Desert Rose Essential Herbs (DREH) provides information designed for educational purposes only.
In 2011, it was reported by Everyday Health that 43% of women and 31% of men suffered from low libido. It is common for women to have low desire, but studies have also found out that men over the age of forty experience sexual dysfunction along with low libido. Low libido can present at any time and has many root causes:
Due to the many root causes, it is hard to resolve. Many who suffer from this dysfunction turn to medications that will stimulate their sex drive, yet have many side effects.(Suszynski, Pearson, McArdle, & Kilroy, 2011)
The Webster’s dictionary describes aphrodisiac as a food, drink, or thing that stimulates the sexual desire, drive, or causes excitement (“Aphrodisiac: Definition of aphrodisiac by Lexico“).
Aphrodisiacs can be classified into three types: “Those that increase libido, potency, or sexual pleasure.” (“Exploring scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs”, 2013). Countless aphrodisiac herbs have been used in different cultures to increase and add more potency to sexual pleasure and improve sexual function.
“Low libido is a term used to describe a decrease in sex drive that can interfere with sexual activity.” (“Causes and Treatment of Low Sex Drive in Men”, 2019).
Since we are descussing aphrodisiac herbs and how to properly use them, the root cause of the dysfunction should be identified first and managed. Medications should be reviewed by a medical professional and/or trained herbalist before starting any herbal regiment. (“Causes and Treatment of Low Sex Drive in Men”, 2019).
This review will cover the specific actions, mechanisms, and safety of each individual herb and how they affect the body. I will discuss aphrodisiac herbs that benefit both males and female’s libido and the goal is to identify the best herb or combination of herbs to maintain a healthy sex life.
MACA (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca is a plant cultivated in the Andean Mountains that is conventionally used for fertility and sexual enhancing purposes for more than 2,000 years. Some animal studies have confirmed enhancement in sexual behaviors like increased desire to mate. There is some evidence that supports the use of the herb in human studies, but the few controlled clinical trials performed were mostly on males. During the studies, maca did show an increase in sperm count and sperm motility. It also increased sexual desire. However, the mechanism by which maca employs its supposed aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties is still unclear. (“A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women”, 2015).
In early studies with postmenopausal, women treated with maca root proved to effectively treat antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction. The data is still limited and inconclusive on how maca helps sex drive when it has no hormonal impact compared to placebo, but maca did lead to a significant improvement. (Dording, et al., 2015) (“Is Maca Root The Viagra For Menopausal Women?”).
Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
“Native to India, the role of Tribulus Terrestris in Eastern European folk medicine for muscle strength and sexual potency.” According to some studies done in India, Tribulus seems to encourage the production and reception of androgens including testosterone, which increases libido (“Tribulus Tribulus terrestris,”). Several individual studies done in Brazil with women who complained of low libido in different stages of their lives reported significantly greater desire, stress-free arousal, lubrication, comfortable intercourse, increased orgasms, and enhanced sexual satisfaction. One study in Iranian with 60 women reported similar results (Castleman, 2018). One study showed that tribulus works by elevating the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This stimulates the creation of testosterone in men and estrogen in women and increases greater sexual desire (“The Benefits Of Tribulus Terrestris“, 2019).
Tribulus on the other hand is less effective in men sex problems. A study was done on men with erectile dysfunction but the study was too short to provide effective evidence. In a longer study, there was some significant enhancement when it came to sexual desire, satisfaction, and stronger erections. When tribulus dose is increased, it has proven to improve sperm motility and quality.
Tribulus might increase some hormone levels, but though some take it for enhancing athletic performance, it does not increase testosterone in males. In reality, what makes tribulus work as a muscle enhancer is the existence of saponins—steroidal saponin protodioscin to be exact. In a study, athletes taking 625mg of a 40% saponin that contained tribulus extract three times a day for a period of 20 days noted an increase in circulating testosterone after 10 days of the study (“Tribulus: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning”) (“The Benefits Of Tribulus Terrestris“, 2019).
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum–graecum)
Fenugreek is not just for your curry dishes anymore! Fenugreek has been used since ancient times in Egypt, Greece. and Rome. Fenugreek seeds were good for everything and was traditionally used to treat low libido (“Fenugreek Trigonella foenum–graecum“). Fenugreek contains furostanolic saponins, which has shown in several studies to improve testosterone levels and low libido (Kubala, 2019). In a 2012 study, 80 menstruating women of different ages took 600mg of fenugreek compared to the group who was taking a placebo had higher levels of the hormone estradiol and free testosterone and an increase in sexual desire and activity. Due to estradiol increase, the women had higher vaginal lubrication and blood flow which increased sexual arousal after eight weeks (“Fenugreek extract boosts libido in women”).
“In a male study that lasted for six weeks there was evidence of fenugreek boosting libido in 82% of men. 63% of the men reported improvement in the quality of sexual performance and 67% of men reported enhancement of their sexual recovery time. In addition, 82% of the men taking the fenugreek also reported higher levels of general energy.” (“Fenugreek Is The Spice That Can Spice Up Your Sex Life”, 2017).
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
One of the active ingredients found in ashwagandha is withanolides. These phytochemicals have a steroid like effect, which means that they ultimately increase activity of steroidal hormones like testosterone and progesterone, the hormone that effects sex drive. In a small pilot study in 2015, it was reported that ashwagandha along with counseling improved women’s orgasms, satisfaction, lubrication, and arousal with the administration of 300mg twice a day for 8 weeks. The study did identify that counseling alone without the herb had no improvement (“Ashwagandha“).
Ashwagandha has proven to improve sex in two ways. It raises testosterone levels in men which starts decreasing after the age of thirty. When testosterone levels are increased, sexual hormones increase, and sex is revitalized. The second way it improves libido is by increasing the production of nitric oxide which results in an increase of blood through vessels that carry blood to the genitals, therefor increasing sexual desire. Ashwagandha has also proven to increase sperm count, endurance lowering cortisol levels, which left the men less stressed which equals to increased libido (2019).
Panax Ginseng (Panax ginseng, synonym Panax schinseng)
Panax ginseng has been traditional used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years due to its overall traits. Ginseng has proven to boosts the immune system, improves heart health, increases energy, decreases stress, and increase libido. In a recent study, ginseng was used to treat female sexual dysfunction in a group of women with the average age of fifty-three. The study was double blinded and 500mg of panax ginseng was randomly administered for four weeks. After the study was completed, scientist reported that sexual function (desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain) was increased and significantly higher than the group who received a placebo (“Ginseng may alleviate sexual dysfunction in menopausal women”, 2020).
Taking panax ginseng, 1400 to 2700mg, has been used daily orally to improve sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction (“Panax Ginseng”). In a 2009 study, panax ginseng was administered twice a day for eight weeks to male patients with low libido and erectile dysfunction. There was 143 patients and only 83 received the actual herb. After eight weeks, the patients reported erectile function and overall satisfaction was significantly higher than the placebo group. The study concluded that panax ginseng could be utilized for improving erectile function in male patients, which increases libido (Kim, et al., 2009).
Yohimbe (Pausinystalia johimbe)
While yohimbe herb has been traditionally used for the treatment of male erectile dysfunction, many don’t realize that it is also effective in women. Yohimbe increases blood flow to the genitals on both males and females, providing women genitalia an improved sensation and engorgement. The effect is facilitated through both increased penile blood flow and increased central sympathetic excitatory impulses to the genital tissue. In women, it is a nitric oxide enhanced form of yohimbe, which improves vaginal blood flow by dilating the vessels and improving sexual pleasure and arousal (Yohimbe).
“Yohimbe has been related with severe adverse effects including cardiac arrhythmia, agitation, myocardial infarction, seizure, and others. Due to potentially serious safety concerns, yohimbe should not be used without medical supervision. American Urological Association guidelines recommend not to use yohimbe. It appears the incidence of adverse effects may be dose-dependent.” (“Erectile Dysfunction: AUA Guideline (2018)”) (Yohimbe).
Usage, Dose, Reported Effects
Due to the multiple adverse effects of yohimbe and potentially serious concerns, review was terminated. I provided usage, dosage and effect so there is a comparison. Before starting any herbal treatments the client should be evaluated for any physical or psychological issues that may be affecting their libido. It is very easy to start an herbal regiment but, underlying issue will continue to be there if not identified or managed.
Tribulus received 1st place as the best aphrodisiac herb. Research has found that tribulus increases libido by increasing sexual desire, orgasm, satisfaction, lubrication, and also solving erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and postmenopausal symptom. This herb is perfect by itself and should be recommended to patients who do not take diabetic or hypotension medications. Test have shown results after 12 weeks with a significant improvement (“Tribulus Tribulus terrestris“).
Ashwagadha came in at a close 2nd with its multiple benefits. Ashwagadha reduces anxiety, increases orgasms, satisfaction, lubrication, desire, and eliminates sexual pain there for resolving sexual disfunction. Patients using Ashwagadha will need to be educated on dose usage since it does cause GI issues. Patients who are taking diabetic or hypotension medications should not use this herb. Ashwagadha has shown effect between 4 to 8 weeks.
Maca is the 3rd best aphrodisiac herb. Maca has increased libido on both men and women in at least six weeks by increasing sexual desire and decreasing depression, anxiety, and stress. This herb should be recommended for patients with antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction. Maca also has no reported herbal interactions or side effects which makes it a safe choice. The herb showed effectiveness after six weeks (Link, 2019).
Panax ginseng and fenugreek were not as effective as the other herbs and the list of side effects was much larger. The two-increase sexual function, but out of the two, panax ginseng had the most benefits by decreasing erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and increasing desire and satisfaction. These two herbs would be a last choice to treat libido. Effects can be seen in six weeks after starting them.
DREH does not provide medical diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any herbs, supplement, diet, exercise or other health-related programs.
Sexual satisfaction: “Sexual satisfaction relates more to the presence of positive aspects of sexual experience than to the absence of negative aspects”. (Shelton, 2015).
Sexual desire: a yearning for sexual intimacy. (“Sexual desire – Dictionary Definition”).
Sexual dysfunction: a problem occurring during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity. (“Sexual Dysfunction & Disorders: Treatment, Symptoms & Diagnosis”).
5 ways ashwagandha can boost your sex life – Times of India. (2019, August 19). Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/diet/ashwagandha-benefits-for-mens-sexuality/articleshow/60103284.cms
*, N. (2017, July 17). Fenugreek Is The Spice That Can Spice Up Your Sex Life. Retrieved from http://theepicentre.com/fenugreek-spice-can-spice-sex-life/
Aphrodisiac: Definition of Aphrodisiac by Lexico. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/aphrodisiac
Ashwagandha. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1003
Ashwagandha. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=953
Ashwagandha Withania somnifera. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anniesremedy.com/withania–somnifera–ashwagandha-root.php
Carter, A. (2019, January 3). 7 Common Side Effects of Erectile Dysfunction Medication. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/erectile-dysfunction-medications-common-side-effects
Castleman, M. (2018, May 15). Is Tribulus Terrestris an Effective Aphrodisiac? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201805/is-tribulus–terrestris-effective-aphrodisiac
Dording, C. M., Schettler, P. J., Dalton, E. D., Parkin, S. R., Walker, R. S. W., Fehling, K. B., … Mischoulon, D. (2015). A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25954318
Erectile Dysfunction: AUA Guideline (2018). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.auanet.org/guidelines?q=&filters=&ContentType=Clinical_Guidelines|
Fenugreek. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=733
Fenugreek. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/5128
Fenugreek extract boosts libido in women. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nutritionexpress.com/article index/vitamins supplements a-z/fenugreek/showarticle.aspx?id=2454
Fenugreek Trigonella foenum–graecum. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anniesremedy.com/trigonella–foenum–graecum-fenugreek.php
Ginseng Panax ginseng. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anniesremedy.com/panax-ginseng-root.php
Ginseng may alleviate sexual dysfunction in menopausal women. (2020, February 3). Retrieved from https://escop.com/ginseng-sexual-disfunction–manopausal-women/
Is Maca Root The Viagra For Menopausal Women? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://women.texaschildrens.org/blog/2015/07/maca-root-viagra-menopausal-women