Damiana (Turnera diffusa)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turnera_diffusa_var._aphrodisiaca_002.JPG Damiana (Turnera diffusa)
H. Zell
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turnera_diffusa_var._aphrodisiaca_002.JPG

Native to Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and Southern California, Damiana is an aromatic deciduous shrub or subshrub.  It grows to around 2-6 feet high in Zones 9-11 and produces bright yellow flowers.  The plant plays a significant role in local traditional medicines.  It has been used as an aphrodisiac, tonic, as a counter for the effects of fatigue, depression, and to relieve the symptoms of stress.  Contemporary studies have also noted its hypoglycaemic and uterotonic effects.[1] 

As an aphrodisiac, its actions are similar to yohimbe.  A 2009 study compared extracts of damiana, yohimbine and a control.  They found that the damiana extract significantly increased the sexual performance and recovery of the test rats in a way that suggested a similar mechanism of action to yohimbine.[2]  Yohimbine, an alkaloid used as an aphrodisiac and nervine stimulates beta adrenergic sites which in turn causes smooth muscles cells to relax. A later study conducted by the same researcher theorized that the aqueous extract of damiana involves the nitric oxide pathways at the central nervous system level.[3]  Nitric oxide acts to reduce blood pressure and increase blood supply by relaxing blood vessels—a potential benefit in the case of erectile dysfunction.  A 2008 study reported 24 compounds isolated from the leaves in a methanolic extract.  Two of the compounds, pinocembrin and acacetin showed anti-aromatse activity, or the ability to clear environmental xenoestrogens environment to support a healthy estrogen level.  Apigenin 7-glucoside, Z-echinacin and pinocembrin, also isolated, showed estrogenic activity.[4]  All three compounds are flavonoids with antioxidant activity.  Flavonoids are common compounds in the plant kingdom.  In the plant, they are metabolites and act to protect the plant from environmental stresses, sometimes referred to as “biological stress modifiers”.[5]  The potential of the plant as a nervine, specifically a relaxant nervine, may make valuable where low libido is due to fatigue and stress.[6][7]

Damiana has also show hypoglycemic activity in studies.  A 2017 study identified teuhetenone A as the metabolite responsible for this activity.  The compound further showed both alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activity (a class of drugs currently in use that prevents the rapid rise of insulin in the body after eating) and cytotoxicity.[8]  An earlier study reviewed 28 medicinal plants that are traditionally used in treating diabetes mellitus.  Damiana was one of the plants that showed a significant decrease in the hyperglycemic peak in an animal study.[9]

As previously noted, damiana has been used for, and contemporary studies have support, its use as a nervine.  A 2008 animal study looked at the plant for anti-anxiety activity, using several established models.  At the test dose they found that it had anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) activity.  At 12 times that does, it showed mild sedative activity.[10]

There are a number of studies in place for the biological actions of this plant.  Given their results and the extensive ethnobotanical use of the plant, it warrants a closer look.  Aside from the potential medicinal applications, this is a plant that is well entrenched in the communities where it grows.  In Mexico a tea from the leaves is a popular drink, much like black tea.  If you are fortunate to be somewhere this plant will thrive, it makes a lovely, low-maintenance addition to the garden. 

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] Van Wyk, BE, Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World: An illustrated scientific guide to important medicinal plants and their uses. Timber Press.

[2] Estrada-Reyes R, Ortiz-López P, Gutiérrez-Ortíz J, Martínez-Mota L. Turnera diffusa Wild (Turneraceae) recovers sexual behavior in sexually exhausted males. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jun 25;123(3):423-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.03.032. Epub 2009 Mar 31. PMID: 19501274.

[3] Estrada-Reyes R, Carro-Juárez M, Martínez-Mota L. Pro-sexual effects of Turnera diffusa Wild (Turneraceae) in male rats involves the nitric oxide pathway. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Mar 7;146(1):164-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.12.025. Epub 2013 Jan 5. PMID: 23298455.

[4] Zhao J, Dasmahapatra AK, Khan SI, Khan IA. Anti-aromatase activity of the constituents from damiana (Turnera diffusa). J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Dec 8;120(3):387-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.09.016. Epub 2008 Sep 26. PMID: 18948180.

[5] Pengelly, A. (2004, 2nd Ed). The Constituents of Medicinal Plants: An introduction to the chemistry and therapeutics of herbal medicine. CABI Publishing.

[6] Easley, T., Horne, S. (2016). The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Boos.

[7] Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press.

[8] Parra-Naranjo A, Delgado-Montemayor C, Fraga-López A, Castañeda-Corral G, Salazar-Aranda R, Acevedo-Fernández JJ, Waksman N. Acute Hypoglycemic and Antidiabetic Effect of Teuhetenone A Isolated from Turnera diffusa. Molecules. 2017 Apr 8;22(4):599. doi: 10.3390/molecules22040599. PMID: 28397755; PMCID: PMC6154680.

[9] Alarcon-Aguilara FJ, Roman-Ramos R, Perez-Gutierrez S, Aguilar-Contreras A, Contreras-Weber CC, Flores-Saenz JL. Study of the anti-hyperglycemic effect of plants used as antidiabetics. J Ethnopharmacol. 1998 Jun;61(2):101-10. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(98)00020-8. PMID: 9683340.

[10] Kumar S, Madaan R, Sharma A. Pharmacological evaluation of Bioactive Principle of Turnera aphrodisiaca. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008 Nov;70(6):740-4. doi: 10.4103/0250-474X.49095. PMID: 21369434; PMCID: PMC3040867.

Groundhog Day. Fake News?

By Colleen Gondolfi, Blooming Artichoke Herbary

Groundhog. Shenandoah National Park. 6.4.12. Wikipedia.

February.  It’s wet (usually).  It’s cold (almost definitely).  And by the time we get to this point in the new year, I think most of us are looking forward to signs of spring and warmer weather.  Perfectly natural that we should look for something that confirms spring is coming.  It is?  Great!  When???  Enter a 13-pound, bushy-tailed rodent, excuse me, woodchuck.  In this omniscient animal we place our faith when determining when to plant those peas and when to buy the new bikini.  But should we?

Dial back a few years to February 2, 1887 in Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  A group of groundhog hunters tickled a groundhog out of his burrow.  Phil the First looked around, saw his shadow and then presumably turned around and waddled back to his burrow because they were in for six more weeks of winter.  There has been a continuous succession of Phil ever since.  If Phil sees his shadow, back to the burrow.  More winter on the way.  If he does not, well probably still back to the burrow, but spring will come a lot sooner.    

If it seems unlikely that all this came about out of thin air, you are correct.  The tradition has its roots in the Christian festival Candlemas, which in turn has its origin in the Pagan festival of Imbolc.  Imbolc marked the beginning of spring and the return of the sun.  Candlemas was the day that candles were brought to the church for use in the coming year, and is also a celebration of light (as well as a commemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem).  Some people believed that if it was sunny on Candlemas, they were in for another forty days of winter.  The Germans took this a step further by electing a mascot.  In Europe, this was usually a hedgehog.  When Germans settled in America, they brought the tradition with them, but hedgehogs were thin on the ground.  Groundhogs were much more common.  And the US tradition began.

So, we have our winter/spring predictions on February 2nd.  Just how accurate is this anyway?  Analysis varies.  According to a study done by the National Climatic Data Center, Phil nails it about 50% of the time.  Coin toss anyone?  Other analysis finds him accurate between 36% and 39%.  The differences appear to be mostly due to the number of years used in the comparisons and the animals.  Though Staten Island Chuck is reported to be almost 80% accurate.  What?  Did you think Phil was the only game around?

But wait!  What if you don’t have a groundhog handy?  Could some other animal do in a pinch?  Apparently, for some people, yes.  If you go to Vermillion, Ohio you can attend the annual Wooly Bear Festival to measure the orange bands on the wooly bear caterpillars to get your winter projection.  Unfortunately, the caterpillars haven’t proven any more accurate than the groundhog.  Also, it was discovered that their bands reflect the prior winter weather.  Not so helpful, but a great excuse for a party. 

Other animals used for weather forecast include cows, cats, frogs, birds and turtles.  Folklore says that cows lay down when it’s about to get cold.  Standing lets them regulate their body temperature in warmer weather.  And while the standing bit may be true, there is no evidence to suggest that they plant themselves on the ground because it is getting chilly.  If you have a cat, watch the weather carefully if it sneezes, scratches behind its ear or snores.  I think cats are clever, talented, animals, but even I’m not buying into that one.  Frogs are supposed to get louder when bad weather is approaching.  There is actually some validation for this one, for some frogs, but whether you can make a prediction based on it is another subject.  And no, when you see birds sitting on a power line, it does not mean it is about to rain.  Neither does a turtle crossing the road mean more rain coming.  I assume they just want to get to the other side. 

My suggestion?  Aside from my knees, which are brilliant predictors of incoming weather.  Spring will get here in its own sweet time.  Prepare for the worse, hope for the best.  And when you need an immediate update, stick your hand out the window.

References

History.com Editors. History. First Groundhog Day. A&E Television Networks.  Published 11/24/09.  Updated 2/2/21. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-groundhog-day.

History.com Staff.  History. Groundhog Day: History and Facts. A&E Television Networks. Published 2/2/12.  Updated 2/2/21. Accessed 2/28/21. https://www.history.com/news/groundhog-day-history-and-facts.

Marshall Shepherd, Senior Contributor.  Forbes. How Accurate are Groundhogs and 8 other Animals at Predicting Weather?  2/2/16.  Accessed 2/28/21. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2016/02/02/how-accurate-are-groundhogs-and-8-other-animals-at-predicting-weather/?sh=76137ea74737.

Yarrow, the Battlefield Boo Boo Butter

Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) is a decorative plant native to the temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia and is commonly found in fields, pastures and ditches.  It’s use as a medicinal herb goes back thousands of years and the plant comes with a rich folklore history.  How many plants can claim a god keeps it in his first aid kit?  Well, actually quite a few.  But legend has it that the Achillea in Achillea millifolium is due to the god Achilles’ use of this plant to heal his soldiers’ wounds in battle (Ranson, 1954).  Historical and contemporary use of this plant include as a styptic to slow and stop bleeding and a vulnerary to promote wound healing, as well as a diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, stimulant and mild aromatic (Grieve, 1971).  These properties let to its use as to stop nosebleed, calm bleeding hemorrhoids, treat rheumatism and toothache, as a gargle for sore throat, to reduce blood pressure, and for relief from colds, bronchitis, coughs, asthma, fevers and catarrh (Grieve, 1971)(Dawson, 1980).

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Interview on Lewistalks: Herbs and Sci Fi

A local new source just published an interview with me for Blooming Artichoke Herbary, as well as my husband, Tom Gondolfi, and his publishing company.  To learn about our joint efforts with herbs and the written science fiction word here is the article for your enjoyment.

Tom and Colleen Gondolfi: Passionate About Science Fiction and Herbs

 

Cats vs. Catnip

018At Blooming Artichoke we grow lots of different perennial herbs.  Some are easy plants to grow, some are more exact and difficult, but catnip (Nepeta cataria) has to be the most challenging of the lot because it calls out to all its destroyers within sniffing distance.

First of all, I love cats.  I’ve been a certified crazy cat lady my whole life.  I love plants.  And I have the plant geek certificates and stack of dirty garden gloves to prove it.  There are just times when those two loves do not work well together.  Catnip and furballs are a good example. 

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