The weekend of June 19-20 my community harvested maca. You are probably wondering, what is maca? Only the most incredibly nutritious tubular plant in the world, native to the highlands of the Andes (aka Junín, Peru at 4100 meters)!
According to an information sheet I received at the Maca Festival in Junín:
Maca, Lepidium meyenii, originated from Junín, is a vegetable cultivated at over 3,800 meters above sea level, mainly in the central Andean region. It has the following benefits:
1) Raises energy levels, and combats physical and mental fatigue and stress.
2) Strength the immune system because of the specially proline, lysine and vietamin C synergic action.
3) Balances the diet avoiding malnutrition with its high and varied content of carbohydrates, aminoacids, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids. (Thank goodness, something to combat the diet heavy in white potatoes and rice!)
4) Increases endurance in athletes promoting mental clarity.
5) Slows the aging process, reduces unpleasant side-effects of menopause.
6) Helps to control osteoporosis.
7) Stimulates the endocrine system in both men and women.
8) Stimulates a balanced hormonal climate.
9) Helps with menstrual irregularities
And most important!...
10) Increases fertility and sexual functioning.
Maca in other words is the miracle “Viagra” vegetable, something that Peruvians are not uncomfortable mentioning ALL of the time. In fact, I have been explained on more than one awkward occasion (including by a teacher in front of the high school students) the significance of our plaza’s maca monument and other structures (mushroom inside of a pool structure…use your imagination).
Harvesting maca is tedious, but in my opinion more interesting and rewarding, than harvesting potatoes. To harvest potatoes, you basically blindly tear apart the soil and then scope out whatever treasured potatoes you can find. With maca, you can clearly see the little patches of leaves and carefully pick at the soil to find the small vegetable. I quickly learned, harvesting a small plot of maca is a lot more time consuming than a plot of potatoes.
July 9-11, the city of Junín had a festival celebrating the Maca. It was basically a fair displaying various maca products and some organizations had information describing and advising visitors on the process of maca production (see photos). There is a surprisingly large variety of maca, mostly named by colors (white, yellow, gray, black, pink, purple, mixed). Most of the maca products use maca in the dried state; so after harvesting, the people leave the fresh maca outside to dry (often times under a white plastic covering). Examples of the creativity of maca products at the fair: tea, juice, yogurt, ice cream, hard candy, liquor, cake, hot chocolate with maca, etc.
1. My town invested a large amount of money into rebuilding the plaza with a lovely statue “homenaje a la maca,” while attention grabbing, it takes a prompting to realize it is a maca, not a beet, 2 and 3. Display of the large variety of maca at the Maca Festival in Junin, 4. The collection of maca seeds, 5. Poster explaining the complete process of maca production from collecting seeds, planting, harvesting and drying.