and hence it was given the botanical name Lepidium meyenii, Walps.  The “walp” at the end of the specific name refers to Walpers. In 1906, Tehllung also added to the field of knowledge by providing a more precise and informative taxonomic description of the maca root. Both Spanish and indigenous soldiers used maca quite frequently as they prepared and also engaged in war. There is a narrative that this did not go down well with some team leaders since some of the Spanish soldiers overused it making it raise their libido a little bit too much. This would obviously affect their performance in their respective tasks.

The plant is also referred to as one of the ‘lost crops of the Andes.’ This is because there was a time it was revered and held with high regard by the Incas people. The Incas used it in its fresh or dried form and it was first used as a natural aphrodisiac When the Incas had control over the Andes territory, the root was strictly used by the royal and imperial families and you just couldn’t find it anywhere. Maca was quite valuable and it was even used in barter trade, as a form of currency.  The Incan people exchanged it for rice, corn, and beans, amongst other staples.

Incan soldiers made sure they carried maca roots as they went to war. They would use the roots to boost their strength, endurance, and grit during war. Around 1980, only about 25 hectares were planted with the plant. However, presently, more than 1,000 hectares have been put under cultivation. This is because the demand for the phenomenal plant has grown immensely. To date, the Peruvian highlands still provide the highest amounts of maca. The demand for the crop grew by the highest margin between 2000 and 2010.

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