Scientific Names: Turnera diffusa, Turnera aphrodisiaca
Common Names: Damiana, Mexican damiana
Description: This herb is most likely native to the northwest desert region of Mexico and grows abundantly in the dry, rocky soil of western Mexico, Baja California and Texas. It may also be found in parts of South America and the West Indies.
Damiana is generally a small herb, although it can reach heights of up to ten feet. Its small, yellow flowers are strongly aromatic, but it is the leaves which are usually used by herbalists. Damiana leaves are also distinctly aromatic, yellowish, and about an inch in length.
History: The Mayan Indians of the Yucatan called damiana Mizib-coc, meaning “plant for asthma.” These people used the herb primarily for the treatment of vertigo and dizziness. Later, Spanish explorers and physicians who explored the Americas applied damiana as an expectorant in severe cases of bronchitis and asthma.
According to Aztec tradition, the herb was a powerful aphrodisiac, and it is this use to which damiana owes most of its modern renown. Its reputation as a sexual aid has led to the herb’s use in liquors and in many herbal energy and longevity formulas. Other traditional uses for this plant include the treatment of coughs, colds, enuresis, nephritis, headaches, and dysmenorrhea.
Modern Uses: Despite its reputation for curing sexual impotence, difficulty exists in assessing damiana’s efficacy in this arena. Traditional aphrodisiac preparations generally included much more powerful stimulants such as strychnine or phosphorus. Consequently, the ability to know exactly which sexually stimulating effects were due to damiana alone cannot be determined. The herb does however, contain a volatile oil component which is known to promote peristalsis and to stimulate the genitourinary tract. Arbutin, also found in this plant, works as an antimicrobial agent in the urinary tract and perhaps presents the basis for aphrodisiac claims.
In addition to its stimulant properties, the volatile oil contained in damiana is irritating to mucous membranes which may account for damiana’s widely reported success as a diuretic, laxative, and expectorant. Aphrodisiac or not, this aromatic shrub has been found to have anti-depressant qualities and possible testosterone-like action. In addition, it is generally regarded as a successful hormonal and nervous tonic—particularly favored for its mild action. The herb contains very high quantities of the trace minerals chromium and zinc and is also a good source of calcium, cobalt, iron, niacin, and vitamins A and C.
Recommendations: Damiana has been found to combine favorably with many other herbs, including wild oat and skullcap and/or hops for treating nervous anxiety conditions, and with wild oat and kola for anti-depressant effects. Damiana is also commonly found in traditional ginseng and saw palmetto formulas. Because its effect is very mild, damiana can usually be taken frequently and in generous amounts without much risk. A moderate dosage would be two capsules with two meals daily.
“Damiana: A Mayan Legacy for Our Time” by John Heinerman, in The Herbalist (April, 1979).
Herbs that Heal by Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1994).
Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen (Warsaw, Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1994).
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes (Boulder, Colorado: Artemis Press, 1989).
The Male Herbal by James Green (Freedom, California: The Crossing Press, 1991).
The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph. D. (Calgary, Alberta: Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, 1991).