Which of nature’s legendary aphrodisiacs really work? Unfortunately, little clinical research has been done on the subject. In fact, only two herbal substances – yohimbine and muira puama – have been clinically tested and proven to be effective aphrodisiacs. A third herb, damiana, contains an essential oil that stimulates the genital tract and alkaloids that can increase sensitivity of the sexual organs. Although it has been chemically analyzed in the laboratory and shown to contain substances that increase sexual arousal, damiana has not been tested in clinical trials.
Why has so little research been done in a field that is admittedly so fascinating? The answer is a familiar one – money. Today most drug research is conducted by major pharmaceutical companies, which depend on patents for profits.
You can’t patent a carrot or an herb. This explains why the research on yohimbine and muira puama, for example, was conducted by non-profit organizations. Most of the evidence we have on aphrodisiacs that work is anecdotal. The powers of these aphrodisiacs have been attested to by generations of users through the centuries. Although such evidence is not scientific, it is substantial, and should not be ignored.
Both men’s and women’s genitals go through automatic, measurable episodes of arousal during REM sleep – approximately once every ninety minutes. The genitals are aroused along with other kinds of nervous system arousal (e.g., increased pulse, increased breathing rate, changes in eye movement, and changes in the skin’s electrical resistance).
According to June M. Reinisch and Ruth Beasley in The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, no one is sure why these sexual responses occur. One theory is that the body is running a test of its systems to see if everything is in working order.
The human sexual response is complex, involving a number of bodily systems. It is ultimately controlled by the brain, but also depends upon the proper functioning of the circulatory system, muscles, nervous system, neurotransmitters, endocrine glands, and hormones.
How is all of this related to aphrodisiacs? Sexual arousal and response can be triggered in many ways – both mental and physical – and require the proper functioning of the body’s systems. The body’s biochemistry plays a huge role in the functioning of those systems as well as in the functioning of the brain itself – the ultimate controller of the sex drive.
And our biochemistry is tremendously influenced by the substances we consume. Whether they are foods, drugs, herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phyto (plant) hormones, or aromatic oils, all of these “chemical” substances affect our biochemistry, and hence our sexuality. In this book I discuss aphrodisiacs that work on all of these bodily systems.
Damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca)
Damiana is a small shrub native to North America. It can be found growing in dry, sandy, or rocky places in the American Southwest as far north as Texas. Damiana is used as an aphrodisiac by both sexes. In Mexico it was first used primarily by women, who drank damiana tea prior to lovemaking. Today it is used by women to treat low libido, urinary and vaginal infections, and menstrual problems. Men use it as a remedy for impotence, premature ejaculation, and prostate complaints.
Damiana is often combined with saw palmetto in formulas that treat impotency or problems of the prostate. Although no clinical studies have been conducted on the effects of damiana, chemical analysis shows that damiana contains alkaloids similar to caffeine that have stimulating and aphrodisiacal effects. These alkaloids stimulate blood flow to the genital area and increase sensitivity. In addition to alkaloids, damiana contains a mildly irritating oil that stimulates the genitourinary tract. Damiana also helps regulate hormonal activity and calms the nerves. Some people experience a mild euphoria for several hours after taking damiana. Damiana is available in capsule form, concentrated drops, and extracts. It is also an ingredient in many combination herbal formulas. Other uses of damiana: To relieve depression, anxiety, exhaustion, constipation, digestive complaints, incontinence, water retention, and mucus congestion.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is derived from the root of the plant and is highly stimulating. It increases blood flow to the genitals of both men and women, stirring sexual sensations. Fresh ginger roots are sold in supermarkets and many health food stores. The roots may be grated and made into a tea, using 1 pint of boiling water to 1 1/2 tablespoons of grated ginger, and simmering for 7 minutes. Grated ginger may be placed in a plastic bag and frozen.
It thaws quickly. Pickled ginger, available in the Asian food section of many grocery stores, is used as a condiment. Ginger is also available dried and in tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures, and extracts. A dose is usually 500-1,000 mg of dried ginger or 1-2 droppersful of tincture or concentrated drops. Ginger is a blood thinner and should not be used if you are taking prescription anticoagulant drugs or aspirin.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo promotes blood flow to the genitals by expanding the walls of the blood vessels. For best results it should be taken daily. (Its use as a long-term aphrodisiac is described in the next section.) When taken for a fast-acting aphrodisiac prior to lovemaking, the usual dosage is increased and taken an hour before sexual activity begins. For this use the recommended dosage is three 60 mg capsules or 30 drops of the liquid form taken sublingually (under the tongue).
Ginkgo is a blood thinner and should not be used if you are taking prescription anticoagulant drugs or aspirin.
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava kava can induce hallucinations and heighten sexuality. It evokes warmth and can stimulate the genitals. When used as an aphrodisiac, kava kava tea is drunk before having sex – but not more than an hour before. Otherwise the desire for sex will succumb to the desire for sleep.
Muira Puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides)
Muira puama, or “potency wood,” has long been used by Brazilian and Peruvian Indians as a powerful aphrodisiac and nerve stimulant. Its use as an aphrodisiac has been documented in books since 1930. This long-term, documented use prompted Dr. Jacques Waynberg, a foremost authority on sexual function, to investigate muira puma.In 1995 he conducted a clinical study of the effectiveness of muira puama at the Institute of Sexology in Paris, France. He worked with 262 men who complained of lack of sexual desire and inability to attain or maintain an erection. The patients were given a daily dose of 1.4 grams of muira puama extract. Within two weeks, 62 percent of the patients with a low sexual drive claimed that muira puama had a dynamic effect; 51 percent of patients with erection problems said it was beneficial.
An article published in 1994 in The American Journal of Natural Medicine stated: “Preliminary research indicates one of the best herbs to use for erectile dysfunction or lack of libido may be muira puama (also known as potency wood).” Muira puama tea is drunk a short time before lovemaking.
The tea is made by boiling or steeping the root, or it may be made from a tincture of muira puama mixed with water. Like damiana, muira puama is often combined with other herbs in combination formulas.
Other uses of muira puama: For menstrual cramps and pre-menstrual syndrome; as a stimulant, stomach tonic, and treatment for rheumatism.