Damiana is a small shrub that grows 1-2 m high and bears aromatic, serrate leaves that are 10-25 cm long. Small yellow flowers bloom in early to late summer which are followed by small fruits with a sweet smell and fig-like flavor. The medicinal part of the plant is its leaves, which are harvested during the flowering season. Damiana is found throughout Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies, as well as in parts of South America. Turnera diffusa and T. aphrodisiaca are generally regarded as the same plant in herbal commerce. A closely-related species, T. ulmifolia, is similar in appearance, but it has different traditional medicinal uses. The botanical Latin name of the plant, Turnera aphrodisiaca, describes its ancient use as an aphrodisiac.
TRIBAL AND HERBAL MEDICINE USES
Damiana was recorded to be used as an aphrodisiac in the ancient Mayan civilization, as well as for "giddiness and loss of balance." A Spanish missionary first reported that the Mexican Indians made a drink from the damiana leaves, added sugar, and drank it for its purported power to enhance lovemaking.
Damiana has a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine throughout the world. It is thought to act as an aphrodisiac, antidepressant, tonic, diuretic, cough-suppressant, and mild laxative. It has been used for such conditions as depression, anxiety, sexual inadequacy, debilitation, bed-wetting, menstrual irregularities, gastric ulcers, and constipation. In Mexico, the plant also is used for asthma, bronchitis, neurosis, diabetes, dysentery, dyspepsia, headaches, paralysis, nephrosis, spermatorrhea, stomachache, and syphilis. Damiana first was recorded with aphrodisiac effects in scientific literature over 100 years ago.
From 1888 to 1947 damiana leaf and damiana elixirs were listed in the National Formulary in the United States. For more than a century damiana's use has been associated with improving sexual function in both males and females. Dr. James Balch reports in his book Prescription for Nutritional Healing that damiana "relieves headaches, controls bed-wetting, and stimulates muscular contractions of the intestinal tract. . . ." The leaves are used in Germany to relieve excess mental activity and nervous debility, and as a tonic for the hormonal and central nervous systems. E. F. Steinmetz states that in Holland, damiana is renowned for its sexual-enhancing qualities and its positive effects on the reproductive organs. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia cites indications for the use of damiana for "anxiety neurosis with a predominant sexual factor, depression, nervous dyspepsia, atonic constipation, and coital inadequacy."
Damiana's chemical composition is complex and its components have not been identified completely. The leaves contain up to 1% volatile oil that is comprised of at least 20 constituents (including 1,8-cineole, p-cymene, alpha- and beta-pinene, thymol, alpha-copaene, and calamene). Damiana leaves also contain tannins, flavonoids, beta-sitosterol, damianin (a brown, bitter substance), and the glycosides gonzalitosin, arbutin, and tetraphyllin B. Damiana has been reported to be non-toxic in humans and animals.
The main constituents of damiana include: Albuminoids, alpha-copaene, alpha-pinene, arbutin, barterin, beta-pinene, beta-sitosterol, calamenene, caoutchouc, chlorophyll, 1,8-cineole, cymene, cymol, damianin, essential oil, gamma-cadinene, gonzalitosin-i, hexacosanol-1, luteolin, quinovopyranosides, tannins, tetraphyllin b, thymol, triacontane, and trimethoxyflavones.
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AND CLINICAL RESEARCH
Only one clinical study has been conducted to validate the traditional use of the plant for sexual dysfunction and impotence. In 1999, a group of researchers in Italy administered damiana to both sexually potent and sexually sluggish (or impotent) rats. The extract had no effect on sexually potent rats but, in the others, it increased the percentage of rats achieving ejaculation and made them more sexually active. A U.S. patent was awarded in 2002 for a combination of herbs, including damiana, to "overcome natural inhibitors of human sexual response and allow for improved response and psychological effects." Another U.S. patent was awarded for an herbal combination for females, with inventors reporting that damiana could ". . . relieve anxiety, depression, headaches during menstruation, and exhaustion. Damiana also helps to balance female hormone levels and control hot flashes." A 1998 in vitro clinical study reported that components in damiana bound to progesterone receptors in cultured human breast cancer cells, leading researchers to surmise that it had a neutral or anti-estrogenic activity.
Central nervous system depressant activity has been attributed to damiana and verified by research. Damiana also has been used in combination with other plants for its thermogenic activity. Two U.S. patents have been filed on oral appetite suppressants containing damiana, citing its inclusion as an anti-anxiety and thermogenic substance.
Damiana's traditional use for diabetes has been studied by scientists as well. In 1984, Mexican researchers reported the hypoglycemic activity of the plant when a leaf infusion was given to diabetic mice. This effect was re-verified in Mexico when the plant was prepared in the traditional manner (as an infusion) and given orally to hyperglycemic rats. This study reported that damiana reduced blood glucose levels as well. A more recent (2002) study however, reported that an ethanol extract of damiana evidenced no hypoglycemic activity. These conflicting studies suggest that the active "hypoglycemic" chemicals in damiana may be extracted in the traditional (hot water) process, and are lost or not extracted in alcohol.
CURRENT PRACTICAL USES
With such an ancient history of traditional uses worldwide, it's not unusual that the plant appears in many books on herbal remedies published world wide. Damiana is also widely available in most health food and natural product stores in a variety of forms - from tea blends, capsules and tablets to liquid tinctures and extracts. Most herbalists prefer to use damiana in combination with other medicinal plants; therefore, it can be found in quite a few herbal combination formulas for sexual potency, weight loss, depression, hormonal balancing, and overall tonics. Most of the damiana sold in herbal commerce today originates from Mexican and Latin American cultivation projects.
None reported, however, it might potentiate antidiabetic medications.
Damiana otherwise known as Turnera diffusa is a small aromatic shrub found in various parts of North and Central America. It commonly grows on the rocky hillsides of dry, sunny regions including Texas, California as well as Mexico and other parts of Central and South America.
Reaching around 2 meters in height, it bears a solitary easily identifiable yellow flower. As well as Turnera diffusa, a similar species known appropriately as Turnera aphrodisiaca is also referred to as Damiana. Damiana contains several flavonoids including arbutin with anti-oxidant activities believed to be responsible for many of the plant’s therapeutic benefits.
Traditionally, Damiana leaves have been utilized by the Mexicans and Mayan Indians for their aphrodisiac qualities and their ability to boost sexual potency. Apart from its use as an aphrodisiac, this herb has also been used to treat mild depression, anxiety and stress.
Damiana is also used as a general health tonic and a digestive aid; it is believed to be a mild laxative with the ability to treat constipation. Damiana is sometimes used as a natural high with many claiming that it has stimulant effects similar to small doses of cannabis.
Like many natural and herbal remedies, we have little to go on other than anecdotal reports and its long history of use but there have been several scientific studies looking especially at the aphrodisiac claims of the herb. This article will take a closer look at the claims made regarding Damiana and examine whether or not it is worth adding to your list of supplements.
Facts About Damiana
- Damiana is known by various names including yerba de la pastora, organello, bourrique and old woman’s broom.
- It is native to Texas, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
- Damiana grows up to two meters in height bearing a single, distinctive yellow flower.
- The dried leaves of the plant are used to make a tea infusion.
- Damiana is also available in a supplementary form including liquid extract, tinctures and capsules.
- Indigenous people have used Damiana as an aphrodisiac for centuries.
- It has also been used traditionally to treat urinary tract infections and emotional problems like depression and anxiety.
- The essential oils in the plant give it a scent reminiscent of chamomile.
What is it used for?
1. As an aphrodisiac
Damiana’s claim to fame is probably its historical use in treating a broad range of sexual issues. If I had a dollar for every natural remedy that purported to improve the libido, I would be a rich man or at the very least a lot less poor so I approach these claims with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Countless foods and herbs from oysters to oats to saw palmetto have been acclaimed through the years for their ability to aid sexual performance for both men and women but very often the scientific evidence is lacking.
However, when a remedy so steeped in traditional use demonstrates similar abilities under laboratory conditions, the claims become far more difficult to dismiss. Indeed, several pieces of published research have gone a long way to confirming that its use as a bedroom tonic is far more than a mythical folk remedy.
Damiana is not only used to help men regain their sexual prowess, taking Damiana supplements is also said to benefit women’s sexuality which is great news for couples that need to inject a bit of fire into their relationship. Nobody is sure why Damiana has such a positive effect on the libido but one theory is that it promotes blood flow to the genital regions. Others have suggested that its libido enhancing ability might be a side effect related to the herb’s estrogen suppression activity.
Before raising your hopes too high, however, it must be pointed out that the only research up to now has been carried out on laboratory rats. A study published in 2009 demonstrated that sexually exhausted rats treated with Damiana improved their sexual behavior significantly. Rats given Damiana were more likely to achieve more than one ejaculation and the post-ejaculatory period was reduced before repeat sexual activity.
Analysis from the same research found that caffeine, flavonoids, and arbutine were the main active compounds in the extract. Researchers concluded that Damiana was a possible alternative treatment for sexual dysfunction. (1)
A number of other animal studies have come to the same conclusion but concede that Damiana needs to be fully tested on human subjects before it can be fully recommended as an aphrodisiac.
Given that these results have proven positive so far, it is tempting not to wait and to give the treatment a go. Before you take the plunge on this or any other herbal remedy, you should remember that herbal remedies are not regulated in the United States. Make sure that you check the dosage information on the label carefully and speak to your doctor.
2. For the mind
Damiana is popular in some parts of Europe, most notably Germany, as an herbal remedy for stress and other nervous disorders. There is no research to confirm its efficacy for stress and anxiety but a compound called Damianin present in the plant has been proven to produce a calming effect on the nervous system.
Damiana is said to produce a mild euphoric effect on the mind and the Mayan and Mexican people have been using it as a mood enhancer for centuries; it seems likely that these traditional uses have some grounding in fact. It has been used to treat a variety of stress-related symptoms such as upset stomach, bed wetting and to calm the nerves.
It is also said to provide an energy boost and increase stamina which might be linked to its aphrodisiac uses as well as helping to combat fatigue and lethargy. Unlike many prescription pharmaceuticals, Damiana is considered to be safe in moderate doses and might help those suffering from anxiety and other nerve related problems.
3. Stomach ulcers
Damiana has also been used to treat a number of gastric complaints including peptic ulcers. Its effect is likely due to the plant’s arbutin content and a study published in 2012 set out to evaluate its ability to treat two types of ulcer. The researchers concluded that Damiana possessed anti-ulcer activity which they attributed to the anti-oxidant effects of arbutin. (2)
4. Weight loss
Like so many other herbal teas, there are claims that Damiana can help those of us that need to shed a few pounds or at least bring our weight under control. Some people suggest that it works as a mild laxative by loosening the stools and cleansing the system but there is some evidence that it is more effective when combined with other plants.
A Danish study published in 2001 combined Damiana with yerba mate and guarana and discovered that this combination of herbs produced a thermogenic effect and also suppressed the appetite. The study examined the effect of this combination on 47 overweight patients to determine its weight loss effect at 10 days, 45 days and 12 months.
The patients who were given the combination of herbs in capsule form before their main meal lost significantly more weight than the placebo group for the first 45 days. The researchers concluded that the combination supplement significantly delayed gastric emptying which resulted in patients feeling full faster. (3)
5. Bladder Infections
According to documentation, damiana has traditionally been used in South America to treat urinary problems and bladder infections. These traditional uses are not supported by modern scientific research but that does not necessarily mean that these anecdotal reports are false.
When trying to determine the effectiveness of a herbal remedy on a bladder issue, it is difficult to quantify its exact effect. How much of the effect is down to the herb and how much is due to the water with which it is consumed is open to debate as consuming extra fluid typically helps to ease bladder pain and urination.
It is possible that damiana can be consumed as a natural way to improve digestion. It can help to facilitate the breakdown of fats and sugars in your digestive system while improving the way you absorb nutrients. This not only ensures that your digestive system is working at its best but also ensures you are getting all the necessary benefits from the food you eat.
Damian may also help keep your digestive tract clean from toxins which can hinder digestion and leave you feeling sick. It is also believed to help treat indigestion and constipation because of its laxative properties.
A very recent study published in 2017 set out to examine the antioxidant potential of water extracts (WEE) of damiana on the kidney health of diabetic rats. The researchers found that damiana exerted significant antioxidant effects beneficial to kidney mitochondria. In conclusion, the researchers had the following to say.
The antioxidant potential of damiana means that it could help protects against a host of serious diseases caused by oxidative damage including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
8. Other Uses
As well as the more common uses referred to above, Damiana has been used to treat headaches, vaginal dryness, as a method of delaying the menopause and for asthma. There is no evidence other than traditional use to suggest that the herb is effective for these conditions.
How to take it
Damiana is available in several different forms. It can be bought as a tincture or in capsules but is most commonly drunk as a tea. Smoking the leaves is apparently possible but is not recommended. Damiana essential oils are also derived from the plant.
Dried Damiana leaves are available loose or in tea bags and you should read the label to get the dosage instructions. Many experts recommend that you start with between 2 and 4 grams of dried Damiana before your three main meals each day.
How to make Damiana tea
Drinking Damiana tea is one of the most popular methods of consuming this herb. It is easy enough to make and all you need are some dried Damian leaves and lemon and honey to taste.
- Measure one or two heaped teaspoons of your damiana leaves. Put them in a teapot or a coffee mug.
- Bring a cup of water to the boil and pour over the damiana leaves.
- Let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes to make sure that all the therapeutic properties are released.
- Strain your tea into a new mug and discard the leaves.
- Add one teaspoon of good quality honey to sweeten your tea if you find it too bitter.
- You may also add a wedge of fresh lemon to give your drink some additional flavor.
- Drink up and enjoy. You can drink up to three cups of damiana tea a day.
Potential Side Effects and Precautions
Damiana is considered safe but hallucinations have been reported when it was taken in extremely high doses (200 grams).
- If you are pregnant or nursing, you should stay on the side of caution and avoid taking Damiana as we do not yet know enough about its effect on the infant.
- People with preexisting liver conditions should avoid taking damiana.
- Diabetics should be careful when using Damiana as it may affect blood sugar levels.
- Because it affects blood glucose, you are recommended not to take Damiana within 2 weeks of any planned surgery.
- If you are buying the plant there is an issue of False Damiana (Turnera ulmifolia) being widely sold as they are easily mistaken.