Maca and ginseng are roots with adaptogenic properties. An adaptogen is an herbal medicine that is believed to normalize the body by helping it to adapt to stress. Both are commonly dried, powdered and marketed as supplements. Because they are both considered herbal sexual enhancers, they often show up together in supplements formulated for sexual health. While they have a lot in common, they also have some crucial differences. In this SPICEography Showdown, we will compare maca and ginseng to see some of those differences as well as the best ways to use each of them.
How does maca differ from ginseng?
The maca and ginseng tubers have different shapes. Maca is the beet-shaped tuber; ginseng is elongated and cylindrical. It is commonly described as man-shaped, which means that it looks like a human body with limbs.
The maca plant grows in South America’s Andes mountains; ginseng is native to China.
Maca and ginseng come from different botanical families. Maca is in the Brassicaceae family and is related to broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables. Ginseng is in the Aralia family, which is related to the Apiaceae family that includes carrots.
Maca and ginseng both have reputations for enhancing sexual performance but they do so in different ways. Maca differs from ginseng in that it is believed to enhance libido in both men and women. Ginseng’s benefits are limited to treating erectile dysfunction.
Maca has a mild flavor that is often described as earthy and malty. Fresh ginseng root is bitter and the bitterness is accompanied by a radish-like flavor. Still, it is considered much less bitter than the leaves. Ginseng leaves are extremely bitter.
Can you use maca in place of ginseng and vice versa?
Whether you can use these roots as substitutes for each other depends on what you want from them. If you want a tuber that can be consumed as a food similar to potatoes, only maca will work. In Peru, maca is commonly served roasted or boiled. Ginseng will not be a good substitute in this scenario. On the other hand, maca can work as a substitute for ginseng if you want a supplement for low libido; ginseng can work as a maca substitute as well but has only shown results for men.
Both maca and ginseng are known to have stimulant effects so you can use maca as a ginseng substitute and vice versa if you need an energy boost. Both maca and ginseng are known to improve mood and relieve stress so you can use either if you need to treat anxiety or depression.
One of ginseng’s potential benefits is as a treatment for people with diabetes or who are pre-diabetic. It can lower blood sugar and improve the function of pancreatic cells. Maca does not have this benefit, which means it would not be a good substitute for people hoping to treat or prevent diabetes.
When should you use maca and when should you use ginseng?
Use fresh maca root when cooking Peruvian cuisine. Use maca root powder in fruit smoothies if the fresh root is not available and you need an energy supplement or one to help you control your blood sugar. Maca’s mild flavor blends nicely with fruit without overpowering the flavors. Use ginseng for a mental stimulant that you can consume as tea, in soups, or stir-fries.