Herbal Aphrodisiacs

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Author: FloraFarm GmbH / Katharina Lohrie. 2006.

Sex.  A hot subject, to be sure.  But what if it is not…hot that is?  Herbs have been used for more than physical ailments, and aphrodisiacs are one of those uses.  According to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, an aphrodisiac is a substance that arouses sexual desire.[1]  And a quick peek at the sheer number of plants tried over the centuries certainly suggest that this use is an important one for many people.

Historically, many plants (and other substances) have been called an aphrodisiac.  Arab physicians used tailed pepper (Piper cubeba), which was also used to make ancient love charms.  Mint was used for both infertility and a lack of desire in some cultures.  Nettles were apparently a favorite in Scotland, based on this ditty, “If they wad drink Nettles in March and at Muggins (Mugwort) in May, sae mony braw maidens wad not go to clay”. Vanilla, wild carrot (Daucus carota L.), sweet flag, onion and garlic, turnips, artichokes, cannabis, lotus, myrtle, and many, many other plants have been tried.[2][3]

But do they actually work? One obstacle to determining this is a lack of clear identification of the plants.  Names change over time and without clearcut botanical identification it is difficult to say with certainty that you are looking at the same plant referenced in say, oh, 1222 BCE.  Regardless, some plants examined have shown therapeutic actions that could lead to them being seen as aphrodisiacs.  There are a number of contemporary surveys and studies done on the ethnobotanical and traditional uses of some of these plants to either validate, or invalidate the claims.  The following references just a couple of these studies.

Three animal studies found that longjack (Euycoma) was effective for treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED)…at least with rats.  Draw what conclusions from that that you will.  Another study looking into the effectiveness of gingseng (Panax ginseng) determined that it’s effects could be at least partially explained by GS-enhanced release of nitric oxide (NO) from the endothelial cells. NO is a vasodilator.  The FDA approved the use of yohimbe as therapy for impotency in the 1980’s.  Known as “herbal Viagra” it acts by stimulating blood flow.  Damiana (Turnera diffusa) also has an ethnobotanical use as an aphrodisiac and was found to contain flavonoids similar to those found in yohimbe.[4] And in a rare example of the clinical gold standard, a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Tribulus terrestris was explored for its effectiveness aiding hypoactive sexual desire in women.  The four weeks study noted improvement in a number of arousal markers.[5]

At the end of the day, this is an area that is just starting to be evaluated by modern science, with some evidence that it may not all be wishful thinking.  In the meantime, can you really go wrong with a cup of hot mint tea and a cuddle with your honey?

This information is for education purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat or prescribe for any disease or medical condition.  Information on herbs and supplements has not been evaluated by the FDA.


[1] Aphrodisiac. (2009). In Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary (28th ed., p. 61). Elsevier Saunders.

[2] Parvati, J.P. (2010). Hygieia: A Woman’s Herbal (New edition). North Atlantic Books.

[3] Meyer, C. (1986). Herbal & Other Natural Aphrodisiacs & Anaphrodisiacs from world sources. Meyerbooks.

[4] Kotta, S., Ansari, S.H., & Ali, J. (2013). Exploring scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs. Pharmacognosy reviews, 7(13), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.112832.

[5] Akhtari E, Raisi F, Keshavarz M, Hosseini H, Sohrabvad F, Bioos S, Kamalinejad M, Ghobadi A. Tribulus terrestris for treatment of sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Daru. 2014 Apr 18;22(1):40. Doi: 10.1186/2008-2231-22-40. PMID:24773615; PMCID: PMC4045980.

Witch Hazel

Want a garden tree that blooms when all else is sleeping?  Has bright, weird looking flowers that have a beautiful scent?  Is useful around the home?  Meet the witch hazel.  The American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a small tree/shrub native to Eastern United States with a colorful and useful history that continues to this day.  The unusual flowering plant has a place in landscaping for its colors and scent, as well as in the home for the astringent properties of the leaves and bark.  All in all, a great plant to consider for your property.

Witch hazel is thought to get its common name from “Wicke” from Middle English, which means “lively”, and “wych” from Anglo-saxon for “bend”.  A possible nod to one of its uses as a divining rod. The genus name, Hamamelis, comes from the Greek meaning for a kind of medlar, or service tree.[1]    

Hamamelis virginiana is one of our native witch hazels.  It grows throughout northeast and southeast North America from Nova Scotia to Florida and from the Great Lakes down to eastern Texas.  The tree/shrub is on the small side, growing up to 30 feet tall, but more usually found at around 12 feet tall.  Unusual, scented yellow flowers with long thin petals bloom in fall about the time the leaves turn yellow and persist on the tree after the leaves drop.  H. virginiana is an understory plant in nature and so when planting choose a northern site in partial shade with moist soil.[2] There is another native witch hazel found in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas.  The Hamamelis vernalis, or Ozark witch hazel, blooms in late winter/early spring with fragrant flowers similar to the H. virginiana but smaller. 

Hybrid witch hazels are also available and are a cross between Hamamelis mollis (Chinese witch hazel) and Hamamelis japonica (Japanese witch hazel).  They come in a multitude of tree shapes, sizes, as well as spring blooming flowers in colors that range red, purple, pink, orange and various yellow shades.  Unlike the American witch hazel, plant the hybrids in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil.  They do not like their toes to remain in water.[3]

Early settlers observed Native Americans using forked branches of witch hazel as a divining rod to locate water and adopted the practice.  They also embraced the Native American use of Hamamelis as a medicinal.  Used externally for inflammation, itching, bug bites, cuts and bruises, and internally for diarrhea, fever, and as a mouth rinse and gargle for inflammation of the gums and throat.[4] [5]  Contemporary studies on the medicinal properties of witch hazel confirm the presence of up to 10% tannins in the plant, supporting the use as an astringent and anti-inflammatory.[6]

Late fall and early spring have limited options for blooming plants and the vibrant colors of witch hazel flowers and leaves make a welcome sight.  Couple that with a plant useful in the home, and you have a beautiful possibility for your garden. 

This information is for education only and is not meant to diagnose, treat or prescribe for any disease or medical condition.  Information on herbs and supplements has not been evaluated by the FDA.


[1] Stritch, L. (n.d.). American Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.). Forest Service Shield. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/hamamelis_virginiana.shtml

[2] Ibid.

3 Which witch hazel should be in your yard?/Chicago Botanic Garden. (n.d.). www.chicagobotanic.org. https://www.chcagobotanic.org/plantinfo/smart_gardener/which_witch_hazel_should_be_your_yard.

[4] Van Wyk, B., Wink, M. Medicinal plants of the world. 2004. Timber Press. Portland, OR.

[5] Stuart, A. (n.d.) Witch Hazel: Uses and Risks. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/witch-hazel-uses-and-risks. Accessed 1/7/22.

[6] Thring, T. S., Hili, P., & Naughton, D. P. (2011). Antioxidant and potential anti-inflammatory activity of extracts and formulations of white tea, rose, and witch hazel on primary human dermal fibroblast cells. Journal of inflammation (London, England), 8(1), 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-9255-8-27

Witch Hazel, the winter bloom

Witch hazels are small trees or shrubs, native to the Eastern United States.  They grow 15-30 feet high with a similar spread and flourish in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.  The plant prefers full sun to partial shade and is tolerant of a variety of soils, provided they are well drained.  Yellow to red fragrant, squiggly-looking flowers appear from October to December. Also known as snapping hazel, winterbloom, or wych hazel.

The North American native peoples used witch hazel as a medicinal plant.  Employing its use as an astringent.  The Osage used it for skin ulcers and sores.  The Potawatomi steamed twigs over hot rocks in their sweat lodges to ease sore muscles.  The Iroquoi made a tea to treat dysentery, colds, and coughs.  In the 18th century, witch hazel was brought to England where its use in treating wounds and bites continued.  It was believed that the volatile oils in the plant were highest in late fall and winter. 

Today, witch hazel is used primarily as an astringent and anti-inflammatory in the external treatment of all types of bruises, inflammations, varicose veins, bleeding, wounds, soreness and muscular aches, and specifically hemorrhoids, and internally for sore throat, internal bleeding, diarrhea and catarrh.  The leaves and twigs are the parts used in medicinal preparations, though distilled witch hazel is readily available at your nearest drugstore.  The plant is rich in tannins (2-10%), flavonoids, saponins, resin and a volatile oil. 

While there are limited contemporary studies available on the uses of witch hazel, there have been some done comparing its effectiveness as an astringent against other preparations, and also evaluating the tannin contents of the plants.  In one 1993 study, a witch hazel preparation and a steroidal cream were compared for effectiveness soothing a skin abrasion.  The witch hazel was found to be as effective. 

As with all herbal preparations, use care and consult your medical practitioner prior to using, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or using any other medications.  This information not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  For educational purposes only.

References

Andriote, John-Manuel. The Mysterious Past and Present of Witch Hazel. November 6, 2012. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/the-mysterious-past-and-present-of-witch-hazel/264553/

Fielder, Mildred. Plant Medicine and Folklore. 1975. Winchester Press, New York

Hoffmann, David. Medical herbalism. 2003. Healing arts press. Rochester VT

Kane, Charles W. Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions. 2009. Lincoln Town Press

Korting HC, Schäfer-Korting M, Hart H, Laux P, Schmid M. Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Influence of vehicle and dose. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1993;44(4):315-8. doi: 10.1007/BF00316465. PMID: 8513841

Weiss, Rudolf Fritz, Fintelmann, Volker. Herbal Medicine. 2000. Theime, New York

Wheelwright, Edith Grey. Medicinal Plants and Their History. 1974. Dover Publications, Inc. New York

Herbal Cough Syrups

Grindelia_integrifolia_wikiI’m sitting at my computer listening to the rain gurgle through the downspout outside the window.  Summer is a memory and judging by the brilliant tree colors and WET, our northwest fall is in full swing.  Along with that comes the seasonal run of drippy noses and persistent coughs of cold and flu season.  You are in luck.  Many of our lovely herbs work beautifully to ease the irritation of coughs and one of the ways you can prepare them is a tasty cough syrup.

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Coffee Benefits… Or, Why That Cup of Joe May be Good For You

I love coffee.  I love the aroma that permeates the local diner on a Sunday morning.  I love the bitter, tongue scorching moment of the first sip.  I love holding a warm mug in my hand and inhaling the steam through brisk autumn air.  As a child, my grandfather would let me sip from his cup when my grandmother wasn’t looking, and then gruffly tell me that it would put hair on my chest.  At 6 or 7 years old I wasn’t completely sure if this was bluff or not but it didn’t stop the sneak sips. Unfortunately, after a cup and a half, my zero tolerance for caffeine has my husband standing well back with a safety net waiting to catch me when I finally stop moving at Mach 1.  Living near Seattle, this intolerance for the local ambrosia is tantamount to a capital offense.

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The Lion in Your Back Yard

It always amazes and frustrates me when I hear people go off about dandelion.  How has this attractive and useful plant become public enemy #1 at the garden center?  Okay, granted, those puffballs are an incredible seed dispersal system and they don’t always disperse where you might want them.  And I have to admit the root system on a dandelion is an engineering marvel.  But look at what else a dandelion has to offer.

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Prunella vulgaris: The little plant that can.

Self heal, or heal all (Prunella vulgaris), was blooming away along the trails of one of our favorite parks yesterday. Very simple lance shaped leaves and a slender stalk that are all but invisible until they flower.  Then what a show!  The plant spreads quickly.  So if you put some in a corner of your garden expect to watch it conquer new territory.  The good news is that it is easy to remove or relocate plants that appear where you rather they didn’t.  The plant prefers a shady, moist area to grow and you will often see it growing in disturbed edges of woodland, though I have also seen it spread happily through bark paths in my garden in full sun.

As the common name suggests, this plant has a long history of use to heal wounds and staunch bleeding.  It has been used as an alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, antioxidant, antiviral, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, carminative, febrifuge, hemostatic, hypotensive, styptic, tonic and vulnerary.  The plant contains beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc, the flavonoids hyperoside and rutin, pentacyclic triterpenes, rosmarinic acid, essential oils and tannins.

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Fireweed the Survivor

Fireweed, or Epilobium angustifolium, is in full bloom in fields and along roadways right now and provides a beautiful splash of color against the mature greens of July.  The plant has an erect, un-branched stem with short stiff hairs on upper part.  The leaves are alternate, lance shaped, and 2-8 inches long with short petioles.  The flower inflorescence is an airy, delicate spike of deep pink to magenta blooms.  Fireweed is a common plant in the Northwest and can be found in any kind of soil, but is most often seen growing in areas that have been burned out, logged, or disturbed in some way.  It is one of the first pioneer plants to show up after a devastating event to the land, as was seen when stands of fireweed appeared on the barren Mount St. Helens.  Adele Dawson in her book “Health, Happiness, and the Pursuit of Herbs”, describes fireweed as “…a badge of nature’s rural renewal program”.

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Artichokes.

Someone ask me recently if artichokes really do bloom.  They do.  Spectacularly, in my opinion.  Globe artichokes, Cynara scolymus, is a member of the Asteraceae family.  It is a perennial thistle that has been cultivated to its present appearance over centuries and is closely related to C. cardunculus, or the cardoon.  Both of which have both been grown and enjoyed as vegetables.  The artichoke is a rich source of dietary fiber (41% of the daily recommendation), and includes 45 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, and 126 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.  In addition, it also includes significant amounts of folate (107 mcg), vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, manganese and vitamin C.  Cynara is a source for lutein, a carotenoid, antioxidant, and flavonoids.  Cynarin and silymarin, compounds in artichoke, act as cholagogues and aid liver function.  Artichokes have also been identified as one of the highest sources of dietary antioxidants, and as such are valuable at scavenging all those free radicals in our bodies, potentially preventing or reversing disease.  All in all, a pretty impressive thistle…that blooms.
Copyright Colleen Gondolfi 2012
References:
Coila, B. (2010). Nutritional Values for Artichokes. http://www.livestrong.com/article/291487/…
Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Rochester VT.

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