The Claim: A radish-like root from the mountains of Peru has widespread health benefits and can enhance libido in both men and women, according to exporters of the root.

The Verdict: A recent study found maca can help treat depression in older women, and a growing body of research shows it may be helpful in taming menopause symptoms, improving sports performance and enhancing sexuality. Most of the studies, however, are small. Larger, more rigorous trials are needed to prove it works, scientists say.

Maca comes in a rainbow of colors, including black, red and yellow. The roots are harvested and dried in the sun, processed and sold either as capsules or as a powder that can be used in breakfast drinks or smoothies, says Jeremy Stewart, vice president of scientific affairs at Gaia Herbs Inc. in Brevard, N.C.

The root’s popularity has been growing with a number of new products, including MacaBoost, a flavored powder from Gaia that came out this fall. And companies say a strong interest from buyers in China, where maca is being marketed as an alternative to ginseng, has been driving up prices of the raw root.

The science on maca’s potential benefits is so far “suggestive but not conclusive,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit research and educational group that receives funding from the dietary-supplement industry.

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