I can't believe it's a full twelvemonth since the Hopsack blog dÃ©buted with a tribute to the patron saint of love, San Valentino. The world over, humans have sought saintly and divine intervention in the art of love, so this year, in pursuit of passion, we're tripping to South America to visit the friendly goddess of fertility, Pachamama.
Pachamama is revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. She was also worshipped by the Inca and Aztec peoples in bygone days. Usually translated as 'Mother Earth', a more literal translation of her name would be 'Mother Universe'. In Inca mythology, Pachamama presided over planting and harvesting. She was also known to cause earthquakes. But did she cause the earth to move? I believe so, for, at a slightly saucy stretch, I'd suggest it was she who quietly sowed the aphrodisiac root maca â naughty native of the New World â for us to reap.
So how does a knobbly-kneed vegetable stand its ground amid the pearlescent shellfish, lush fruit and fragrant flowers of Old World aphrodisiacs? With resplendent ease.
Maca is a member of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables but it dances a much sexier salsa than its cousins broccoli and cabbage. It's a wee toughie, growing between 11,000 and 14,500 feet above sea level in the high Andean plateaux of Peru, an extremely cold, oxygen-poor environment, seared by high winds and glared upon by the sun. No other plant food will grow at this altitude but the soils of the Andean plateaux are chock full of minerals and maca has learned to flourish there. For centuries, it has been a valuable commodity for people living in the high Andes, who have traded it with communities at lower elevations for corn, beans and other staples. But why do people want to buy it? And why did the Spanish conquistadores go wild for it?
Maca's cultivation dates back roughly five millennia. When the Incas controlled the area, they found maca so potent an enhancer of libido, fertility, energy and general hormonal well-being that they restricted its use to the royal court. Unfortunately for them, they shared maca's fertility-boosting secret with the Spanish conquerors, whose animals had, until that point, been unable to reproduce. Noting the near-miraculous results of feeding their beasties maca, and having thanked the Incas by overrunning them, the Spaniards started to collect tribute in maca roots. These they exported to Spain, where they were used for nutritional and energy-enhancing purposes by Spanish royalty. Eventually, though it's hard to reason why, knowledge of maca's special properties almost died out, except in a few remote communities in Peru.
Then, in the early 1960s, a Peruvian biologist, Dr Gloria Chacon de Popovici, shone a spotlight on maca by writing her dissertation on the root. She did ground-breaking work on the plant by discovering a new species and, through analysing its chemical actives, pinpointing its hormonal effects. Although maca is rich in nutrients and plant hormones, Dr Chacon established that it was in fact the alkaloids in the maca root that produced its striking fertility-enhancing effects on the testes and ovaries of the rats used in her studies. Through her experiments, she concluded that the alkaloids were acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) of both male and female rats, explaining why they reacted in a gender-appropriate manner (sperm quantity and motility being enhanced in the males and multiple follicle maturation being achieved in the females). Her conclusions regarding the HPA also explain why maca's effects on humans are not limited to the ovaries and testes but are also notable on the adrenal glands (alleviation of fatigue) and the pancreas and thyroid.
The implications of Dr Chacon's work are huge. Instead of adding hormones, even of a natural kind, to the body, maca stimulates the pituitary to produce and balance the body's own hormones. The effects are astounding. According to maca-related testimonials, women who take it regularly find their libido and fertility enhanced and their menopausal symptoms eased. Men note a rise in libido and a drop in erectile dysfunction. Both sexes feel fatigue evaporating, even when it's chronic. By normalising hormone levels, maca also protects against osteoporosis (1, 3).
Native peoples of the Andes eat maca roots boiled or roasted. In Peru, maca is often found in puddings and jams. Traditionally, it is never eaten raw. While some maca supplements on the market contain the raw root, tests demonstrating the power of maca have actually been carried out on maca that has been 'gelatinized', or subjected briefly to high temperatures, to break down the root's starchy bonds and render the nutrients more bioavailable (2, 3).
Sara's Choice maca is available in capsule form from The Hopsack, though it's also possible to order it in powder form to add to smoothies, etc. The powdered form tastes like a cross between turnip and butterscotch! It works well in milky smoothies and yoghurt, especially if you find the flavour a little strong. If you pop in to the Hopsack, our loveworkers will be more than happy to advise you.
(Check out last year's blog, 'The Beginning of Something Beautiful', for lots more information on the arts of Aphrodite...)
Note: It is imperative that you follow the instructions on the bottle and check with your doctor before taking maca if you have a health condition or are taking medication of any kind.
1.Australia-based health crusader Elaine Hollingsworth draws attention to the health benefits of maca in her book, Take Control of Your Health and Escape the Sickness Industry (10th edition), which is available from her web site: http://www.doctorsaredangerous.com. She is particularly interested in maca as it relates to osteoporosis. See also the following article on maca on her excellent web site: http://www.doctorsaredangerous.com/articles/maca.htm
3.For more information on maca, see http://www.saraschoice.ie and http://www.imperialgoldmaca.com