Mashua, also known as anu and cubio, is a tuberous plant native to the highlands of South America, from Colombia to northwest Argentina, including Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. It has a long history of use for both medicinal and nutritional purposes. Modern medicine has just began to explore and understand the health benefits of mashua as well as its potential as a superfood.
Mashua Medicinal Properties
- Medicinal action Anti-inflammatory, Nutritious
- Key constituents Phenolic compounds, alkamides, isothiocyanates
- Ways to use Capsules, Food, Freshly ground, Tincture, Powder
- Medicinal rating (2) Minorly useful plant
- Safety ranking Use with caution
Health Benefits of Mashua
Mashua is an Andean species that is fairly new to science and international food trade. However, some of its popular uses are being investigated with promising results.
Scientific research suggests that the most important health benefits of mashua are:
Treating skin conditions. The antioxidant and antibacterial properties of mashua have been traditionally used for the topical relief of skin rashes and superficial wounds.
Reducing pain and inflammations. Mashua has been shown to have strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory compounds, which have been used to treat internal and external inflammatory conditions for centuries.
Other traditional applications involving the whole mashua plant (leaves, flowers, and tuberous roots) include the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, pulmonary and kidney problems, and parasitic infestations.
How It Works
Until recently, mashua's properties and mechanisms of action were a mystery; however, recent investigations have shed light on the great potential of this Andean species for treating a number of conditions.
The wound healing and skin protecting activities of mashua have been known by folk medicine for centuries. Modern science attribute them to high levels of phenolic compounds, particularly in darker varieties, which have been shown to have at least 11 different anthocyanins, making this Andean tuber a promising agent for treating a variety of dermatological problems.1,2
The traditional topical uses of mashua to reduce swelling and pain have been validated by scientific studies, which have isolated two alkamides (fatty acid amides produced by some plants) with strong anti-inflammatory activities. The presence of these compounds is stronger in purple and black mashua tubers.3,4
Additionally, isothiocyanates are thought to be responsible for the antibiotic, insecticidal, nematocidal, and diuretic properties attributed to mashua and traditionally used in folk medicine.
Side Effects of Mashua
Mashua is considered generally safe to be consumed in moderate amounts. However, it should be noted that both mashua tubers and leaves have shown anti-fertility activities in men, negatively affecting spermatogenesis and testicular function. The culprit is a major secondary metabolite of mashua, called p-methoxybenzylglucosinolate.5,6 Due to these undesirable effects, couples trying to conceive would be better off avoiding this Andean tuber in both culinary and medicinal forms.
Additionally, preliminary findings suggest that mashua's isothiocyanates exert inhibitory actions over estradiol binding, which suggests estrogenic properties. While they may benefit women with estrogen deficiency, they're not recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, nor for women with a history of breast cancer.7,8
The outstanding nutritional value of mashua tubers, regardless of their color, put them in the super foods category. While all mashua types contain protein, dietary fiber, and carbohydrates in small amounts, this Andean tuber is a powerhouse of key minerals and vitamins.
The mind-blowing amounts of key minerals in mashua tubers validate its tradicional status of staple food in Andean communities. Calcium is absolutely necesary in the human diet, not only for building strong bones, but also for optimal nervous function. People who lacks calcium in their diet often suffer from muscle and nerves spams. The importance of having an adequate intake of this essential mineral in every stage of the human life can't be overstated. Iron, on the other hand, is crucial for the formation of new red blood cells and its deficiency leads to anemia due to low hemoglobin levels. Additionally, phosphorus is essential for all living creatures; it is contained in every cell of the body, but particularly in bones and teeth, and it is also crucial for energy metabolism.
For proper absorption of calcium and iron, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is absolutely necessary, and mashua tubers offer impressive amounts of this water soluble antioxidant, which is not only key for a healthy and youthful skin, since it promotes collagen production, but also prevents degenerative diseases by protecting cellular integrity. Finally, there are two B vitamins whose levels are totally off the charts in mashua tubers: vitamin B1 (thiamin), and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), both water soluble and instrumental for energy production and fat metabolism. They make possible daily bodily functions, and their deficiency can lead to various health problems, such as migrains, cardiovascular diseases, and even cognitive decline.
100 grams of mashua provide 52 calories, with 4%DV of carbohydrates as well as 3%DV of proteins and dietary fiber, respectively.
How to Consume Mashua
- Edible parts Flowers, Leaves, Root
- Taste Aromatic
All parts of mashua are edible, including leaves, flowers, and tubers, which are typically consumed in culinary forms. Some medicinal and supplemental forms of mashua are also available.
Fresh. Raw mashua's taste is peppery and pungent, comparable to horseradish. The tubers can be grated and added to salads, along with mashua's flowers and leaves, whose taste resembles that of mustard greens.
Cooked. Mashua tubers are usually boiled or roasted. During the cooking process, they acquire a mushy texture and an aromatic, anise-like taste, also providing decent nutritional benefits.
Powder. Offering a longer shelf-life, mashua powder, or flour, can be used in porridges, baking, pancakes, and more, providing not only valuable nutrients, but also dietary fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Tincture. Mashua tincture concentrates the anti-inflammatory properties of the herb, and it is often used as a testosterone inhibitor and a remedy for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH); however, further research is necessary to validate these applications.
Capsules. Mashua capsules are marketed as a natural diuretic and a natural relief for prostatic inflammation. Usually made of black or purple varieties of mashua, this supplemental form also provides a good deal of antioxidants in the form of anthocyanins.
Men should be aware that excessive consumption of mashua tubers as well as mashua in medicinal doses may lead to low libido and reduced fertility.
- Where to buy Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Online herb stores, Organic markets
Mashua tubers are not a common sight in most supermarkets. It's more likely to find them online for gardening purposes as well as in some organic stores and farmers markets in the Pacific Northwest, the only area in North America that's favorable for mashua's cultivation. Mashua powder, also commercialized as mashua flour, is available through small online stores.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Finding mashua remedies and supplements, mainly tincture and capsules, can be challenging, but some specialized herbal stores online might have them.
- Life cycle Perennial
- Harvested parts Flowers, Roots, Leaves
- Light requirements Morning sun with afternoon shade
- Soil Light (sandy), Well-drained
- Growing habitat Andean region
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 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))
- Planting time Spring
- Plant spacing average 0.1 m (0.30 ft)
- Potential diseases Viruses
Mashua is a type of climbing nasturtium, which makes it great as a wall cover for gardens. However, this species is native to the Andes, and there are only a few regions suitable for its cultivation. Mashua is cultivated as a perennial, mostly for ornamental purposes, along the Pacific Northwest, from Great Britain to Oregon, and it has been successfully introduced in New Zealand, alongside other Andean crops. For gardeners living in areas with the right soil, temperature, and humidity, growing mashua should not be a problem.
Mashua is traditionally cultivated in the highlands of South America, 8,530 - 13,123 feet (2,600 - 4,000 meters) above the sea level. However, a suitable environment outside of its native lands are the coastal areas of North America, with short-light days and cool temperatures of 20°F (-7°C) throughout the cold months, and 80°F (27°C) during the summer.
Typically propagated using selected tubers, which are planted 16-20 inches (40-50 cm) apart, the hardy mashua plant can thrive even in poor soils, but a light, sandy soil is ideal for its cultivation. In a similar fashion as potatoes, the tubers should be planted in spring to be harvested in autumn.
The mashua plant can be grown as an annual, in which case tubers must be harvested in October, or as a perennial, for ornamental purposes, to enjoy its pretty flowers from August to the first frost.
It should be noticed that mashua is an aggressive climber that can take over a garden if left unattended. For this reason, regular pruning is advised.
Thanks to its insecticidal compounds, the mashua plant is virtually free of pests and diseases. However, it is vulnerable to viruses, such as Tropaeolum mosaic potyvirus, which can stunt the plant and affect its productivity.
- Other uses Animal feed
Mashua is a perennial herbaceous plant that can be cultivated as a cold-tolerant anual crop for alimentary purposes, or as a perennial for ornamental use. This Andean tuber is known as cubio in Colombia, mashua in Perú and Ecuador, and isaño or añu (anu) in Bolivia.
The mashua plant is characterized by delicate, cylindrical stems that can cover a perimeter of 3.28-4.9 feet (1-1.5 m), and grow up to 19.6-31.5 inches (50-80 cm) if grown for harvest. However, if cultivated as an ornamental, it can climb 7-13 feet (2-4 m) in height. Mashua stems have tactile petioles that allow them to get attached to other plants or different kinds of supports. Three to five lobed leaves grow from each stem. Mashua flowers have long stalks and are solitary, axial, and bisexual, in colors that range from dark yellow and orange to scarlet. Mashua tubers have a carrot-like shape, conical or oblong, with a length of 2-6 inches (5-15 cm), and a diameter of 1-2 hinches (3-6 cm), and come in a wide range of colors, including orange, pale yellow, orange yellowish, yellow, purple grayish, dark purple, and red grayish.
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is a member of the Tropaeolaceae family, represented by only one genus, Tropaeolum, which comprisses about 80 species of perennial plants with flowers, including the common garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus).
Varieties of mashua
Over 100 mashua varieties have been registered in the Andean countries that cultivate this tuber. Most of them are classified by their color. It is worth to mention that, being an underappreciated crop, the genetic diversity of mashua has suffered a reduction over time.
According to archeological findings, mashua has been part of the Andean diet for centuries, along with other high-altitude crops. Geographically, the origin of mashua is thought to be near to Titicaca lake, somewhere between modern Peru and Bolivia. Mashua leaves, flowers, and tubers have been found depicted on pre-Columbian pottery and textiles, as a testimony to how valuable this crop was to the ancient inhabitants of the Andes.
More recently, in the late 20th century, some countries, like Canada, United States of America, and New Zealand, developed an interest in Andean crops due to their high nutritional value, hardiness, and resistance to plagues.
Due to recent scientific findings categorizing mashua as a new functional superfood, the cultivation of this underrated tuber has experienced a small increase, mainly in its native lands. Peru leads the production of mashua, with 41,000 tons harvested during the period 2018-2019. However, most of it still goes to local markets. The same happens in other Andean countries, like Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Gardening. Due to its beautiful flowers and nice, compact foliage, similar to nasturtium, mashua is also cultivated as an ornamental.
Fodder. In its native highlands, mashua leaves, flowers, and even tubers are used to feed farm animals.
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