Bitter. It’s such an evocative word—and it’s gotten a bad rap! Did you know that there’s a clear biological reason for our ability to taste bitter? Many plant toxins are extremely bitter compounds. So we developed an evolutionary response to protect us from ingesting spoiled foods and plants that bear poisonous alkaloids, lignans and other potent phytochemicals. Continue reading “Bitter Plants & Digestion”
Known as the “golden root,” Chinese emperors and Scandinavian Vikings alike coveted this amazing, health-giving herb. For centuries, Rhodiola has held a place in Asian and Scandinavian traditional medicine for enhancing strength and physical endurance, longevity and fertility. Over the past 30 years, numerous studies have been conducted in the former Soviet Union and Russia as well as Sweden, confirming these traditional uses, and more.
Rhodiola is an herb with a wide variety of uses in today’s hectic world of intense mental and physical stress. It is one of a class of herbs known as adaptogens; adaptogens these help us to adapt to non-specific mental, emotional and physical stress. A relative newcomer in the U.S. herb market, Rhodiola has begun is gaining more attention recently with features in Newsweek magazine and Herbalgram.
Rhodiola is a genus of the Crassulaceae, also known as the Sedum or Stonecrop family. The genus contains a number of species, spread throughout the northern hemisphere. The species we use, Rhodiola rosea, is primarily (although not exclusively) native to Russia and Scandinavia. It prefers high elevation, mountainous regions in latitudes above the Arctic Circle. Extremely limited populations of R. rosea occur, however, in the northeastern U.S., Tennessee and North Carolina. Several other non-medicinal species occur in various regions of the U.S., including R. integrifolia in Oregon.
Common names for this herb include “golden root”, “rose root”, “rose stonecrop” and the genus name, Rhodiola. The plant itself is a small, succulent perennial from 12 to 30 inches tall when bearing its yellow flowers. The root is very thick and fleshy, smelling of rose attar when sliced. The delicious, rose-like fragrance of the root led to the specific name “rosea” as well as some of the common names.
Without painting Rhodiola as a panacea, it is important to recognize the broad application of an herb that can effectively help us to deal with non-specific stress. The stress of chronic overwork alone can have an impact on various aspects of our bodies and our lives, including sleep, appetite, mood, mental clarity and energy level. Rhodiola is particularly well suited to deficient, stress-related states that manifest in disturbed sleep or sexual function, poor appetite or over-eating, irritability, depression, hypertension, headache, general fatigue or cardiac anomalies such as rapid heartbeat. Keep in mind that many of these conditions can be symptoms of more severe health problems, which you should discuss with your health-care practitioner.
The following bullet points highlight Rhodiola’s most important uses.
• Adaptogenic; increases non-specific resistance (generalized adaptability) to chemical, biological and physical stressors
• Psychostimulant; increased mental ability, attention, clarity and learning
• Increased endurance and capacity for physical work or exercise
• Antioxidant; free-radical scavenging, reducing destructive reactions in the body that lead to disease
• Immune support when immunity is affected by stress
• Anti-depressive; improves gloomy moods and decreases depression
• Cardio-tonic; cardiac support and protection
• Support in fatigue, lassitude and altitude sickness
• Anti-hypoxia; increases oxygen absorption in the body
• Support in recovery from illness
• Support for stress-related reproductive syndromes
• Increased overall energy and general well being
Energetically, Rhodiola appears to be cooler than many of the better-known adaptogens such as Asian Ginseng. It is a primary adaptogen for those who find these other herbs to be too heating or stimulating. Rhodiola is suited to practical application in treating a number of sexually related conditions in men and women. Preliminary studies show positive effects in normalizing menstrual periods and supporting fertility in women. It also appears to benefit long and short term memory, as well as activities requiring intense mental focus such as final exams.
Herb Pharm’s Rhodiola is a 1 : 5, weight to volume extract of wildcrafted root. It bears a wonderfully rose-like fragrance and rather astringent taste. Rhodiola combines well with other adaptogens and tonics such as the Ginsengs, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Maca, Ginkgo, Hawthorn and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola is useful as a long-term tonic in the face of chronic or expected stress, or for improving overall health. In acute stress, increase the dose for a day or two and then reduce it to a normal dosage level. We also have Rhodiola powdered extract in capsule form.
With such a broad range of application relevant to today’s stressful world, Rhodiola looks poised to become a significant adaptogen and tonic in Western herbal medicine.
Our Asian Ginseng capsules contain 450 mg of Panax ginseng root powdered extract. Like our liquid extract, the powdered extract is made from the natural white or uncured root. Cured root is red and the curing process makes it more warming and stimulating. Asian Ginseng, especially in its cured form, may be too heating for some people and has been implicated in causing agitation and restlessness in some predisposed individuals or in conjunction with stimulants. Using white, uncured root makes our Asian Ginseng more tolerable for those with constitutional heat and thus suitable for a broader range of constitutions.
Possibly the most quintessential tonic herb, Asian Ginseng nourishes the Qi, or underlying life force that is central to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). With periodic use, Asian Ginseng tones and reinvigorates our inherent vital energy to help restore vitality. Traditionally used more and more frequently as one grows older, to treat a host of symptoms related to aging including lower back pain, weak knees and ankles, impotence, frequent urination, poor memory, poor circulation, fatigue and general exhaustion.
As one of the primary adaptogens Asian Ginseng helps one adapt to non-specific stress, strengthening weak adrenals whether the cause is from chronic depletion or from acute situational depletion such as trauma or intense physical or emotional stress. Asian Ginseng is considered to be the most stimulating of the adaptogens. Like other adaptogens, it helps regulate the immune system and is useful whether there is immune excess or deficiency. Due to its Qi enhancing action, Asian Ginseng is especially of service in deep-seated immune depletion and during post-illness recovery.
Asian Ginseng enhances both mental and physical energy. It is important to note that these tonic attributes apply for prophylactic and recuperative use. General uses also include sexual debility and even hangover. While it is not a reference that I look to very often, the German Commission E sums up these uses of Asian Ginseng nicely. “As a tonic to combat feelings of lassitude and debility, lack of energy and ability to concentrate…”
Herb Pharm’s Asian Ginseng is extracted only with ethanol and water. No synthetic solvents are used. The finished powdered extract is tested to assure a therapeutic level of Ginseng’s active ginsenosides and absence of any pesticide residues or degradation compounds. The capsules can be used up to three months, followed by a break of one month.
Spring is a time of refreshing on many levels. It’s a time to open the windows and let cool, cleansing winds inside in place of winter’s lingering stuffiness. In folk healing, spring is associated with the liver, the major cleansing organ of the body. Traditionally, spring tonics are used to help refresh and invigorate the body by giving an extra boost to liver function. Oftentimes these tonics consist of bitter greens and freshly dug roots that are just awakening to the new season.
One perfect and common spring tonic is Dandelion. Although most people might not believe it when they look at their lawns, Dandelion is not a native of North America. Like many of our dominant weeds, it has naturalized here from Europe and Asia. It has spread so efficiently as to become one of the most widespread and easily recognized plants in the world. While Dandelion is an object of scorn for some, it is also a highly effective herbal medicine used in treatment of the liver and liver related disorders.
The name ‘Dandelion’ comes from the Latin ‘dens leonis,’ due to the fanciful resemblance of the leaf margin to a lion’s teeth. The flower, seed head and parachute-like seed tufts are familiar to us all. When cut, fresh Dandelion exudes bitter, milky latex, especially from the root. The bitter flavor is common to many liver herbs. Tasting bitter can activate the digestive system, including the liver, almost immediately. In many countries, a bitter aperitif such as Campari® is used to stimulate digestion before dinner. This practice is similar to using 15 drops of Gentian liquid extract in a little water before a meal. Regularly including ‘bitter’ flavor in our foods is a healthful practice in general and especially so for the overly sweet-oriented Western diet.
More commonly in Europe than in the U.S., Dandelion leaves (or greens) are eaten as a vegetable. Just make sure that your greens have not been sprayed or chemically fertilized. The taste is bitter, but very pleasing and a small amount of the greens in a salad can enhance digestion of an entire meal. Additionally, Dandelion greens are relatively high in beneficial nutrients. The leaf has a diuretic effect on the kidneys, increasing output of urine and elimination of metabolic wastes, including those excreted by the liver. The root has a greater effect on the liver and gall bladder, mildly stimulating liver activity and bile production. Increased bile production aids the cleansing action of the liver and in turn of the body. Combined, the whole plant has a detoxifying and alterative, or gentle, glandular corrective action. As a tonic, Dandelion is a wonderful way to rejuvenate the body and welcome spring.
Because the liver is responsible for hundreds of functions in the body, liver health is critical to our overall wellbeing. Conversely, herbs that support the liver can be used as direct or adjunct remedies in numerous conditions. Some of the most common liver related issues involve the skin, digestive system, female reproductive system and eyes. In many cases, Dandelion is used in conjunction with more system-specific herbs.
Herb Pharm’s Dandelion is cultivated on our certified organic farm and is harvested when the plants are starting to flower. Our Dandelion liquid extract is made from the fresh (undried), whole flowering plant with root. As a general spring tonic, take two 40-drop doses per day before meals. For a stronger cleansing effect, take up to 40 drops, four times per day. Start using bitterness along with the more common flavors and you’ll soon learn to enjoy it as a welcome addition to your meals.
Burdock Blend is one of a small category of Herb Pharm products called blends. These products derive their names by blending different parts of the same plant, in this case Burdock root and seed. Other blends include Hawthorn and Mullein, and although it is not labeled as a blend, Super Echinacea. The purpose of making a blend is to combine various plant parts, which may have different chemical characteristics or traditional uses. This creates an extract that represents more fully the effect of the plant. In some cases such as Dandelion this is done by harvesting the entire plant, thereby combining the root, leaf and flower in one extract. In Burdock Blend, the root and seeds are harvested in season and extracted separately. The extracts are then ‘blended’ to create the finished product.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) is native to Europe, but has become naturalized throughout the U.S. It grows in areas considered to be waste places, in other words areas where the native plants and soil have been disturbed. The long leaves form out of rosettes in its first year and in the second year the plant sends up a tall stalk bearing leaves and flowers. After flowering, seed heads are covered with numerous stiff, hooked bracts that cling stubbornly to clothes and animals. It is said by some that Burdock seed heads were the inspiration for Velcro™! However accurate that belief is, it is true to say that Burdock is considered a noxious weed by many of the farmers and ranchers who encounter it.
As a medicinal herb, Burdock is in a therapeutic class called alteratives, often referred to as “blood purifiers.” These herbs help to restore the normal function of the body through improving metabolism of nutrients and by increasing the elimination of wastes. Three of our main eliminatory organs are the skin, liver and kidneys, the organs that Burdock acts on most directly. Improving elimination of wastes by stimulating skin circulation and liver and kidney function reduces wastes in the blood. This is important because certain imbalances are aggravated or even caused by waste build up.
Burdock is bitter, and like other bitter herbs it stimulates liver activity. The seed has a stronger diuretic action than the root, stimulating excretion of urine. Burdock also has a mild diaphoretic effect, increasing circulation to the skin. Together, the seed and root stimulate major channels of elimination and make Burdock Blend especially effective in supporting various skin conditions.
Burdock also offers traditional support for joints and enhances immune system function. Its immune effect further aids Burdock’s ability to support the skin. The liver stimulating action exerts a very positive effect on digestion. Burdock is specifically indicated in dry, scaly skin conditions, urinary irritation and digestive complaints.
Burdock is a very safe herb. One form of Burdock root called Gobo is cultivated for use as a vegetable. The Botanical Safety Handbook 2 lists Burdock root and seed in class 1, meaning they have no known safety concerns under normal use, including use in pregnancy, nursing or with other medications. However, it would probably be advised to reserve Burdock Blend during pregnancy for reduced dosages in the last trimester only. The dose of Herb Pharm’s Burdock Blend is up to 40 drops, two to four times per day. When treating children be sure and adjust the dosage using Clark’s Rule.
Turmeric is probably best known for its spicy flavor and the bold yellow color it gives to curry. Along with coloring foods, it has been used as a dye for both skin and clothing. From some of the earliest records it has also been used topically and internally as a medicinal herb. Turmeric is a quintessential example of standardization gone wrong by taking a botanical medicine to the drug-like extreme of single constituent isolation. It is also a classic example of an ancient herb that has found entirely new uses, and gained a new reputation, in the face of modern medical theory and research.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the Zingiberaceae, or Ginger family, and like Ginger it too is a tropical plant. To the best of our knowledge, Turmeric originated in Southern India and this region continues as the world’s largest producer. As a seedless plant, its movement to new locations throughout the tropics has been dependent upon people. By 800 AD Turmeric had spread across much of Asia, including China, and across Africa. This is testament not only to its wide esteem as a useful plant, but also to its trade and relocation in early history. By the 18th century Turmeric made its way to Jamaica and it is now cultivated throughout the tropics, including Hawaii and Costa Rica. Continue reading “Turmeric, From Ancient Dye to Modern Medicine”
Good digestion is one of the most crucial factors influencing our health. Together with oxygen and water, food provides all of the starting materials for building and maintaining our bodies and minds. And digestion is the body’s gateway for all of the nutrients found in food, the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and various secondary phytochemicals that feed and heal us. This one complex process is thus linked to every other function in our body, starting at the cellular level. Poor digestion leads to poor health.
Herb Pharm carries a large selection of products that positively influence the digestive process, system and organs in various ways. In some cases, there is overlap in the effects of products, but each has its own unique features. This article gives an abbreviated overview of our digestive system products intended as a short guide to their differentiation and uses.
What might be considered the most quintessential digestive product is bitters. Bitters begin working as soon as they hit your taste buds through a reflex action on our stomach and pancreas, stimulating the production of digestive juices. Bitters also stimulate the liver and prepare the gall bladder for the release of bile. Consuming bitter flavor in our foods was always a part of eating; it is something we as a species evolved with and relied on for good digestion. Because the modern diet is skewed heavily towards sweets, the reintroduction of bitter plants like Dandelion greens and Radicchio into your diet is extremely beneficial. Using Digestive Bitters is another simple way to reintroduce this important digestion-enhancing flavor. Hold diluted Digestive Bitters in your mouth for a minute before swallowing to ensure that the taste response is triggered.
Neutralizing Cordial has attributes shared by some of the other digestive products in that it is of service in treating digestive gas, nausea and colic. However, this formula stands apart due to its ability to alkalize the digestive system. While Rhubarb root is generally considered a laxative, it actually has a dose-dependent amphoteric function. Neutralizing Cordial is great when traveling as well as in the home medicine cabinet.
Gastro Calm™, formerly Lavender Spirits, is a warming blend of aromatics specifically formulated for use in gas, bloating and nausea. This compound relieves queasiness, including the effects of motion sickness when excess acid is not involved.
Intestinal Soother™ is a comforting compound specifically targeted for intestinal irritability. Like our Inflamma Response™ compound, Intestinal Soother contains Chamomile and Turmeric as central ingredients. It adds Fennel, Cinnamon and Peppermint to further reduce discomfort and flatulence and Wild Yam joins forces with Peppermint in controlling intestinal spasms. This compound gently calms nervous agitation associated with digestive distress. Additionally, Turmeric and Fennel offer support for the liver.
Intestinal Tract Defense™ is designed as an aid in balancing and protecting the gut. It has been formulated with thujone-free Sweet Wormwood (Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua) with children in mind. Regular Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) can be used as an adjunct in adults. It is important to keep in mind that our digestive tract relies on a large and diverse microbial population which should be maintained through the use of cultured foods and if needed, supplemental probiotics.
While many single extracts can have a positive influence on digestion, one especially worth calling out is Peppermint Spirits.. This powerful preparation is effective in reducing stomach upset and digestive gas as well as spasms such as hiccups. Peppermint Spirits also help relieve nausea and are a good alternative to Ginger for those whose digestive fire is already warm. Peppermint is cooling and relaxes sphincters, so is not appropriate in acid reflux or where there is dampened, weak digestive fire.
Bringing the theme of liver and digestion full circle is Liver Health™, our primary liver support compound. Among other herbs in this compound are bitters like Dandelion, Oregon Grape (pictured above) and one of my personal favorites, Artichoke. As with Digestive Bitters, these bitter tasting herbs improve the digestive process and systemically support liver-related digestion. Keeping the liver healthy is one of our best strategies in maintaining good digestion and overall health.
In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in various digestive, gut and food-induced disorders. The best and easiest way to avoid digestive problems is to stop them before they start. The first and probably most important step is to examine your diet and replace unhealthy foods with better options, including bitter greens. And it makes sense to begin strengthening your digestion at the same time, starting with regular use of Digestive Bitters. These simple steps can be used to significantly improve digestion and assimilation, which are truly fundamental to well being.
Nursing her newborn child is one of a new mother’s great joys. When nursing difficulties arise from inadequate supply of breast milk, mother and child feel the burden alike. The inability to nurture a new child through breast-feeding can evoke sadness, frustration and even guilt in a mother. From ancient times, a select group of herbs has been used to safely promote normal levels of healthy breast milk. These herbs, also called galactogogues, are the ingredients of Mother’s Lactation Tonic.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) grows as a perennial shrub throughout the Mediterranean region and into Asia. The fruit (berries) have a spicy, peppery smell and taste, which contributed to the early name of Monk’s Pepper. It appears in the early literary works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen. Chaste Tree has a traditional history of use in stimulating milk flow during lactation, which was reported in King’s American Dispensatory (Felter and Lloyd). In 1930, some of the first scientific studies on Chaste Tree were conducted. Since that time, a number of studies have been carried out with positive results. Many of the traditional uses have been supported by these studies, including an increase in milk production.
More recently, Dr. Weiss, the eminent German herbal physician, found that while Chaste Tree may take time to have an effect, it can be given for months to stimulate a healthy level of milk production. One study performed on lactating mothers reported an increase in average milk production of about three times that of the control group.
Fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual member of the Fabaceae or Pea/Bean family. It is native to west Asia and has naturalized in Europe, India and Africa. It is an ancient herb that was used in the mummification process in Egypt, and is mentioned in the early works of Greek and Roman medicine. Fenugreek is traditionally used to soothe various tissue irritations and inflammations, as a tonic to improve digestion, and as a galactogogue. It has also been used as a nutritive tonic in general debility of convalescence. Its use in spice mixtures and foods extends from eastern Africa, through India and many parts of western Asia. Fenugreek is faster acting than Chaste Tree and may begin working within 24 to 72 hours. Reports on Fenugreek as a lactation aid show dramatic and rapid increases in breast milk production.
The three remaining herbs in Mother’s Lactation Tonic have several similarities. They are all familiar members of the Apiaceae or Celery family with a long history of safe use in food, medicine and as nursing lactation aids. Botanically, the part of each plant used is a fruit (commonly called the seed) and each plant is an herbaceous annual or biennial. These highly aromatic seeds have been used in traditional medicine as galactogogues to increase milk production in cases of suppressed secretion. They are also carminatives, used to treat intestinal spasms and flatulence, and as flavorings in food and medicine.
Caraway seed (Carum carvi) came into use around the 12th Century in northern and central Europe and Asia. Caraway is an ingredient in foods, especially baked goods, confections and liqueurs. It lends the distinctive flavor to traditional rye bread and sauerkraut.
Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), is an ancient herb with a widespread use in medicine and food. The renowned Eclectic pharmacist, John Uri Lloyd, wrote that a survey of Fennel in literature would require citing “every work on medicine and botany from the earliest time to the present.” Fennel seed taken by the mother may actually increase the feeding response in an infant, indicating that some if its flavor is passed into the milk. In this way, it may also aid the nursing infant’s digestion in cases of colic.
Anise seed (Pimpinella anisum) too has a rich and ancient tradition of use. Like Fennel, Anise is among the oldest known medicines and spices, according to Lloyd. It is probably native to Egypt and was mentioned in the early works of writers such as Dioscorides (around the year 75). It has also been used throughout pharmacy as an aromatic flavoring agent and to ease the intestinal griping caused by other medicines. Anise is used in cooking primarily in confections and as the flavoring agent for liquors such as Pernod and ouzo.
Mother’s Lactation Tonic is made with certified organic, pharmaceutical-grade alcohol and distilled water. It is primarily intended as a galactogogue, promoting the quantity, quality and flow of breast milk where it is suppressed or scanty. It is also an effective digestant and aromatic carminative which can relieve nausea and intestinal gas in the breastfeeding mother and child. These actions together help to ensure that breast-feeding is a rewarding time for both mother and child.
Originally Published Winter 2004
Calendula consists of the whole flowers of Calendula officinalis. This well-known garden plant originated in southern Europe and is now widely cultivated in temperate regions around the world. Often called marigold or pot marigold, it should not be confused with the more diminutive ornamental marigolds of horticultural trade. Herb Pharm’s Calendula is organically cultivated and painstakingly harvested every summer on our own farm.
Included in many of the earliest European herbals, Calendula has undoubtedly been employed medicinally since the earliest times. It has also been used in cookery for stews, meats and in coloring butter. In fact, the orange coloring components of the flower petals are carotenoids, the same class of compounds as the yellow pigments in cheeses made from the milk of grass-fed animals.
Phytochemically rich, Calendula possesses a broad array of triterpenes, flavonoids, coumarins, carotenoids and volatile oils. Calendula’s distinctive resinous character is a manifestation of this complex profile. And its therapeutic actions are as diverse as its chemistry. Externally, the flowers are one of the most common herbs for the treatment of skin conditions. Internally, Calendula soothes inflammations of the digestive tract, astringes capillaries and is detoxifying to the liver and spleen.
Herb Pharm makes more types of extracts from Calendula flower than any other herb. We offer Calendula Liquid Extract, Calendula Oil and Calendula Succus. Each of these products has its own particular niche, making product differentiation worth exploring. So let’s look at these three extracts and what makes each one unique.
The liquid extract, or tincture, is the most commonly used of these preparations historically. It was the only extract of Calendula listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia as an official medicine. This high alcohol preparation, in combination with using dried flowers, maximizes the constituent profile of Calendula flower. The liquid extract is ideal externally when stinging from its high alcohol content is not an issue and the coating action of Calendula Oil is not desired.
Olive oil extracts many of the same virtues as alcohol, thus combining Calendula’s resinous properties in a soothing, oleaginous preparation. Calendula Oil is usually applied externally on skin and mucous membranes for conditions that benefit from the coating action of the oil. These include closed wounds, abrasions once granulation has started and the skin has begun to heal, burns where the initial stages of heat trauma have passed and any other conditions where soothing is needed. The oil base holds the herbal extractives on the skin, increasing and prolonging local healing action. It can be used in any circumstance where a Calendula cream or ointment is recommended. The oil extract is also the ideal form for use in ears and is a component of our eardrop formula, Mullein/Garlic Compound.
Calendula Succus is a special low-alcohol preparation of Calendula flowers. Succi (the plural of succus) are prepared from three parts by volume of plant juice preserved with one part of alcohol. The finished alcohol concentration is 23.75%, placing it just over the threshold needed for preservation. The result in the case of Calendula Succus is a low-sting alcohol preparation that can be used as a wash on sensitive skin. Some sources claim that the succus was the preferred form of Calendula for use in surgery during the Civil War.
Calendula is an old herbal remedy whose popularity continues into modern times. Although known today more for its external use, Calendula’s diverse internal uses should not be forgotten. While differentiation of these three types of Calendula extracts may seem somewhat nuanced, they offer the optimal breadth of application for both external and internal use. The special features and attributes of each product described here should help in choosing the optimal form of each Herb Pharm Calendula extract.
Maca is an herb that has been cultivated in the high Andes Mountains of Peru for over 2000 years. It is renowned amongst indigenous people of the region as an energy enhancing food with aphrodisiacal properties, and is now quickly growing in popularity around the world as an herbal sexual enhancer. Herb Pharm Maca is made from the root (botanically known as the hypocotyl) of Maca (Lepidium meyenii), a member of the Brassicaceae or Mustard family. Some sources call this plant Lepidium peruvianum, but leading taxonomic authorities consider this is a synonym for the officially recognized botanical name, which remains Lepidium meyenii.
Inappropriately referred to as a “rainforest” herb, Maca actually comes from a rather desolate habitat that is devoid of trees. Maca grows at elevations of 12,000 feet or more, where the sun’s unfiltered ultra-violet radiation is very intense and the pounding winds and numbing nighttime cold allow few plants to grow. These harsh localized growing conditions rather than color differences in the roots have been shown to be responsible for most activity differences in Maca.
Maca was a crop of the ancient Inca and has been in cultivation for at least 2000 years, primarily in the Lake Junin region in the central highlands of Peru. Chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors tell how the Spaniards’ horses became infertile in the extreme high altitudes of the Andes (a natural phenomenon). The Incan farmers recommended feeding the horses Maca because they knew of its powers to increase sexual activity and fertility in the breeding of their llamas and guinea pigs. The Spaniards were astounded by the positive results and began demanding Maca as payment for taxes and tribute.
Some physicians are now using Maca to enhance fertility and increase libido for both women and men. These uses are well known by the native people of the high Andes. One legend tells how Inca warriors were fed Maca to increase their energy before going into battle. After a city was conquered, Maca was prohibited in order to protect women from the heightened sexual desires induced by Maca consumption.
Today, research and interest in Maca is steadily increasing. Studies are being carried out in Peru and other countries to determine the mechanism(s) by which Maca supports fertility and libido. Researchers are examining various sexual parameters including erectile function, sexual appetite, performance, frequency of copulation, ejaculatory volume, sperm motility and fertility. Maca is also used in Peruvian folk medicine to treat symptoms of menopause.
Agronomists are studying the plant’s adaptability to other high altitude regions as a potential crop. Patents have been awarded to several companies for preparations and use of Maca, much to the dismay of Peruvian farmers and indigenous people, who have raised protests in Peru’s capital, Lima. We expect the popularity and economic potential of Maca to continue to grow as more people become aware of its healthful qualities. It is critical, especially during this period of growth, to preserve the rights of the indigenous people whose knowledge, traditions and work have given us access to this wonderful plant. Herb Pharm is happy to support these family farmers by purchasing only genuine Peruvian Maca from the high Andes.
Herb Pharm founders Ed Smith and Sara Katz have both visited our Maca growers in the Peruvian highlands. There they witnessed first-hand how Maca is grown, harvested, dried and processed for market. Our Maca tincture (liquid extract) is made from certified organic raw Maca root. We also provide certified organic gelatinized Maca root in capsules and a 7-ounce bulk Maca powder. Gelatinization is a process whereby the roots are steamed to allow Maca’s phytochemicals and nutrients to be more readily absorbed when consumed directly (i.e., not pre-extracted as in a tincture). This makes our Maca powder ideal for “liquidos” or traditional-style smoothies with honey, milk and cinnamon. It’s also great in pre-workout smoothies, homemade energy bars and baked treats.
Originally published March 2003