Have I got an herb for you!
Aphrodisiacs have been used worldwide since the dawn of human history. Researchers are just beginning to discover their chemical and physiological functions.
Niagarabuy it here! read a small box below the article subhead: Genie in a bottle: The sex drink thats rocking Little Rock. Baited, I prepared myself for a modern-day Jonathan Swift writing Clintons Travels. The article described Little Rock as a bunch of Bible Belters with the sexual curiosity of the deeply repressed in a town big enough to give them plenty of temptation.
It begins with redneck raunch radio raconteur Tommy Smith growling in a Southern drawl about what the drink [Niagara] does to women, how it juices them up, makes them weak in the knees. And it didnt just affect womenone man calls in to say the drink made him erect with one swallow; another claims the same.
An amateur herbalist, I checked the ingredients in the blue liquid from Sweden, and what did I find? Maté (caffeine), guaraná (caffeine, aphrodisiac), schizandra (sedative), and damiana (aphrodisiac), a mix intended to give you good staying power.
Although known as the queen of female aphrodisiacs, damiana (the shrub Turnera diffusa) is not just for women. It is a hormone neutralizer affecting the endocrine glands and their secretions, said medical herbalist Tom Wolfe of Smile Herbs, whose forte is Ayurveda (an ancient system of preventative medicine developed in India) and Oriental practices.
Whats an aphrodisiac?
What that means is it gets you in the mood and may prolong the pleasure once youre there. A term derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess that personified the sexual urge, regeneration, and the power of love, aphrodisiacs involve visual images; olfactory and tactile experiences; physiological operations related to food, drink, or drugs; or conceptual pictures that induce libidinous thoughts and impulses. Some so-called aphrodisiacs, though not effective, are at least innocuous, while others may be extremely harmful. It is wise, therefore, to consider all aphrodisiacs both figuratively and physiologically, Wedeck wrote.
A more common definition comes from Norman Farnsworth, a professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and investigator for the National Institutes of Health since 1960: In Websters, it says that which enhances sexual desire. I really dont think thats the problem. I think they should change the definition to say improve performance.
Damiana for women
In my practice, I have found damiana to be one of the most effective aphrodisiacs available to women, she wrote, adding, Ive had great success with damiana in a number of cases. Its safe and effective. About a patient of hers whose sexual desire had decreased in her late 50s following menopause, Watson wrote, After using damiana, she felt a renewed interest in sex. Ive had great success with damiana in a number of cases. Its safe and effective.
Watson wrote that damiana can balance the hormonal systems of women during menopausereducing hot flashesand normalize irregular menstrual cycles of adolescent girls. In addition, It is also reported to induce erotic dreams when drunk at bedtime. I can also tell you that damiana makes my dreams at least a little unusual, with qualities worthy of an abstract Walt Disney production.
Damiana crops up in the literature most frequently as an aphrodisiac, but there have never been any studies in animals and humans to support this finding, Farnsworth said. If its safe and somebody thinks its working, then good life to them. Schizandra, he said, is used mainly in Oriental medicine as a treatment for liver disease.
Yohimbe for men
Theres a little animal data that suggest it might be an aphrodisiac, Farns worth said. Clinical trials have been published, with the most comprehensive one done a few years ago with a large group of hospitalized veterans who were diabetic and impotent, a usual side effect of diabetes. About 40% of those claimed to regain their sexual activity (8).
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD), aphrodisiac activity in yohimbe is attributed to genital blood vessel dilation, nerve impulse transmission to genital tissue, and increased reflex excitability in the sacral region of the spinal cord (9).
Yohimbe bark contains ~6% yohimbine, which readily penetrates the central nervous system, primarily by blocking the α-2 adrenergic receptor, as reported in the database. It also has monoamine oxideinhibiting, calcium channelblocking, and peripheral serotonin receptorblocking effects. Yohimbine, prescribed under the trade name Yokon, is most effective for men with organic vascular dysfunction, and has favorably affected sexual performance by promoting selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, according to the NMCD database.
Its an herb Im prescribing in a fair amount, said Steven Lipsius, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, and a certified sexual dysfunction therapist. But it can be anxiety-producing. Thats one of the drawbacks. Very often herbals jump-start things, which helps in psychotherapy. I try to work on overcoming the sexual problem so my patients dont need to take these things over the long run.
Whereas the herb yohimbe and the alkaloid yohimbine are most often thought of as male aphrodisiacs, Seattle sex therapist Roger Libby encourages his female patients to explore both yohimbe and the related bark quebracho. Why? The biochemical properties of these plant medicines compel engorgement of the clitoris . . . along with increased desire and more sustained arousal. Both are chemical twins that boost testosterone levels (10).
And more for men
A little closer to home, and easy to indulge in if you have the urge, is Love Tea from the San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Co., which sells about 10,000 boxes of it every year, said formulator Barry Meltzer, owner of the Fremont, CAbased company. Love Tea was initially named Love Potion #9, but more than 20 years ago, the FDA required Meltzer to tone down his formula and change the name. Now its a combination of a dozen or so herbs including the queen of aphrodisiacs (damiana) and muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides), also known as erection root (12).
Muira puama is not well understood, but seems to be efficacious in some undermotivated men, said ACS member Jim Duke, a retired economic botanist formerly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and currently senior science adviser to Natures Herbs, a division of Twin Laboratories Inc. (Ronkonkoma, NY). Touted by natives in Brazil and throughout South America as a neuromuscular tonic, its objective is sexual potency.
Two recent human trials by Jacques Waynberg found muira puama effective in improving libido and increasing the rate of erection. One, a study in Paris of 262 men lacking sexual desire and the ability to attain or maintain an erection, reported that 62% of the patients with low libido said the extract of muira puama had a dynamic effect, and 51% who wanted to increase their rate of erection called the herb beneficial (13).
The second study, conducted by Waynberg in France, evaluated muira puamas positive psychological benefits in 100 men with male sexual asthenia (14). Sixty-two of the 94 men who completed the study said their frequency of intercourse increased significantly; 32 (out of 46 who reported weakened desire at the beginning of the study) revealed a strengthening of their libido; 12 said morning erections were improved at the end of the study; and 52 out of 94 reported muira puama helped them to reestablish stability of erection during intercourse.
Whereas so-called aphrodisiacs have come and gone throughout history, muira puama has had staying power and has risen above the rest because it is believed to provide one of the most effective natural therapeutic approaches for achieving and maintaining quality sexual performance in men (12). The alternatives are few, experts say.
Meltzers Love Tea relies on three purported aphrodisiacs: damiana, muira puama, and sarsaparilla, which are rushed to their destination in the body by blackberry leaf, white oak bark, ginger root, rosebuds, angelica root, marjoram, Siberian ginseng, echinacea, and bergamot. Like drugs, herbal formulas have carriers that deliver the active ingredients to the blood. For instance, guaraná, a kind of natural speed, contains at least 5% more caffeine than coffee, plus the central nervous system stimulants theophylline and theobromine, and it stimulates gastric acid secretion as well as causes diuresis, according to the NMCD. Two cups of the Love Tea is a reasonable dosage for significant results.
James Green, founder of the California School of Herbal Studies (Forestville) and author of the popular book The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men & Boys (15) looked in his crystal ball for future trends in aphrodisiacs. Maca [Lepidium meyenii (16)] is becoming quite the designer aphrodisiac these days, he said. It seems to enhance male performance. It affects both the male and female energy.
Maca is simply Peruvian ginseng, Meltzer said. Ginseng is everywhere; its just called by different names. When you go to Brazil, they call it suma. In India, ashwaganda. Each country will have similar herbs that are slightly different, depending on the region in which they are found, he explained. Theres even American ginseng, which was brought here and continues to be cultivated.
Ginseng is an adaptogen that increases the bodys resistance to stress, Meltzer said. It helps overcome disease by building up our general vitality and strengthening our normal body functions. It gives you a feeling like you didnt stay up all night, he said. Meltzer prefers ginseng especially when traveling for business and coping with one meeting after another.
The ginseng in China is just everywhere, Meltzer said. You go to another country, and they dont know what it is. But they have maca, or something like it. It takes about a month to build up in the system and become fully effective, he said. It is a stimulant like caffeine, but its effect is less subtle than that from drinking coffee.
The boom in aphrodisiacs
More of a problem? How is that possible? Men who before could not have performed now can, and their partners are trying to deal with this. Before it was status quo. Now, all of a sudden, you have all these women with sexual desire problems, Miletski said. Viagra has no effect on sexual desire in men, it only helps with erection, she explained. So all of a sudden theres a lot of focus on desire in both genders.
If youre not sure which aphrodisiac is right for you and your lover, try the Aphrodisiacs Decoder from the Heaven & Earth Shop (18). It lists 144 pleasure-giving substances, along with recipes for love potions, perfumes, and aromatic baths, and a soup-to-nuts show of which aphrodisiacs work for what and in which medium, as well as which are likely to make you sick if used excessively.
The next time you reach for an apple of love (as tomatoes were called by Spanish explorers who brought yellow ones back from the lower Andes) or that dark hero Triple Chocolate Overloaddivert from the sexual mainstream with a cup or two of herbal tea or a blue brew from Sweden.
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Debra A. Schwartz is a freelance writer and editor in the Washington, DC, area (email@example.com). She is working toward a doctorate in journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.