| What is it?
The pleasant smelling and tasting leaves and stems of Damiana, a long-lived shrub that grows up to about 2 meters in height and favours hot and humid parts of the world (it is native to Central America).
How has it been used?
One of the Latin names for Damiana; Turnera aphrodisiaca gives away its traditional use. Damiana has been considered to be a potent sexual tonic for many centuries. It is thought to mimic the action of testosterone and to “provide a generally stimulating and enhancing influence on those functions that relate to the reproductive system, especially in the male” (Simon Mills).
Damiana also has a reputation as being a tonic for the nervous system, particularly of benefit when people are tired or depressed. It is widely drunk as a tea in Latin America and Mexico with early documented use by the Mayan people where it is seen as a pleasant, stimulating beverage without the side effects of tea or coffee.
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Science on Damiana
Damiana has not had any clinical studies on humans to assess its effects (what we are interested in proving is rather difficult to measure at the best of times) but nevertheless there have still been some intriguing laboratory tests.
~ An extract of Damiana induced relaxation in smooth muscle from the corpus cavernosum - the part of the penis involved in erectile function (Hnatyszyn O et al: From the International Congress & 48th Meeting of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research & International Society for Ethnopharmacology, Zurich, Sept 3-7, 2000, abstract P2A/39)
~ Oral administration of Damiana (0.25-1 ml/kg) demonstrated a stimulating effect on the sexual behaviour of male rats. Copulatory performance was improved in sexually sluggish or impotent animals but not in potent animals (Arletti R et al: Psychopharmacology, 143(1):15-19, 1999)
Safety of Damiana
Damiana is regarded as extremely safe and able to be used by all ages as well as during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Too much of anything can cause adverse reactions though so it should be noted that taking especially large amounts with the erroneous belief that 'more is better' will not only not give any further benefit but will probably cause your body to reject the herb so you feel an aversion to it.
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With respect to its traditional reputation I personally feel that Damiana is an invigorating and uplifting herb that I think is better described as a tonic than an aphrodisiac. In fact I often use it as part of a formula for people who are run-down and low in energy.
A good way to better understand the 'action' of Damiana is to take a small dose of its tincture or a cup of its tea and, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself the affects you feel within a short time of taking in the herb. When I have done this for myself or with students and colleagues there is a palpable relaxing 'warmth' and feeling of well-being that comes from the herb. Damiana is a feel-good medicine that, at least from my own experience, is a most valuable aid to people who have lost some of their natural spark and vitality. I personally do not think it has so much of some natural Viagara-type chemistry but rather it is this kindly tonic action on the nerves that is the core reason for its old reputation.
At least some of the active ingredients that make Damiana work come from the essential oils that create its distinctive and intriguing smell and you can tell if you have good quality Damiana simply by smelling it. Damiana is not a herb for everyone but I feel you can tell if someone will respond well to it if they really like that particular smell. It's unlikely to elicit a negative response but it seems that, at least for those to whom it is especially suited, the fragrance is highly agreeable.
Likewise Damiana imparts a particular taste and smell to teas or formulae when mixed with other herbs as well. We have a tonic tea that we make in the clinic that has proved highly popular with our patients but at one time we were unable to procure Damiana from any supplier for some months and it was notable to all how less pleasant the tea was without it.
I use Damiana in both tea and tincture form. For a tea, one tsp of Damiana to one cup of hot water is plenty. Like many tonics Damiana is not a herb that works better simply by taking more of it but rather by taking a moderate amount and then being patient with it as it builds its effects. For a tincture I typically use anything from 2 to 4 mls in a day. I find that it combines particularly well with Panax Ginseng and Withania.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Damiana is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Damiana can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Damiana has been eulogized for its positive aphrodisiac
effects, acting energetically upon the genito-urinary organs of both sexes removing impotence in the one, and frigidity in the other, whether due to abuses or age.
Upon the system at large, it exerts a tonic influence, and is useful in some cases of chronic cystic and renal catarrh. It relieves irritation of the urinary mucous membranes, improves digestion, and overcomes constipation in some instances.
In respiratory disorders, it may be employed to relieve irritation and cough, and, by its tonic properties to relieve excess secretions.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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