Herbage for Her
We still use herbs today—especially those of us who are looking for ways to nourish and augment our bodies and biochemistry, without relying on chemicals or supporting the current bloated pharmaceutical industry. The challenge, though, is that there’s a veritable litany of inaccurate, unsafe, and downright dangerous information being passed along as fact—and precious few ways by which to pluck the good from the bad. And while we’re not experts in the realm of herbal research, we do want to talk about some of the herbs that are currently being touted as sexual enhancers—and try to separate some of the myths from the realities.
But first, the ubiquitous fine print:
Supplements are not subject to the Food and Drug Administration; therefore, they do not actually undergo scientific testing to ascertain various claims. Some supplements, in fact, can be harmful! Please be smart and do your research, and if at all possible speak with both holistic and traditional medical practitioners before self-treating with any herbal remedy.
For her pleasure:
Bayberry bark has been used to address different female health issues, most notably as a douche to treat excess discharge (leukorrhea) from the vagina and cervix, as well as to increase blood flow. However, it’s also used for vegetable tanning leather—so if you go this route, you’ll want to be very careful about the accuracy of your measurements…we don’t want to think about what the negative effects might be (because, kiddies, nobody wants a vagina that feels like the finest cowskin).
Also called squawroot, black cohosh has compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen, balancing the body's hormone levels. Some studies have shown that it can improve symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood disturbances, diaphoresis, palpitations, and vaginal dryness—and for women who have those symptoms, you can bet that any relief from them would definitely help get the sex drive back on track!
Dong quai ( Angelica sinensis )
Also known as Chinese Angelica, has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese medicine. It remains one of the most popular plants in Chinese medicine, and has been called "female ginseng," based on its use for gynecological disorders (such as painful menstruation or pelvic pain), recovery from childbirth or illness, and fatigue/low vitality. Dong quai seems to have minimal side effects for many women, and has been getting a great deal of positive press lately.
Cayenne Pepper has been highly touted as a remedy for poor circulation—and the better the circulation, the more our bits get engorged, n’est ce pas? In fact, some sexual lubricants use Capsicum (the chemical component of Cayenne that causes the heat) as a vasodilator to increase stimulation—so while we don’t know that you’d want to use undiluted Cayenne right there, you certainly could try it in other ways. Additionally, it has been used to help regulate menstrual cycles—and being able to rely on your Aunt Flo to arrive on time is often a boost when it comes to planning a hot night of sexing.
Sage Leaf Extract
Sage leaf is used to regulate a women’s menstrual cycle and improve circulation. Again, a regular cycle makes for a generally more relaxed woman—which makes for better sex.
SAMe is used for, among other things, infertility, premenstrual disorders and musculoskeletal disorders. Again, this is a substance that has received a good deal of research, and there are a number of indicating studies that show that, especially for musculoskeletal health, SAMe shows considerable promise.
Soy, and components of soy called isoflavones, have been studied for the treatment of many health conditions. Isoflavones are believed to have estrogen-like effects in the body, and as a result, they are sometimes called phytoestrogens. Laboratory studies aren’t able to determine whether these phytoestrogens block or stimulate the production of natural estrogen; however, there are a number of studies that show that the female libido can increase with the addition of soy to your diet. Tofu Surprise with a side of edamame, anyone?
Wild Yam contains a natural steroid called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) that rejuvenates and gives vigor to lovemaking, as well as being used by many women as a way to minimize the effects of menopause, such as hot flashes. This is usually found as a cream that you rub into your skin (no, not there!) in order to experience the chemical benefits of the plant.
Arginine is a natural substance that during processing turns into nitric oxide, which causes blood vessel relaxation (vasodilation). Early studies point to the idea that arginine may help treat medical conditions that improve with vasodilation, such as chest pain, clogged arteries, coronary artery disease, erectile dysfunction, etc. Arginine also triggers the body to make protein and has been studied for wound healing, bodybuilding, enhancement of sperm production (spermatogenesis), and prevention of wasting in people with critical illnesses. So—for keeping your boy up (and your swimmers swimming), it may be a great supplement to consider.
Fenugreek is another herb that has acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Chemical analysis has revealed the presence of diosgenen, a substance that acts in a similar way to the body's own sex hormones. Fenugreek has long been recommended by Chinese herbalists for impotence—I guess this is one of the real “ancient Chinese secrets”, eh?
Gotu kola (not to be confused with Hota Kotb, who should in no manner be ingested) improves circulation as well as enhances mental performance and concentration. As we’ve mentioned before – healthy circulation is very important to a healthy sex life, and additional mental acuity means that you’re less likely to yell out “Angelina” or “Brad” accidentally in bed.
Ginger is a relative of Cardamon, and well known for its warming, aromatic properties. In an article titled "Studies on Herbal Aphrodisiacs Used in the Arab System", published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, some Saudi scientists asserted that ginger extracts significantly increase sperm motility and quantity. (Motility means capable of moving spontaneously and independently—which, when you consider it, is kind of unnerving when you think about sperm doing it).
No, it’s not the name of those fuzzy things on Star Trek – tribulus is an herb that has been shown to help with impotence and infertility, as well as stimulate hormone production. (This is a main ingredient in Enzyte*—you know, Smiling Bob’s enhancer of choice?). In fact, studies show that it can actually boost testosterone levels—and, at least in animals, induce rutting behavior (which, by the way, means “mounting other animals”).
Native American Indians considered the ripe fruits of the saw palmetto a tonic and an aphrodisiac. The berries do, in fact, have a toning effect on the male reproductive system and have been employed for impotence and prostrate problems. It can be used to treat prostate enlargement and cystitis. Saw palmetto ( Serenoa repens , Sabal serrulata ) is used popularly in Europe for symptoms associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of the prostate). Although not considered standard of care in the United States, it is the most popular herbal treatment for this condition, and thus is very easy to find in pretty much any drugstore with an herbal supplements section.
Yohimbe bark comes from west Africa, and is said to expand the blood vessels in the penis and increase blood flow. It also claims to increase nitrous oxide (NO), which is important for producing an erection. However, renal failure, seizures, and death have been reported from the use, or misuse, of this herb. Most sources suggest that one never take a product containing yohimbe if they have high blood pressure. Of course, high blood pressure carries its own set of problems when it comes to physical activity – like good sex, for instance.
Cardamon is an aromatic spice, held in high esteem by the Arab culture as an aphrodisiac. Cardamom’s sexual nature is centered in its high content of cineole, which is a central nervous system stimulant. As most of us are aware, people often equate any stimulation as a sexual stimulation; a caffeine buzz can get us going, so why not a bit of a sexually arousing buzz from cardamom?
Damiana is good for improving blood flow to the genital area and increasing desire. It can also benefit the hormonal balance of the body, bringing things to a healthier, more natural level. Many studies report that the loss of sexual arousal can be dependent on hormonal imbalances, so making sure that your body’s chemicals are well regulated can be a first step towards regaining (or improving) your sexual response.
Ginkgo improves circulation to the penis as well as acts to alleviate the symptoms of depression, which may be a cause of impotence. Ginkgo also stimulates the mind and helps with concentration. Although not definitive, there is promising early evidence favoring the use of ginkgo for memory enhancement in healthy subjects, altitude (mountain) sickness, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and reduction of chemotherapy-induced end-organ vascular damage. So, the overall benefits of ginkgo are only partly related to our sex life—it has the potential to improve other aspects as well.
Ginseng is well known as a sexual stimulant, and was initially used in Chinese herbal medicine. It is both a stimulant and relaxant on the central nervous system, improves muscle stamina and function, and is used as an additive in many energy drinks sold in the U.S. and overseas. Its use has become almost global; it’s found in dozens of “vitality” formulas available over the counter worldwide. One thing to be careful of is that ginseng can cause problems for people who have blood pressure issues, are pregnant, or have other physical challenges, so be sure to research before you use it.
There are tons of supplements out there – we’ve only covered a brief list. The important things to remember are:
1. Not everything that says it’s good for you actually is. Do your research.
2. No amount of supplements will make up for a lack of creativity and fun when it comes to sex.
3. A healthy body, coupled with a creative and engaged mind, is the best recipe for a great sex life.
*(Enzyte® Proprietary Blend:
Tribulus Terrestris extract (aerial), L-Arginine Base, Korean Ginseng, Maca (Lepidium meyenii), Orchic Substance, Epimedium Sagitatum extract, Yohimbe Extract (Pausinystalia yohimba), Muira puama, Avena Sativa extract, Zinc Gluconate, Ginkgo Biloba extract , Saw Palmetto (Serona repens), Niacin, Copper Gluconate, Octacosonal, Thymus Gland. )