Damiana was once an ingredient in Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, a predecessor of Coca-cola. It was marketed as a cure-all and Dr. Pemberton himself called it “the most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs.” Is there any truth to this? Read on to discover what the science says about its benefits and side effects.
What is Damiana?
Turnera diffusa var. aphrodisiaca, also known as damiana, is a small flowering shrub. It is native to South Texas, Southern California, Mexico, West Indies, and South America. Traditionally, the leaves and stems of damiana were used in teas, flavoring liquor, and taken as a tonic to improve general health. It has a long history as an aphrodisiac .
Folklore suggests the Aztecs, Mayans, and Guaycura loved damiana. For them, this herb was not only an aphrodisiac, but also a remedy for anxiety, depression, digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, and bed-wetting.
While not recommended, some people smoke damiana to achieve a high that is paradoxically described as both relaxing and stimulating.
Potent Active Compounds
- Antioxidant flavonoids and phenolics, including apigenin. Their combination likely carries the aphrodisiac effect 
- Terpenoids (synergistic compounds) 
- Cyanogenic glycosides
- Alkaloids (anti-anxiety) 
- Plant steroids (anti-inflammatory) 
- Saponins (anticancer) 
- Tannins (both nutrient and anti-nutrient) 
Active compounds are concentrated in parts of the plant exposed to air: leaves, stems, and flowers. Damiana plants produce varying amounts of essential oils and antioxidants depending on the conditions they are grown in .
- Helps relieve anxiety
- Enhances mood
- Weight loss potential
- Relieves pain
- Protects from stomach ulcers
- Helps with menopausal symptoms
- May fight obesity and diabetes
- May dangerously lower blood sugar in combination with diabetic medications
- May decrease iron absorption
Possible Health Benefits of Damiana
1) May Have Aphrodisiac Effects
Damiana’s claim to fame is its aphrodisiac effect. People are adding damiana to countless herbal combinations, hoping to achieve a blissful, libido-enhancing euphoria. But in truth, human studies are completely lacking. We have to turn to the available animal studies to get to the bottom of these claims.
One study discovered damiana works in a similar way to sildenafil (Viagra) .
Damiana does not affect motor skills or cause sedation like medications such as diazepam. So its anti-anxiety effect is an advantage for its use in enhancing sexual performance .
The effects of damiana might apply to women as well. One clinical trial of 108 women of varying ages (22 to 73 years-olds) reporting a lack of sexual desire looked at the effects of ArginMax. ArginMax is an herbal supplement containing damiana, L-arginine, ginseng, ginkgo, multivitamins, and minerals. Supplementation increased sexual desire and satisfaction with overall sex life .
Keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to tease apart the effect of damiana in multi-ingredient supplements. And until more studies come out, damiana’s aphrodisiac powers remain wishful thinking. They’re plausible, but far from proven.
2) May Boost Mental and Physical Stamina
There are no studies to support damiana boosting mental or physical stamina. However, damiana does contain caffeine, the most widely-used stimulant worldwide.
Damiana and Panax ginseng are considered cognitive enhancers. One study tried to determine if they work by protecting the hippocampus (memory hub) from cell death. But in the animal study, neither had an effect .
3) May Help with Anxiety
In several animal studies, damiana had a clear anti-anxiety effect, comparable to diazepam (Valium). And it didn’t negatively affect motor skills to cause sluggishness nor did it have harm the organs [16, 17, 18].
It is important to note that potency can vary from product to product. Homeopathic products will have no or little active components compared to standardized supplements. One study on anti-anxiety effects used tinctures from three different homeopathic manufacturers. They found the dosage needed to reach the same effect greatly varied .
4) May Enhance Mood
Damiana extract displayed a marked antidepressant effect in mice .
A cell-based study looked at the ability of various plants to inhibit monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). This enzyme is crucial for mood regulation since it breaks down important neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Damiana had a strong potential to block MAOA, which could explain its mood-enhancing effects .
5) Weight Loss Potential
One clinical study tested a product with yerba maté, guarana, and damiana with two distinct aims. Would the combination affect stomach emptying and would it result in weight loss? In the first part of the study, the combination delayed stomach emptying in seven healthy volunteers. In the second, it increased weight loss by 10 to 12 lbs over 45 days in 47 people .
6) May Relieve Headaches and Pain
As a folk remedy, damiana has been reported to relieve headaches, no studies to support this benefit. However, damiana does appear to provide natural pain relief. It was equal to morphine in a pain-tolerance study in mice .
7) Constipation and Upset Stomach
There is no mention of damiana relieving constipation in the scientific literature. But damiana does have anti-ulcer activity. Arbutin, a compound in damiana, protected the stomach lining from ulcer-causing chemicals in an animal study .
8) May Induce Lucid Dreaming
A quick search on Google will lead to many reports of damiana causing lucid dreaming. Human studies on damiana are limited and none include lucid dreaming. But let’s have in mind that we can’t test lucid dreaming in animals while the scientific literature about this phenomenon is extremely limited.
And if we dig deeper into the science, damiana’s lucid-dreaming potential does have some ground.
Acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter in the brain, has an influence on REM sleep. An acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor allows it to build up in the brain. In one study on 121 people, the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor increased the frequency of lucid dreaming. Galantamine is another great example of an AChE inhibitor that induces lucid dreams .
Plus, in one cell study of damiana, damiana had the greatest potential among 3 other herbs to affect brain chemistry by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase .
9) Women’s Health
Its libido-enhancing potential might add to this benefit. Some herbalists claim that damiana relieves vaginal dryness and increases sexual satisfaction in postmenopausal women without causing unwanted estrogenic effects. They state that damiana can even be applied vaginally rather than orally for this purpose. But research is completely lacking to confirm the anecdotes.
All in all, there’s probably no harm in giving damiana a try… but it’s impossible to say if it’ll work based on the evidence.
10) May Fight Obesity and Diabetes
The YGD (yerba maté, guarana, and damiana) herbal mix prevented fat accumulation in a cell study. This would be relevant both for fighting obesity and metabolic problems in people with type 2 diabetes .
Additionally, damiana decreased blood sugar in rabbits with transiently increased blood sugar levels .
A compound isolated from damiana decreased blood sugar in diabetic animals – both in those that could and couldn’t make insulin. To draw a parallel, people with type 2 diabetes usually can make enough insulin (they just don’t respond to it), while those with type 1 can’t. This means that damiana might help manage blood sugar in both diabetes types .
But two other animal studies cast doubt on damiana’s ability to lower blood sugar. One of the studies revealed that its antioxidants prevent kidney damage due to high blood sugar, which highlights its greater potential to reduce diabetes complications [29, 26].
What could’ve caused the conflicting results, though? The answer may lie in the extraction process. Specific water or alcohol extracts did lower blood sugar, but their combination did not. Researchers may have a long way to go until they discover a reliable way to use this herb for sugar control .
Limitations and Caveats
There are not many studies on damiana and most are cell-based or animal ones. As an added complication, the existing human studies are on combination products, making it hard to pinpoint the effects of damiana.
Damiana Side Effects & Safety
Damiana does not have a tendency to cause side effects in typical doses. However, its safety is largely unknown due to the lack of clinical studies .
Diabetic medications in combination with damiana could lead to low blood sugar. Diabetic patients should speak with their healthcare provider before taking damiana.
While not studied directly, tannins and phenolics in damiana may decrease iron absorption. People with iron deficiency should take special care with damiana .
Research on smoking damiana is lacking, but smoking herbs in general releases tar, ash and carbon monoxide.
The dangers of “herbal spice” & other “legal highs”
Damiana is also sometimes added to cannabis-mimicking products for smoking, which are often labeled as “spice.” These are especially common is US states and countries where marijuana is illegal. Despite being marketed as “natural,” these actually contain numerous other dangerous psychoactive compounds, such as synthetic cannabinoids .
A product cold online as “‘herbal haze” is another example. It’s used as a “legal high” and contains damiana, marshmallow seeds, mullein, and synthetic psychoactive contaminants. In a nutshell, you really don’t know what you’re getting and it’s probably not just herbs. These “spices” can be dangerous, unpredictable, and several serious poisoning cases have been reported .
Damiana Review, Dosage & How to Use
The concentration of active ingredients in damiana can vary depending on the formulation. Your best bet is to get a high-quality product and follow the directions on the label.
Since there are no human studies of damiana alone, the dosing recommendation can’t be established. The dosages used in animal studies were dependent on how the extract was made.
Based on the traditional dosage and supplement labels, the following can be used as a rough dosing guide:
- Tea: One to two teaspoons (2-4 g) of the dried leaves, up to three times per day.
- Tincture: By drops up to 1 ml (~20 drops)/day.
- Leaf extract: 1,500-1,600 mg, 2-3 times per day. More potent extracts will require lower dosing.
We caution against high damiana doses as hallucinations have been reported. It’s unknown exactly what in damiana can bring about this effect. Damiana’s hallucinogenic effects remain scientifically unverified.
Consult a healthcare professional before supplementing, especially if you suffer from mental health issues or take prescription medication. If you experience hallucinations taking damiana, urgently seek medical help.
Pure Herb vs. Supplement Combinations
Damiana is most often used in combination with other herbs. You’ll find a countless number of supplements on the market.
Don’t get confused – the exact combination depends on the intended benefits. But such products, it’s often hard to tell exactly what is (or isn’t) working. You can always purchase pure damiana as well.
Pure damiana is available as:
- Dried leaves
- Leaf powder
- Essential oils
All products are made using the leaves of damiana, while the essential oil also uses the blossoms. Unfortunately, the available products lack standardization .
Aphrodisiac supplements with damiana are the most popular kind (such as Herbal Niagra, ExtenZe, Proenhance). These typically include a combination of damiana and ginseng, He Shou Wu, yohimbe bark extract, L-arginine, saw palmetto, ginkgo, and other stimulant or libido-enhancing herbs.
Some aphrodisiac products have gone the extra mile with packaging, formulating various herbs into vintage-looking bottles marketed as “love potions” and “spirit elixirs.” These may be tempting, but don’t get your expectations too high.
Plus, several damiana products promote weight loss. Yerba maté and guarana are usually added to these.
Its use alongside kava is particularly popular among people with anxiety… as well as with those who are looking for a natural, bliss-inducing combo.
Kava and Damiana
Users combine kava and damiana is used to create a euphoric high giving a sense of control, bliss and patience that does not cause mental impairment.
Is there any scientific truth to this?
Kava’s primary does help with anxiety. And while damiana can also decrease anxiety, its aphrodisiac and cholinergic compounds may play a role in the combined bliss-like effect. However, research on this combo is nonexistent .
Nonetheless, products containing both of these (and other herbs) abound. Users are claiming such herbal mixes helped them decrease stress, increase libido, and boost breast tissue growth. The combination does not appear to be dangerous but have in mind that no studies support it.
Overall, damiana has positive reviews.
Many users – both men and women – report it increases libido.
One user said that with consistent use, damiana helped with her menopause symptoms.
Several users claimed it improved mood, decreased anxiety and helped with sleep, while some reported increased energy.
Many reviews mention that it works best in combination with other herbs.
Some users state that they didn’t feel anything after supplementing. On the upside, none of them reported side effects either.
Damiana’s effects on lucid dreaming are a popular topic in various forums. But its effect in sleep is usually accomplished by smoking the herb, which may be unsafe. Plus, users seeking a lucid dreaming boost tend to take it in combination with other herbs in products that may be adulterated with synthetic psychoactive compounds.
You will need:
- 1-2 teaspoons dried damiana leaves
- 240 mL of water
- Place damiana leaves in a mug or other heatproof container.
- Heat 240 ml of water to boil, remove from heat, then pour over leaves in the mug.
- Steep tea for 15 – 20 minutes, then strain into another clean mug or heatproof container.
- Enjoy tea alone or with honey and/or lemon to taste.
You will need:
- Dried damiana leaves
- 100 proof vodka
- Airtight jar
- Fill jar ⅕ full with damiana leaves. You are aiming for a 1:4 ratio herbs:alcohol.
- Pour vodka over the leaves to the top of the jar and seal.
- Allow mixture to sit for 6 weeks, shaking it every few days.
- When ready, strain tincture through a cheesecloth.
- Label tincture and store in a cool, dark area.
- Take as needed using a dropper.
Where to Buy
Damiana may be found at your local herb shop. You can also buy it in capsule form at your local drugstore and possibly as tea or extract at your local health food store. Check to see if the herb is organic and harvested wild.
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Damiana has quite a reputation as an aphrodisiac and euphoric herb. But before you rush to buy some to brew your own “love potion,” have in mind that its libido-enhancing benefits mostly remain unproven.
On the bright side, damiana is likely safe at typical doses. It may slightly reduce your anxiety and give you more energy, especially in combination with other herbs. If you decide to supplement, start low and go slow. Consult a medical professional first, especially if you take medication or have health issues.
Smoking damiana is probably unsafe, while its use in “spice” products is dangerous.