Though it is believed that Maca was cultivated as early as 4000 B.C., it was most likely fully domesticated between 1200 and 100 B.C. by the Pumpush, fierce warrior tribes that migrated up from the jungles. It continued to be cultivated throughout the Andean highlands and was brought to greater perfection by the Yaro, who arrived between 1100 and 1470 A.D. They cultivated immense fields of Maca, highly desirable for its "fabulous fertility and aphrodisiacal properties." After the Inca conquest of these tribes, they sent great quantities to Cusco as tribute to their new rulers. Much of it was fed to troops to increase their vitality and fortitude.
In their turn, the conquered Incas and their minions payed tribute to the Spanish in Maca and other goods. In 1549, it is listed in the records as the only good sent as tribute to the colonial government, a whopping 15000-18000 pounds. Even though the Spanish officially despised native foods, they may have dipped into the Maca bag for two reasons: 1) The high altitudes of the Andes made the Spaniards nearly infertile. 2) Maca had a long indigenous tradition of increasing fertility and fortitude.
Within the traditional Andean medicine concept of cold and hot, Maca is a hot plant. The properties attributed to this singular plant include increase in fertility in all mammals, aphrodisiac, revitalizor and regulator, anti-arthritic, helpful in respiratory maladies. No wonder traditional consumers of Maca have a saying: Maca is Life, Maca is Health.
Knowledge of this little roots properties, passed word of mouth through generations since time immemorial, tell of its use to increase fertility in humans and livestock alike; its ability to relieve frigidity in women and impotence in men; its adaptogenic virtues of revitalizer of internal organs and regulator of menstruation, and reliever of symptoms of menopause. It is also recommended for malnutrition, convalescense, memory loss, mental debility, and as a general tonic; Its anti-arthritic properties as a hot plant; Its use in treating respiratory ailments. Some herbalists recommend not using Maca for people with hypertension. However, this counterindication has not been tested scientifically.
In ancient times, Maca was cooked whole in pits, layered with coals of charred earth and roots. This they called "huatia". Or they made "atunca" by boiling, mashing, and rolling it into balls and cooking it in clay pots lined with straw. Today Maca's uses are quite varied. Its most popular use on the international market is as capsules and tablets. But diversity should be its middle name because it is also an excellent ingredient in concoctions both sweet and savory. Maca's piquant butterscotch character is the foundation of unique products ranging from liqueurs to baked goods.
For all of Maca's amazing history and its indubitable service to humans, it is virtually incomprehensible to find that as late as 1992, it was listed as in danger of extinction. In 1979, Maca's darkest year, the Peruvian Dept. of Agriculture found only 25 hectares(about 70 acres) of Maca under cultivation in the entire country! Since the 1980's though, Maca cultivation has been rising slowly, and now there is a true renaissance afoot. New life is being breathed again into the soils of the high Andes as the secrets of the lost root are being revealed around the world.
As the glaciers receded and the ground opened up to year round inhabitation, a pastoral tribe called the Pumpush settled on the shores of 12,000 fott high Lake Chinchaycocha, now called Lake Junin, in the Peruvian highlands. They soon began to domesticate plants they found in the region, maca being the most cold tolerant and adaptable to culture. Astute farming practices and an intimate knowledge of natural genetic selection increased the diversity of maca cultivars. Evidenced by maca found in ancient fire-pits by archaeologists, maca had evolved from a wild plant into a domesticated staple.
Later, Yaro tribes arrived on the plateau bringing the cultivation techniques to an even greater perfection. By then, new maca cultivars of all shapes and colors had been developed and named. Now, with more than 30 distinctive ecotypes, maca had become one of the most irrepressible super-foods to have arisen from the land of constant frost and wind. As the political landscape of the region changed, controlling the cultivation of the maca lands became as important to the reign of power as were cattle and the very farmland itself.
It is said that the Inca inherited the gift of maca culture from the Yaro, but maca's reputation as an energetic and fertility enhancer far preceded it, increasing its value as an item of commerce and power. Even then, maca was known to enhance stamina of warriors in battle, and many believe, the very reason that Inca wanted to subdue the Plateau was to gain control of maca's production.
When the Spanish entered the picture in 1533, they soon learned of the virtues of maca and mentioned it in almost every chronicle of the time. From the highlands of Peru flowed quantities of the precious root. The Spanish fed it to their horses and livestock, and shipped tons of it back to the kings of Spain as a payment of tax. The first Spanish baby born in the Highland did not come until a full 50 years after Pizarro's arrival, and it is speculated that conception was achieved with the aid of the botanical species Lepidium peruvianum, known as maca.
While maca thrives in the most rugged terrain above 12,000 feet, political uprisings and a change in the popular diet pushed maca plants close to extinction by the late 1970's. Careful seed harvesting and the resourcefulness of dedicated native people have protected it from extinction. Families in the vicinity of Lake Junin (Condor, Maqque, Vicuna and more), and generations before, are owed insurmountable debt for their dedication to the preservation of this astounding, health giving crop.
Today, there is a huge upswing in maca farming in the highlands of Peru, with more than 1,000 acres planted annually. Once again, maca is eaten up to 3 times a day by Peruvians, from professional athletes to the elderly, to give them energy, increase emotional stability, highten sexual ability, and build immune function.