Herbalists enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day festivities throughout the year.
That’s why we fervently honor the herbal aphrodisiacs.
Following are discussions of some of our favorites:
ASHWAGANDHA (Withania somnifera)
This herb has been used in the East as an aphrodisiac for the past three thousand years and is impressively effective. One translation of the name is “sweat of a horse,” alluding to the idea that, if the powdered root is simmered in milk or ghee (clarified butter) and taken as a tonic on a regular basis, over time it will give a man the strength and sexual vitality of a horse (without rendering similar effects on his personality). Ashwagandha contains molecules that resemble steroids in action and appearance. Herbal science calls them withanolides. This herb is classified by some as an adaptogen and is often referred to as Indian or East Indian Ginseng, for the traditional uses of it and the uses of American and Chinese Ginseng are similar. Like Ginseng, it is found to be an energy tonic capable of generally strengthening the body, enhancing libido, fertility, and sexual potency. Ashwagandha root is safe and nonirritating and will not over stimulate sexual energy. That mission is left to circumstances and ones partner.
CATUABA (Erythroxylum catuaba and Trichilia catigua)
These trees are native to the Brazilian forests. Brazilians prefer these two species, but other varieties that are entirely different trees have been harvested and imported to the United States. An infusion of the bark is used in traditional Brazilian herbalism as an aphrodisiac and as a stimulant for the central nervous system, primarily for treating erectile dysfunction and disorders of the central nervous system. It is commonly used in combination with Muira Puama (see below) for its aphrodisiac properties, and blends quite harmoniously with the dried leaves of Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis), a South American evergreen tree, which give it a little erotic boost.
DAMIANA (Turnera aphrodisiaca, var. T. diffusa)
Damiana is one of the more notorious herbal aphrodisiacs and has the reputation of being a superlative sexual tonic. It is a mood-elevating aromatic herb that helps calm anxiety and induce a relaxed state of mind, considered especially useful when anxiety and depression are discouraging sexual arousal. Damiana lends a delightful energy and flavor to wines and sundry other erotic potions.
GARLIC (Allium sativum)
According to Oriental science, 7 to 8 cloves a day will balance systemic yin and yang. However, you may find it difficult to get a date with the quality of breath this dosage can garner. Garlic enhances the nervous system’s ability to react to nitric oxide, an essential step in the erection process (of a penis and/or a clitoris). Garlic is well known to assist in preventing and helping cure several medical conditions that are often the cause of erectile dysfunction, including hypertension, heart disease, and atherosclerosis. Garlic is an effective agent for treating nervous problems such as headache, the prime anaphrodisiacal prompter of “Not tonight dear . . .”
GINGER (Zingiber officinale) and CINNAMON (Cinnamomum cassia, Cinnamomum spp.)
These are warming, aromatic, pleasant-tasting herbs that produce heat in the body and increase circulation in the lower abdominal and pelvic region measured to boost one’s appetites both physical and sexual. Increased blood flow to the pelvic region increases vaginal moisture, which heightens vaginal response and intensifies sexual pleasure.
GINKGO (Ginkgo biloba)
As a reliable peripheral vasodilator, Ginkgo is an excellent supportive agent to help remedy erectile dysfunction. It increases blood circulation and flow of oxygen to the brain, helping counter the negative effects of antidepressants (Prozac, fluoxetine, and so on) on sexual function. It has a direct effect on endothelial cells that enhance blood flow of both penile arteries and veins without any change in systemic blood pressure. Gingko supports sexual function by enhancing blood circulation while concurrently improving the nitric oxide pathways that is an essential step in the erection process.
GINSENG (Panax Ginseng: Chinese Ginseng, and Panax quinquefolium: American Ginseng)
Both Chinese and American Ginseng promote energy, stamina, and endurance. Ginseng supplies ginsenosides, compounds that affect hormonal balance, and its overall chemistry supports strong sexual function by nourishing the kidneys. Chinese medicine contends that Ginseng’s potent ability to enhance sexual activity lies in its ability to nourish the kidneys, major players in the vital nurturing cycle of the body. Strong kidneys affect the other major organs of the body, which feed and nurture each other, ultimately supporting healthy sexual function. Ginseng enhances blood circulation by increasing blood levels of nitric oxide. This effect allows arterial walls to relax, allowing blood to flow freely when and where needed.
GOKSHURA (Tribulus terrestris)
A rejuvenating Ayurvedic herb, Gokshura is used to support proper function of the urinary tract and the prostate and is an excellent circulatory system tonic that can help build muscle and strength. This fruit contains a steroidal saponin shown to improve libido in men experiencing impotence. Men taking it have experienced an increase in sexual desire and fantasies and, most important, the feeling of sexual self-confidence. Some men experienced prolonged duration of intercourse before ejaculation, and most experienced improved erection and enhanced joy, pleasure, and satisfaction with their sexual experiences. This saponin also shows an ability to stimulate sperm production and increase the quality, motility, and survival time of sperm. Research indicates that Gokshura increases the endogenous production of luteinizing hormone; some researchers believe LH in turn stimulates endogenous testosterone, elevating sexual performance and desire in both men and women.
HORNY GOAT WEED (Epimedium sagittatum, E. grandiflorum)
This Chinese herb, named “yin yang huo”, also translates as “licentious Goat Weed,” suggesting desired lusty effects. Traditionally, it has been used to increase libido and improve sexual performance by correcting erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Horny Goat Weed elicits a moderate androgen-like effect on the testes and the prostate, increasing sperm production while stimulating the sensory nerves by which it indirectly increases sexual desire. It contains a notable flavonoid (icariin) that, like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, is a cGMP-specific PDE5 inhibitor, which translates to impressive erections.
LONG JACK (Eurycoma longifolia)
This small tree, found throughout the jungles of Malaysia and Southeast Asia, goes by many names, but is commonly known as “tongkat ali” and Malaysian Ginseng. Natives consider every part of the tree as medicine; however, the extract known as Long Jack or Eurycoma longifolia Jack (ELJ) is taken from the roots. Long Jack has many healing properties, but in the United States, it is especially prized as an aphrodisiac and a libido booster with the ability to improve male potency and drive. Long Jack is believed to stimulate production of endogenous testosterone and to reduce the levels of bound and metabolically inactive testosterone. It is said to achieve this action through the leuteinizing-hormone pathway. Therefore, men who use this herb report increased feelings of well-being, increased sex drive, improved joint health, greater recovery from exercise, improved mental focus, and improved immune system function. Side effects are rare; however, some individuals, who probably took too much at once, report experiencing insomnia, restlessness, and impatience. It is probably best to take small amounts over a two- to-four-day period.
MACA (Lepidium meyenii, L. Peruvianum)
A hearty root vegetable grown high in the mountains of Peru, Maca is a nutritive tonic for men and women that optimizes physical stamina and endurance, sexual health, potency, and fertility and enhances sexual appetite by increasing libido. Couples native to the Peruvian mountains prize Maca’s fertility powers; men and women having difficulty conceiving eat Maca continually until conception occurs. Peruvian physicians and researchers claim it has a positive affect on ovarian function in women and erectile function in men. As a restorative tonic, it optimizes erectile function, increases quantity of semen and sperm motility in men, and stimulates ovarian, or Graafian, follicles, which release the ovum in female ovulation.
KAPI KACCHU (Mucuna pruriens)
An Ayurvedic herb used to balance kidneys and nervous system, it is one of the premier rejuvenating herbs for men and women, having a highly esteemed reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. It is used to enhance sexual potency and as a tonic herb to reverse the aging process. Kapi Kacchu seed also shows fertility promoting and spermatogenic effects in men, improving sperm count and motility. This powdered seed is reported to increase testosterone, and, due to its natural ability to generate L-dopa, it ultimately stimulates the production of human growth hormone (HGH), which acts as a prolactin inhibitor, in the pituitary gland. (Increased prolactin is said to be responsible for up to 70 percent of erection failure in males.) In a study involving fifty-six men, each was treated with Kapi Kacchu for merely four weeks. The results showed stronger erections, longer duration of coitus, and enhanced postcoital satisfaction. Crowds of joyful men and women lined up to participate in future testing.
KAVA KAVA (Piper methysticum)
Kava is not an aphrodisiac per se, but it’s certainly a mood elevator, stress reliever, and phyto body massage. Kava relaxes the mind and clarifies thought. It releases muscle tension, reducing anxiety, nervous tension, and stress. All in all, Kava can help create a mental and physical environment more tailored to romance.
MUIRA PUAMA (Ptychopetalum olacoides)
This Brazilian herb, known as “potency wood,” is used as an aphrodisiac by Brazilian natives; the root and bark are taken internally to enhance libido and increase circulation in both men and women. Muira puama is a nervous system tonic that enhances sexual libido and increases circulation, having a positive effect on the erectile tissues of both men and women. It is used to remedy sexual weakness, erectile dysfunction, and performance anxiety in men and diminished sexual desire in women. This herb is quite safe to use regularly.
OAT (Avena sativa, cultivated, A. fatua, wild)
This is an indirect sexual enhancer, as it is one of the best herbs for nourishing the nervous system, particularly where there is exhaustion, depression, and nervous debility. Oat seed has beneficial application in all forms of sexual dysfunction, particularly where a depleted nervous system is playing a role.
SARSAPARILLA (Smilax ornata)
Empirical observation suggests that Sarsaparilla possesses mild androgen-like effects and can serve as a reasonable sexual tonic and anabolic toner. It combines with Saw Palmetto and Echinacea for nourishing and toning the reproductive organs.
SAW PALMETTO (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto berries are sexual tonics famous for keeping a man’s prostate healthy and treating the problems of prostate enlargement thought to be caused by an accumulation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a biologically active metabolite of the hormone testosterone. DHT is said to be about thirty times more potent than testosterone because of its increased affinity to the androgen receptors. The buildup of DHT in the prostate can decrease sex drive and performance. Saw Palmetto stops the conversion of testosterone to DHT, aiding the shrinking and relaxing of the prostate when it enlarges. A healthy prostate is an important element of male health and is essential for male sexual health, so the harmonizing tonic energy of this herb produces the background music to which aphrodisiacs can more easily dance with male sexual potency.
SHATAVARI (Asparagus racemosus)
This herb is a reproductive system tonic having considerable nutritive, rejuvenating properties. It has an esteemed tradition in Ayurvedic medicine as a primary tonic and medicine for female sexual health (also used for male reproductive health). It is the female counterpart of Ashwagandha and, like that herb, is referred to as Indian Ginseng. Shatavari is used in Ayurvedic medicine to nourish female organs, help balance estrogen levels, improve fertility, and treat vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. One translation of the name is “she who can have a hundred husbands.” A second translation is “having a hundred roots”; the former name speaks to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, and the latter bespeaks its fertility-enhancing properties. This herb has been proven an extraordinary woman’s herb. Shatavari combines well with Kapi Kacchu and Shilajit for a powerful rejuvenating tonic blend.
This Ayurvedic herb (of sorts) is actually an exudate. Shilajit (also spelled “shilajeet”) has powerful rejuvenative properties. For centuries, Ayurvedic physicians have relied on it with confidence to successfully treat debility or weaknesses caused by injury, dysfunction, and aging. Its rejuvenative effect increases the core energy responsible for sexual power and health. As an aphrodisiac, Shilajit increases vitality and stamina while toning the reproductive organs and enhancing their function. It has been shown to enhance nitric oxide’s effect and facilitate multiple sexual-health functions.
YOHIMBE (Pausinystalia yohimba)
This sexual stimulant comes from the bark of an African tree. It was used traditionally to stimulate erections, which it does. There have been several clinical studies on the use of this agent to treat erectile dysfunction (mostly using the isolated yohimbine alkaloid, not the whole herb). The results are promising, though they demonstrate the wide range of effects Yohimbe has on different individuals. Yohimbe is said to work mentally as well as physically, making orgasms more powerful by postponing ejaculation. Yohimbe, being a mild monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor, has an uplifting affect on depression, and it dilates blood vessels, which is why it has been used for erectile dysfunction. Like Viagra and other similar prescription drugs, Yohimbe is used primarily to stimulate a physical reaction rather than promote the amorous mood of sex, as a true aphrodisiac would. (Consider taking it along with Damiana.) This is a highly stimulating herb, affecting individuals with varying constitutions in equally varied ways, so there are definite precautions for its use (See chapter 11, “The Male Herbal”).
As everything in Nature is connected in some way, everything in the body and the mind is connected. Nourish and care for one part, and the other parts are cared for too. Neglect a part, and the healthy function of the others is diminished. Combine these herbal sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs with other tonics that effect mutually supportive systems (for example, nervous system tonics such as Wild Oat and Skullcap, adaptogens and adrenal gland tonics such as Ginseng, Licorice, and Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero) to enhance vital energy and buffer stress, and Ginkgo with Hawthorn to enhance peripheral penile circulation). This approach works holistically to promote full health and vitality, which your sexuality can celebrate with ardent frequency.
By James Green, Herbalist, copyright 2008
For more information please refer to James Green’s book, The Male Herbal, 2nd Edition