What is Maca Root?

Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is a versatile and nutritious root vegetable native to the high Andes mountains.

It can be used in a variety of ways from supplementing your diet to adding to your stew. It is currently sweeping the internet as the next superfood so here is all you need to know to grow Maca from seed.

Can you grow Maca in the UK?

maca plant peruvian ginseng showing root

Maca plants prefer a slightly acidic soil and can tolerate cool temperatures, making them well-suited to the UK climate. The great news is that wind-exposed, cooler locations are best so it should thrive in even the windiest balcony or hillside allotment.

Maca will grow either in containers or in the ground. The choice of where to grow it  will depend on several factors, such as the climate, soil quality, and available space.

The maca plant grows to be 15 – 45cm (6"-18") tall.  The part we are interested in is the roots which spread to 15cm (6").  These form in summer and are about the size of a walnut.  They have white, sweet-tasting flesh and skin that can be a variety of colours from white to black.

Growing maca in the ground

This can be a good option if you have a large garden space with well-draining soil. However, if your soil is heavy and poorly drained, it may be better to grow maca in containers to ensure good drainage and prevent root rot.

Growing Maca in containers

Growing in containers allow you to control the soil composition better and ensure good drainage. You can also move the containers to a sunnier or shadier location as needed to optimize growing conditions. However, growing maca in containers may require more frequent watering and fertilization than in-ground plants.

How to Grow Maca in containers

Container: The 20L Vigoroot Pot or 20L Hemp pots are both good choices.  But you can use any container that is at least 30cm (12”) deep and wide - you may want to go even wider if you want to accommodate several maca plants. Ensure that the container has drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

Soil: Maca requires well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You can use a mix of potting soil, perlite, and compost to create a suitable growing medium. Make sure the soil is slightly acidic, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is alkaline, you can add organic matter such as compost or peat moss to lower the pH.

Sow the Maca Seeds:

Sow maca seeds in May after the last frost. Sow about 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart in the container. Cover the seeds with soil and water gently. At a temperature of 15 °C, the first seedlings will sprout in a few days to two weeks.

Position: Light and temperature are crucial.  Maca prefers cool temperatures between 10-24°C (50°F to 75°F). Place the container in a sunny location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. In the UK, this may be a challenge, especially in the winter months when daylight hours are shorter. You can use grow lights to supplement natural light if needed.

Later in the year if the weather is too hot, move the container to a shaded area. 

Caring for your maca plant:

Water the maca seeds regularly, but do not overwater them. The soil should be moist but not soggy. Watering every two to three days should work well.

Maca does not require a lot of nutrients so only use fertiliser if your soil is very poor.  If you do have to feed, use a balanced fertilizer with equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and apply once a month during the growing season. You can use organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion or seaweed extract to provide nutrients to the plants.

Maca prefers cool temperatures and can tolerate frosts, but it may not do well in very humid or wet conditions. Avoid planting during the summer when the temperatures are high.

Harvesting Maca Root

Dried maca root to be made into maca powder

Maca roots take around 7 to 9 months to mature. You can harvest them by carefully pulling the plants out of the soil. Allow the roots to dry for a few days before storing them.

What can I use maca for?

Here are some popular uses for maca:

  1. Cook it - Maca can be used like any other root vegetable.  It has a slightly nutty and earthy flavour and can be added to smoothies, soups or stews, or used as a coffee substitute.
  2. Dietary supplement: Maca is often used as a dietary supplement due to its high nutrient content. It is believed to increase energy and stamina, making it popular among athletes and those with an active lifestyle (so good to take before you start digging the garden!)
  3. Hormonal balance: Maca may help balance hormones in the body, especially in women experiencing menopause or menstrual irregularities.
  4. Maca has been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and boost the libido in both men and women. Leave that one with you! 

How to make Maca Powder at Home

Maca grown from seed in containers with a clear glass bowl of maca powder

Many people buy maca and use it in powder form as a supplement or a cooking ingredient.  Its going to be a little time consuming to make your own maca powder but it ensures the quality and if you are looking to be self sufficient and need ingredients you can use in the winter moths then it would be fun to try. 

Click through to discover how to make maca powder in a few simple steps - How to make Maca powder

Sarah Talbot