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Damiana: The Herb that Can Enhance Mood, Libido & More
June 30, 2018
There’s evidence that damiana herb has a very long history of use as a natural aphrodisiac and relaxant in Central and South America, dating back to the time of the ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Guaycura who lived in modern-day Mexico.
What does damiana do, and what makes it beneficial? Some people compare damiana to cannabis due to its relaxing and simultaneously stimulating effects. (1) In fact, although I don’t recommend using it in this way, damiana is smoked and infused in baked recipes just like cannabis is.
It contains a number of active ingredients that can positively impact functions of the endocrine and nervous systems. In herbal medicine, damiana is used to both relax the body and improve energy levels at the same time. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, “The origin of the common name damiana is from the Greek daman or damia meaning ‘to tame or subdue.'” (2)
Benefits associated with damiana herb (or damiana leaf, as it’s sometimes called) include: (3)
- Increasing sexual desire and performance, while decreasing impotence
- Treating constipation
- Reducing depression, nervousness and anxiety
- Fighting PMS symptoms, muscle aches, insomnia, headaches and pain
- Improving digestive health and relieving constipation
- Fighting other conditions, including anemia, diabetes, respiratory infections, fungal diseases and skin disorders
Damiana (Turnera diffusa and Turnera aphrodisiaca) is a medicinal plant that is native to the southern United States (especially Texas), Central America and South America. This herb is technically a small shrub that produces yellow flowers. It’s a member of the plant family called Turneraceae and goes by many names around the world, such as Mexican holly, damiana aphrodisiaca, damiane, feuille de damiana and herba de la pastora.
The leaf and stem of the Turnera diffusa plant have historically either been smoked or used to make herbal teas and tinctures that have many beneficial qualities. According to studies, active components that have been identified in damiana herb include volatile/essential oils (containing cineol, cymol, pinene), flavonoid antioxidants, caffeine, pinocembrin, cacetin, gonzalitosin, arbutin, tannin, thymol and damianin. (4)
1. Mood Enhancement and Stress Reduction
A common use of damiana herb is managing symptoms of depression, anxiety, nervousness, lethargy and insomnia. It is considered to be an adaptogen herb by some researchers since it can help build the body’s defenses against stress.
Damiana may help you feel more relaxed, alleviate physical symptoms tied to stress (like muscle tension or headaches) and allow you to fall asleep more easily. It is said to help improve “overall wellness” by reducing many physical symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, and improving digestion, energy, concentration and sexual desire. (5)
2. Can Help Increase Libido/Sex Drive
Damiana has historically been known as a natural aphrodisiac because it’s said to improve sexual arousal and blood flow to the genital area. It’s believed that caffeine, arbutine and flavonoids are the main active compounds found in damiana that help with sexual function. It can help both men and women when it comes to improving libido, plus it may help reduce impotence. Another reason that damiana is considered to have aphrodisiac qualities is because it can help improve energy levels, fight chronic fatigue, reduce the effects of stress (one of the biggest killers of sex drive) and improve stamina. (6)
There’s some evidence that supplementing with a combination of damiana, L-arginine, American ginseng, Panax ginseng and ginkgo may be most helpful for supporting sexual satisfaction. This combination is used by many to help increase orgasm frequency and to reduce vaginal dryness (a common complaint among menopausal women), according to WebMD. Studies also show that in terms of chemical composition, damiana is very similar to another herbal aphrodisiac called yohimbe bark.
As of now, studies investigating the effects of damiana on sexual desire and performance have only been conducted on animals. Evidence that it can help improve your sex life is only anecdotal at this time based on centuries of use in places such as Mexico. In studies involving rats that experience impotence, damiana has been shown to help improve mating behaviors. In one study, rats were given aqueous extract of T. diffusa at a dose of 80 mg/kg of body weight. This dose was shown to significantly increase the percentage of males who were able to have normal sexual function. (7)
3. May Help Fight Prevent and Diabetes
Some research has shown that a combination of damiana, guarana and yerba mate might help people who are overweight or obese to reach a healthier weight. These herbs are capable of improving energy levels, which supports physical activity, reducing stress-related eating, helping with hormonal balance, and possibly reducing appetite or cravings.
According to a study published in the Journal of Enthopharamacology referenced above, not only does damiana have anti-obesity effects, but it also possesses antidiabetic, antioxidant, adapatogenic, antispasmodic and gastroprotective activities that may help reduce the risk for many chronic diseases. In certain animal studies, T. diffusa has been shown to have antioxidant properties that may prevent kidney damage and diabetes induced by mitochondrial oxidative stress. (8)
4. May Fight Infections
A variety of species of Turnera plantsare widely used in folk medicine for treating different types of inflammatory diseases and infections. (9) Today, research tells us that plants in the Turneraceae family can serve as a source of plant-derived natural compounds that have antibiotic resistance-modifying activity.
Damiana has been shown to act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent, expectorant (it helps to open up the airways and stop coughs) and immunomodulator. There’s evidence that T. diffusa can be used to treat otitis (ear aches/ear infections) and nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).
Pinocembrin is one of the primary flavonoids isolated from damiana leaf. Pinocembrin activities have been well-researched and include antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer activities. (10) For centuries, plants containing pinocembrain and flavanoids (both found in damiana) have been used to fight bacterial infections of the respiratory, reproductive and digestive systems — including those caused by bacterial strains such as gonorrhoeae, E. coli, P. aeruginosa, B. subtilis, S. aureus, S. lentus and K. pneumoniae.
5. Can Help Lower Pain (Headaches, Stomach Aches, PMS, Etc.)
Women who suffer from severe PMS symptoms, such as cramps and mood swings, may benefit from using damiana leaf throughout their menstrual cycles. Damiana may also help alleviate headaches, muscle aches and stomach pains. Since it has relaxant and digestive stimulating effects, a historical use of damiana was drinking it to help release the muscles in the GI tract in order to reduce constipation, bloating and abdominal pain.
Risks and Side Effects
Although damiana seems to be safe when used in small to moderate amounts, high doses have been associated with certain serious side effects in some cases. Side effects that can occur when taking very high doses around 200 grams can include changes in blood sugar, hypoglycemia, convulsions and other symptoms similar to those caused by poisoning.
It’s recommended that women who are pregnant or nursing avoid using damiana since there isn’t yet research showing that it is safe in these situations. If you are diabetic, commonly experience hypoglycemia, have recently undergone surgery, are taking pain-killing medications or are taking insulin or antidiabetic drugs, then avoid using it. Always speak with your doctor first about whether it may be safe to use if any of these situations apply to you.
Damiana vs. Maca vs. Kava
- Maca (or maca root) and damiana share many similarities, including that they are native to Central and South America and that they’re used to naturally boost sex drive. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a type of cruciferous vegetable that is native to the Andes of Peru. It comes in various colors including beige/yellow, red, purple and black. It is usually available in powder form after being harvested and grounded down.
- Maca’s benefits include providing antioxidants that fight free radical damage, acting as an adaptogen that helps the body handle stressors, improving energy, helping with hormonal balance and raising libido.
- Maca’s ability to support sexual and hormonal health is one of the most common reasons that it’s used. Studies suggest that maca root can significantly improve sexual function, especially in post-menopausal women, can help to alleviate symptoms of menopause, may be beneficial in infertility treatment, and can even fight weight gain and bloating associated with PMS or menopause.
- Maca is usually taken in doses of about two tablespoons of dried powder. It has a pleasant, nutty taste and makes a great addition to smoothies, shakes, energy balls, baked goods, etc.
- Kava root is primarily used to help relax the body, deal with stress and support restful sleep. This herb may also have other widespread benefits, including helping to treat depression, migraines, chronic fatigue, respiratory tract infections and urinary tract infections. Historically, kava root was used to make a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties.
- Kava is native to the South Pacific and Polynesia. There’s evidence that like damiana, kava extract might be an effective natural treatment for anxiety and insomnia. It is sometimes taken with other sedative/relaxant herbs, including lavender, chamomile, L-tryptophan, cannabis and valerian root.
- Kava is available in dry powder or crushed, capsule, tablet, tea and tincture forms. While it has potential to cause side effects when used in excessive amounts, kava doesn’t appear to be risky when used in normal doses. However, if kava is abused or used long term in high amounts, it may cause side effects like addiction/dependence, liver damage, headaches, depression and trouble concentrating.
How to Use
You can purchase dried damiana leaf, damiana powder or capsules online or in certain health food/herbal stores. It can be used in many ways, including to make:
- Herbal tea
- Oil infusions
- Extract (infused in alcohol)
- Liqueurs or cordials
- Herbal products that are smoked (although I don’t recommend this approach due to potential damage to your lungs)
Some people also cook and bake with damiana leaf because the herb’s compounds are capable of being released into various foods or drinks.
Damiana Dosage Recommendations and Supplements:
There’s not yet much formal research available suggesting what the optimal dosage of damiana is. The dosage you should use depends on what symptoms or condition you are trying to treat, as well as your body size and gender — males and people with a higher body mass usually require larger doses.
Most herbalists recommend taking damiana tablets or capsules in doses of about 400–800 milligrams per day, usually split into three divided doses. (11) If you’re looking to treat a specific condition, you might choose to visit an herbalist for help with finding the right damiana dosage for you. Some studies have found that doses up to 200 grams can be poisonous and should always be avoided.
Damiana supplements (capsules) are made using a finely ground powder of the leaf. Some people find this is the most convenient way to consume the herb, since it doesn’t require making tea or another type of tincture. Dosage varies from brand to brand, so always read directions carefully.
How do you make damiana tea?
- The leaf can be ground into a fine powder and then stirred into hot water or recipes. You can also steep unground leaves in hot water for several minutes to make damiana tea, just like you would with other herbs.
- For every one cup of tea you want to make, combine one cup of nearly boiling water with about 1/2 teaspoon of dried damiana leaves. Let the mixture steep for about 10–15 minutes until it cools.
- Try drinking the tea about once daily or up to three times daily depending on your reaction. You can also choose to have it just several times per week when you feel you can benefit most from its effects.
To fight various physical and mental effects of stress, try combining damiana leaf with holy basil, maca and ashwagandha extract/leaf/powders. While there’s not much formal research showing that this combination is most effective, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that this adaptogen preparation can help you relax and unwind.
Records show that damiana has long been used as a medicinal herb by various indigenous peoples, especially those native to South and Central America, including Mexico and the West Indies. It’s believed that it was utilized most for treating fatigue, the inability to exercise, low libido and reproductive dysfunction. The herb was later introduced in North America and Europe sometime around the 1860s, when it began being used in herbal medicine, mostly as a sexual tonic and libido enhancer.
Historically, an herbal infusion was made with damiana leaf that was consumed as a a tea or elixir. It was made with dried leaves added to about a pint of water and consumed daily. Spanish missionaries were believed to have brewed tisanes from damiana leaves and to drink it as an aphrodisiac at night. It was also given as a natural remedy for spasms, tremors, insomnia and palpitations.
In the 19th century, damiana was included in Pemberton’s French Wine Cola (a predecessor of Coca-Cola), a product made with coca, herbs and spices that was promoted as being beneficial for overall well-being and increased energy. Since this time, damiana has also been used in the liquor industry to flavor alcohol and drinks, some of which are still consumed regularly in places such as Mexico.
Damiana has a lot in common with another herbal medicine that is also native to Central and South America: sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla has been used for thousands of years to naturally help relieve a wide range of problems, including skin dermatitis, coughs, arthritis, sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, fatigue and even cancer. It was introduced in Europe around the year 1400 and became known as a “purifier,” tonic, detoxification agent and blood cleanser. Studies have found that sarsaparilla contains many antioxidant, anticancer and anti-inflammatory compounds much like damiana does — including saponins, flavonoids, plant sterols, and acids like affeoylshikimic acid, shikimic acid, ferulic acid, sarsapic acid and quercetin.
- Damiana (Turnera diffusa and Turnera aphrodisiaca) is a medicinal plant that is native to the southern United States, Central and South America.
- It is a natural relaxant, sedative and mood enhancer. Some people compare it to cannabis due to its calming and simultaneously stimulating effects.
- Damiana can be used in many ways, including to make tea, tinctures, powder, capsules or an herbal product that is smoked.
- Benefits of damiana include improving libido, fighting depression and anxiety, helping with sleep, fighting infections, improving digestion and reducing pain.
- It is generally safe when used in moderate amounts but may potentially cause side effects at high doses, including dependence, fatigue, changes in blood sugar, headaches and convulsions.