Maize is a staple of diets all over the world, but it is also a plant with a long history of medicinal use. Learn more about the many uses of maize and the health benefits it can offer.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Corn, maize
  • Scientific nameZea mays
  • Plant typeVegetable
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry

Maize, a dietary staple grain in its native regions for thousands of years, is arguably the quintessential American crop. Archeological evidence suggests that the earliest strains of maize appeared in Central and South America up to 80,000 years ago, and it is first known to have been harvested by humans approximately 10,000 years ago. Though commonly known as "corn" in many English-speaking countries, the term "maize" - a Spanish adaptation of the indigenous Taíno word maiz – is still widely used in many parts of the world.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionDiuretic, Hypocholesterolemic
  • Key constituentsPotassium
  • Ways to useHot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Food, Freshly ground
  • Medicinal rating(1) Very minor uses
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Maize

Besides it nutritional, culinary uses, maize is traditionally consumed for:

  • Stimulating urination. Maize has been used as a diuretic for thousands of years, but no scientific research has found evidence supporting this use.

More recently, maize has been the subject of studies that have found it to be useful for:

  • Lowering blood cholesterol. Several of the components in maize are known to lower cholesterol and protect against cardiovascular disease.

  • Regulating blood sugar levels. Maize appears to help the body influence the levels of sugar in the blood, helping to keep them steady.

How it Works

Maize contains several components that reduce cholesterol levels in the blood or otherwise help prevent cardiovascular disease. Phytosterols, poly-insaturated fatty acids, and policosanols are the substances in maize that are most effective at lowering cholesterol, and these compounds can also help lower lipids and triglycerides in the blood as well, further improving heart health. Maize also contains carotenoids and tocopherols, which protect the cardiovascular system as well.

Maize is also a highly nutritional plant; it is a key source of starch, as well as carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Protein, phosphorus, manganese, and potassium are also present in significant amounts, as are vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), C (ascorbic acid), and K.

Maize Side Effects

Maize is mostly safe in medicinal doses. It can decrease potassium in the blood, causing weakness, muscle cramping, numbness, nausea, or heart palpitations. It may also cause skin rashes or itching in those who are sensitive to maize.

Maize Cautions

Maize may interact with diabetes medication, high blood pressure medication, diuretics, clotting medications, and corticosteroids. Using maize as a supplement is not recommended for those with diabetes, high or low blood pressure, low potassium, or corn allergies, as maize may be dangerous for those with these conditions.

Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid medicinal levels of maize, as it may increase the risk of miscarriage.

How to Consume Maize

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsSeed
  • Edible usesBeverage
  • TasteSweet

Maize is both a medicinal herb and a common dietary staple, as well as one of the biggest crops worldwide. It can be consumed in culinary form, but for those that dislike the taste or find it inconvenient to prepare, it is also available in several medicinal preparations, mostly made from the part of the plant called corn silk.


Main preparations: Tea, tincture, infusion, decoction, capsules

  • Tea. Corn silk tea is popularly used as a diuretic despite no evidence of its use as one, but this preparation of maize can also be used to provide cardioprotective benefits, for which research has shown it to be useful.

  • Tincture. Up to 12 drops of corn silk tincture may be taken three times a day to help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.

  • Infusion. Infusions made from corn silk can help to protect the heart from disease. The recommended daily dose is two cups (500 mL).

  • Decoction. Corn silk decoctions are typically applied externally to sores or other skin problems, but because they are not taken internally, they do not provide the researched benefits that corn has to offer.

  • Capsules. To reap the benefits of maize without experiencing the taste, capsules can improve heart health and help to keep blood sugar levels normal.


Maize is more often used as food than as a remedy, and it is in fact a crucial staple of diets around the world. While it is safe to eat ears of maize in raw form, they are most often cooked to soften the kernels. It can also be ground into cornmeal, which is used as an ingredient in breads and other foods and is especially commonly found in African, Mexican, Brazilian, and American cuisine. Modern processed foods also often contain corn or its cooking oil as an ingredient.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Fresh Maize

Because it is such a popular crop and because of its durability during transport, fresh maize can be found year-round in grocery stores and local markets around the world. Often, during harvest season, farmer's markets in regions where the crop can be grown may also carry fresh maize.

Maize Supplements

Corn silk supplements can be slightly harder to find, though they are available at some specialized health food stores or herbalist shops, and several different brands can be compared against each other via online retailers.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral), 7.4 – 7.8 (Slightly alkaline)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F)), 11a (From +4.4 °C (40 °F) to +7.2 °C (45 °F)), 11b (From +7.2 °C (45 °F) to +10 °C (50 °F))
  • Potential insect pestsEarthworms
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot

Although maize is often grown as part of a large crop on a farm, it can easily be grown in smaller amounts anywhere that meets the right conditions - including a garden or backyard.

Growing Guidelines

  • Maize is usually propagated by seed. It can be advantageous to purchase seeds that have been treated with fungicide to help the plant resist diseases in the soil.

  • The optimal location for maize plants is in full sun, but they should also be given plentiful moisture to ensure ideal growth.

  • Plant maize in the spring, after the last frost, once the soil is 65°F (18°C) or above. Maize is not tolerant of the cold, and should be grown in places where the temperature ranges from 65 - 85°F (18 - 30°C).

  • Deep, well-drained, fertile soil is best for maize, and the soil should have a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 - 6.8.

  • Maize is likely to need frequent fertilizing, as it is a heavy feeder and requires high levels of nitrogen in the soil.

  • Seeds should be planted in rows one inch (2.5 cm) deep, four to six inches (10 - 15 cm) apart. The rows should be 30 - 36 inches (76 - 90 cm) apart.

  • Once the maize plants are three to four inches (8 - 10 cm) tall, thin the plants so that there is one maize seedling per 8 - 12 inches (20 - 30 cm).

  • Use caution when weeding, as maize plants may have roots very close to the soil surface.

  • Maize is susceptible to rust and smut.

  • Some pests may attack maize, including corn borers, earworms, and maggots.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesAdhesive, Textiles, Fuel

Plant Biology

Maize is an annual grass that typically reaches heights of 8 - 10 feet (2.5 - 3 m), although some varieties of maize have been known to grow up to 40 feet (12 m) tall. Its edible fruit develops as a cob and is generally encased in leaves that grow on any part of the stalk. Ears of maize come in various colors, ranging from yellow to deep purple and black, as well as various kernel densities.

  • Classification
    Maize, or Zea mays, is part of the fifth largest family of plants, known as the Poaceae family. This group of 10,000 species is known to contain the "true grasses" as well as wheat, rice, and bamboo among its members.
  • Varieties and Subspecies of Maize
    Based on the modern classification system, there may be up to 80,000 different subspecies of maize, due to its long history of human use as well as modern genetic modifications intended to maximize its vitamin content and improve its disease resistance.

Historical Information

Maize was a foundational element of the Mesoamerican diet, and the first records of maize domestication date back 7,500 - 12,000 years. In fact, popcorn may be the oldest snack food in the world, as early varieties of corn were inedible unless prepared this way. In addition to being grown as food, maize was used in bartering, which spread the crop's reach across civilizations and over large areas of land. Several centuries later, European settlers introduced the crop to other regions of the world, spreading throughout Exploration Age empires to Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Economic Data

On a global scale, more maize is produced each year than any other grain, weighing in at over one billion tons in 2014 alone. The United States is the world's largest producer of corn, growing 361,091,140 tons in 2014. It is followed by China, which produced 215,812,100 tons in 2014, and Brazil, which produced 79,881,614 tons in the same year.

Popular Beliefs

Maize was a remarkably significant plant for indigenous people all over North, Central, and South America, so several myths about the origin of the world and religious ceremonies centered on maize. Several gods and spirits in these religions were also considered to be the gods of maize.

Other Uses

The advantages of maize are as diverse as the plant's varieties, aiding in the production of plastics, fabrics, adhesives, and many other products. Recently, researchers have begun to use maize to create ethanol oil, a type of biochemical fuel that researchers hope will one day function as an alternative to coal.

Maize is also a primary nutrient in both livestock fodder and domestic pet food.

Because of its widespread use as a culinary ingredient, maize is available worldwide and year-round. Its health benefits, namely its ability to protect the heart and regulate blood sugar, make it a useful herbal remedy.