Scientists believe that the tuber, the mashua root, contains powerful anti- aphrodisiacs that can calm the most active libido. It is said that the ancient Incas used to feed it to their soldiers to concentrate their minds before engaging in battle.
Dr Carlos Arbizu, an Andean crop specialist at the University of Ayacucho in Peru, described the powers of the root to delegates at the conference. Experiments on rats had shown that mashua reduced levels of testosterone - the male sex hormone - by half.
'Andean rural women use it to make concoctions to put surreptiously into their husbands' food before they go away to look for a job. They believe it will prevent them becoming unfaithful,' he said.
The tubers of mashua come in many colours and look like voluptuous carrots with eyes. 'The taste is not nice for the first time, it is rather bitter. But if the tubers are exposed to sun for two to three days and then boiled or baked, it is really delicious,' Dr Arbizu said.
Scientists believe the gene responsible for the active ingredient of mashua could be isolated and even genetically manipulated into, for instance, potatoes to make anti-aphrodisiac chips.
Dr Arbizu said he knows that some women in Peru use mashua as a natural method of birth control. An antidote exists in the form of another Andean vegetable, maca, which peasants claim can increase the sex drive. The only drawback is that it grows at an altitude of more than 4000m (13,100ft), which would make most men faint from lack of oxygen.