The History of Maca Root

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Jorge León in 1964 pointed out that ancient Peruvians had a well-developed agriculture. Based on their creativity and labor, theirs is comparable to modern ecological agriculture. This is how they achieved the domestication of Andean species that still are so today, and how they propitiated the formation of microclimates, adequate for high-altitude cultivation. Proofs of this are the vestiges of irrigation channels, fences, ridges and terraces found today.

In the plateau of Junín or Bonbón one can find the remains of this intensive agriculture activity, at altitudes where there is no present cultivation. We can state, without a doubt, that the Central Peruvian Andes was a center for domestication and cultivation of plants with particular characteristics, such as maca. Their agricultural management style dates back to the oldest of the high Andean plateau, which existed even before shiripa and potato were planted.

It is believed that around the years 1200 and 100 years B.C., wild primitive groups called "Pumpush " traveled to the riverbanks of lake Chinchaycocha (Junín) and they settle in that region, possibly looking for better lands for their subsistence.

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It is also believed that this hardened race is the one who domesticated maca; starting a cultivation that, because of the uniqueness of its traditional technology, is thought to be the product of "God and man's patient hand through the centuries", who had to face the harshest weather typical of those altitudes, suffocating mid-day heat and extreme nighttime cold.

According to some authors, around the years 1100 at 1470 D.C., Aymara shepherds, called Yarovillcas, invaded the areas of the high plateau and Jalca in the central mountain range. Waldemar Espinoza refers to the Yaros as "farmers and outstanding ranchers, who were extraordinary "maca" farmers, a much sought-after tuber for its fabulous aphrodisiac and fertility properties".

The historian María Rostworowski, in her work "The Ayamarcas" (primitive inhabitants of Cusco), comments that this ethnical trajectory of the Ayamarcas is not common in the Peruvian history. Similarly, while analyzing the significance of their name, which derived from the words Ayar and maca, indicates that Ayar means "wild quinoa" while "maca" was known in the Tahuantinsuyo Empire as an Andean plant of great importance that grew in elevated ecological steps, where corn did not grow.

According to this author, the name "Ayar" could have been given by the Incas as a justification for continuity between primitive and Inca ethnicity, after gaining control over them; and maca, attributed to the root utilized since prehistoric times, whose magical origin was attributed to its fertility properties.

The Inca Empire adopts the cultivation of maca after general Pachacútec invades the lands of Chinchaycocha in the central mountain range. However, it was not until Huaya Capac, the last Inca ruler, who after conquering the Pumpush through the "mitimaes" (prestigious pacifying colonists sent to warring regions) that they devote themselves exclusively to the cultivation of maca in the Bonbon plateau, vital crossroad between Cusco and the Chinchaysuyo region.

According to XVI and XVII century chronicles, the Inca troops were fed "maca" because it was believed to give vitality and physical strength to the warriors. It is said that during the Inca period it was cultivated in the entire plateau, being sent to Cusco as a tribute from the Pumpush to the Tahuantisuyo Incas. Vasquez Espinoza mentions as "a root with so much fire that it leaves the ground sterile wherever it is planted, leaving little strength in it to plant again...". Rostworowski shares the opinion of the peasants that plant it nowadays, who say that maca impoverishes the soil in the high plateaus. This is why it is planted by accumulating humic soil, in virgin soil, or in soil that has been left unused for several years. This tells us that here we have a plant that on the one hand is offered as a native nutritional supplement, and on the other depletes the soil of nutrients in very high proportions.

When the Spaniards arrived in Peru, according to their chronicles, maca turned out to be the most important product being produced, consumed and marketed by the inhabitants of the high plateau. The settlers themselves did not value its fertility power, but they did use it successfully to improve the fertility of the mares. The Pumpush people paid approximately 15 MT of maca annually to the agent in Chinchaycocha; the oddity of which draws attention to the intrinsic value and importance of this plant. Around the middle of the XIX century there were extensive maca plantations in that area.

Not much was written on maca during the XIX century. However, it is noteworthy that, for the first time, in 1843, this plant was described scientifically; taxonomically denominated Lepidium meyenii Walp, based on a Peruvian specimen collected in Pisacoma, in the Department of Puno (Walpers 1843)

The German scientist Augusto Weberbauer, in 1945, pointed-out the existence of Lepidium meyenii Walp specimens at 4000 meters a.s.l., considering it to be a high plateau grass. It is in the decade of the 60s that scientific papers, by mostly Peruvian biologists chemists, engineers, zoologists, pharmacists and physicians, begin to appear in popular publications. Not much research has been done on maca in foreign countries.

MACA PROPERTIES IN THE ANDEAN TRADITION

1. TO ENERGIZE, REVITALIZE AND REGULATE: Used by Tahuantinsuyo Empire troops before battle, to increase their physical strength. To regulate menstruation, lessen menopause symptoms and help with insomnia. Recommended as well for malnutrition, convalescence, memory loss, fatigue and mental weakness.

2. TO AID IN FERTILITY: This is the main quality attributed to this plant by the Incas, before the arrival of the Spaniards, and the reason why it was considered magical and used in sacred rites by them and their descendants.

3. AS AN APHRODISIAC: This property is second in importance and parallel to fertility. Much has been written about this property, as an aid to overcome frigidity.

4. ANTI-ARTHRITIC: It was used for this purpose because shamans and herbalists categorize it as a hot plant.

5. RESPIRATORY ILLNESSES: Also probably used for this purpose because of it being considered a hot plant


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