Since the beginning of history, humans have been searching for aphrodisiacs to titillate their sexual fantasies. With the recent arrival of Viagra, the male potency drug, many vitamin and herb companies have shown a renewed vigor in the introduction of "natural" alternatives to Viagra for both men and women. Although there are no products out there that will act in the 1-2 hours that Viagra will (and I do mean NONE - don't believe all the misleading advertising), there are some herbs that may be useful in restoring normal sexual function in men and women. You should usually expect these herbs to take from 2-4 weeks to be successful. You'll also notice an almost universal theme among the herbs used to improve sexual function - energetically they are usually warm and spicy and functionally they are usually nervines or nerve tonics, thus relaxing. The following are some of those herbs and quotes from various herbalists about the herbal actions.
Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata or Serenoa serrulata or Serenoa repens)
Energetics: pungent, sweet, warm
Margaret Grieve: "[S]abal is capable of increasing the nutrition of the testicles and mammae in functional atony of these organs. It probably acts by reducing catarrhal irritation and a relaxed condition of bladder and urethra. It is a tissue builder."
Michael Tierra: "Yang and yin tonic, diuretic, expectorant, aphrodisiac. It is used for wasting diseases, impotence, frigidity and prostate problems (combined with echinacea). It helps to build muscles, is good for colds, asthma, bronchitis and catarrh due to deficiency and coldness."
Susun Weed: "Saw palmetto is best known as an herb for correcting enlarged prostate (BPH) but it is worth consideration by menopausal women for its reputed ability to prevent atrophy of ovarian, vaginal, breast, and bladder tissue. It has a long standing reputation as an aphrodisiac."
Energetics: Spicy, warm
David Hoffman: "Damiana is an excellent strengthening remedy for the nervous system. It has an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac. While this may or may not be true, it has a definite tonic action on the central nervous and the hormonal system. The pharmacology of the plant suggests that the alkaloids could have a testosterone-like action (testosterone is a male hormone). As a useful anti-depressant, damiana is considered to be a specific in cases of anxiety and depression where there is a sexual factor. It may be used to strengthen the male sexual system."
Margaret Grieve: "Mild purgative, diuretic, tonic, acting directly on the reproductive organs, stimulant, hypochondriastic, aphrodisiac."
Michael Tierra: "It treats frigidity in women and impotence in men. It is also used for chronic cystic catarrh and renal catarrh. It improves digestion, cures constipation and relieves respiratory disorders including irritable coughs."
Yohimbe (Coryanthe yohimbe, Pausinystalia yohimbe)
Energetics: spicy, warm
Michael Tierra: "Stimulant, aphrodisiac, cardiac, local anesthetic. It treats impotence and frigidity, angina pectoris and painful menstruation, It is an antidiuretic, and either may lower or increase blood pressure in humans (needs more study)."
Varro Tyler: Yohimbe "dilates the blood vessels of the skin and mucous membranes and thereby lowers blood pressure. Its alleged aphrodisiac effects are attributed not only to this enlargement of blood vessels in the sexual organs but to increased reflex excitability in the sacral (lower) region of the spinal cord.
"Yohimbe is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor which means that tyramine-containing foods (liver, aged cheeses, red wines, chocolate, etc) and nasal decongestants or certain diet-aids containing phenylpropanolamine, should be rigorously avoided if it is used. The drug (sic) also should not be taken by persons suffering from hypotension, diabetes, or from heart, liver or kidney disease. Psychic reactions resembling anxiety have been shown to be produced by yohimbe."
Epimedium (Epimedium grandiflorum; Yin Yang Huo; Horny Goatweed)
Energetics: Acid, sweet, warm
Michael Tierra: "It is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is indicated for impotence, frigidity, spermatorrhea, frequent urination, forgetfulness, withdrawal, feelings of coldness in the lower back with aching soreness of the back and knees, spasms and cramps in the hands and feet, numbness in the extremities, and dizziness and menstrual irregularity associated with hypertension. Pharmaceutical research in China has demonstrated the effectiveness of this herb in stimulating sexual activity and sperm production. It also stimulates the sensory nerves. While it has not been shown to have any estrogen properties, it does have a moderate androgen-like effect on the testes, prostate and levator ani. Low doses of epimedium appear to increase urinary output while larger doses decrease it.
Precautions: It is contraindicated when there is a tendency towards hyper sexuality and wet dreams and for individuals with severe emaciation, weakness and deficient yin. It can cause dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, thirst, and nosebleed. It may be advisable not to take over prolonged periods."
Muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides; potency wood)
Energetics: Spicy, warm
Michael Tierra: "Aphrodisiac, stimulant. It treats both frigidity and impotence, and probably tonifies kidney yang."
Ed Smith: Muira puama is a "soothing nervous system tonic. Enhances sexual libido in men and women." It is useful for "sexual weakness, impotency or performance anxiety in men and lack of sexual desire or frigidity in women. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps. Neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion) and nervous depression."
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Energetics: Bitter, sweet, warm
Michael Tierra: "Yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent. It treats impotence, infertility, weakness of the back and knees, joint and nerve pain, arthritis, insomnia, neurasthenia, weakness of the mind, wasting diseases, convalescence, poor growth in children, and the diseases of aging. It is the primary strengthening tonic used in Ayurveda. Safe and effective, it does not have the irritant properties of other aphrodisiacs, nor can it be over stimulating, like many of the herbs in this category. In fact, it promotes sound sleep and supports yoga and meditation."
Ginseng (Asian:Panax ginseng; American:Panax quinquefolium)
Energetics: Sweet, slightly bitter, slightly warm
Ginseng has long had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, although this is not really its strong attribute.
David Hoffman: "Ginseng has an ancient history and as such has accumulated much folklore about its actions and uses. Many of the claims that surround it are inflated but it is clear that this is a unique plant. It has the power to move a person to their physical peak, generally increasing vitality and physical performance. Specifically it will raise lowered blood pressure to a normal level. It affects depression, especially where this is due to debility and exhaustion. It can be used in general for exhaustion states and weakness. It has a reputation as an aphrodisiac."
Two herbs from the rainforest have also recently been used to improve sexual function. There is not much literature available for these two except from manufacturers. Catuaba (Erythroxylum catuaba) has traditionally been considered a strong tonic and fortifier of the nervous system. It is used as a nerve tonic, for sexual potency, agitation, nervousness and poor memory. Maca (Lipidium meyenii) has been used traditionally to increase endurance, energy and stamina as well as to promote mental clarity. Indigenous people use it as a fertility agent and for sexual function in both men and women.