Maca (Lepidium meyenni)[edit | edit source]
Lepidium meyenni Walp.
A turnip-like plant with a rosette of 12-20 basal leaves, roughly elliptical in outline, formed by a flat and fleshy rachis, with minute lobes distally arranged. The basal lobes are elliptical, entire, about 0.5 cm long, the medium and upper lobes are deeply dissected and about I cm in length. Below the ground the central axis is a fleshy structure consisting of the swollen tap root and hypocotyl, similar in general shape to a globe salad radish, but ending in a thick strong root with numerous lateral rootless. The flowers are whitish, about 0.5 cm long, on slender pedicels. The fruit is a 2-celled silicula and the seeds are ovoid, about 0.2 cm long, smooth and reddish.
Origin and distribution
The mace originated in the high Andes and is rarely found outside this region. It is cultivated to a limited extent in the high Andean plateau region of Peru and Bolivia at an altitude of 3 500-4 000 m.
Maca grows well at high altitudes and is very resistant to frost. The plant is severely exhaustive of the soil so that after cropping the plots are normally left fallow for 10 years.
Material - mace is propagated from seed which is obtained from specially selected plants. These are transplanted after harvesting into heavily manured plots and left to produce seed.
Method - the seeds are mixed with fine earth and scattered onto the carefully worked soil and then one or two sheep are allowed to walk over the plot to press the seeds into the soil. The seedlings are not usually thinned and no after-care is given.
Seed rate - approximately 300 kg of seeds per hectare.
The crop takes 8-10 months to reach maturity.
Macas are usually harvested after frost has damaged the leaves; the plants are dug up by hand or hoes, the leaves are removed and the roots cleaned and dried in the sun. All the roots are harvested, even very small ones. Dried maces are stored in bags. They will keep in good condition for years, although after the second year the flavour deteriorates.
Roots - the swollen root-hypocotyl is rich in starch and sugars and can be creamy-yellow or light or dark purple in colour; yellow ones are usually the most popular.
The mace is used as a food both fresh and dry. It is often cooked in milk or water to form a porridge, which has a sweet aromatic taste and is considered a delicacy.
The roots are sometimes used as a flavouring for a local alcoholic beverage called 'aguardiente'; they are also used medicinally to increase fertility.
In addition to starch and sugars, the presence of alkaloids, fatty acids, tannins and small quantities of saponins has been reported.
Although traditionally a useful food crop in the inhospitable high altitude regions of the Andes, cultivation of the mace is declining. However, germplasm has been collected and is being held under the supervision of IICA, Turrialba, Costa Rica.
ANON. 1979. Collecting in the Andes. Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter, No. 37, p. I I. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations, 28 pp.
Lï¿½ON, J. 1964. Plantas alimenticias andinas. Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias Agricolas, Zona Andina, Lima, Peru, Boletï¿½n Tï¿½cnico, No. 6, pp. 43-46.
LEON, J. 1964. The 'mace' (Lepidium meyenii), a little known food plant of Peru. Economic Botany, 18, 122-127.
Lï¿½ON, J. 1967. Andean tuber and root crops: origin and variability. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Tropical Root Crops (Trinidad, 1967) (Tai, E. A., Charles, W. B., Haynes, P. H., Iton, E. F. and Leslie, K. A., eds), Vol. 1, Section 1, pp. 118-123. St. Augustine, Trinidad: University of the West Indies (2 vole).
Lï¿½ON, J. 1977. Origin, evolution and early dispersal of root and tuber crops. Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (Colombia, 1976), IDRC-080e (Cock, J., MacIntyre, R. and Graham, M., eds), pp. 20-36. Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, 277pp.
MONTALDO, A. 1972. Maca. Cultivo de raï¿½ces y tubï¿½rculos tropicales, p. 234. Lima, Peru: Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias Agricolas de la OEA, 284 pp.