From as far back as ancient times, the bark of the yohimbe tree, also known as Pausinystalia yohimba, johimbe, yohimbé and yohimbébaum, (among other popular names throughout the world), has been employed in Africa as an aphrodisiac, especially among the Bantu people. It is probable that the ancient Egyptians may have been aware of, and even imported, the bark of the yohimba tree through trade channels with West Africa. The yohimbe tree has long been held in high regard as an aphrodisiac and stimulant in Cameroon. The tree is native to the tropical forests of Nigeria and Cameroon, and in the jungles of the Congo.
The yohimbe tree is an evergreen which can grow to a height of almost one hundred feet tall, and it bears a slight resemblance to the oak tree. It has oval attenuated leaves with bushy inflorescences that produce winged seeds. The light brown or gray-brown bark is about a third of an inch thick with horizontal and vertical fissures and is usually overgrown with lichens. It is the bark of the tree that is the source of alkaloids which have significant pharmaceutical value.
The German chemist Spiegel isolated the alkaloid yohimbine from the bark of the yohimbe tree in the late 19th century. The chemical compound has been subsequently utilized in Western medicine as a treatment for impotence and as a local anesthetic. The psychoactive properties of the yohimbe tree is derived from its bark, and the alkaloids can only be extracted from its bark after it has dried.
The bark of the trunk of trees that are older than fifteen to twenty years contains two to fifteen percent indole alkaloids that consists of yohimbine, coryine, quebrachine, corynanthidine, isoyohimbine, mesoyohimbine, rauwolscine, amsonine, yohimbinine, corynanthine, corynanthein, dihydrocorynanthein, alloyohimbine, pseudoyohimbine, tetrahydromethylcorynanthein and ajmalcine.
In addition to its sexual stimulant and aphrodisiac qualities, the bark of the yohimbe tree has been reported to also be hallucinogenic when smoked. The psychoactive effects are primarily due to the main active constituent yohimbine. Yohimbine has sympatholytic and local anesthetic effects much like those of cocaine. It also has vasodilating effects, especially on the sex organs. Yohimbine stimulates the release of noradrenaline at the nerve endings. This makes noradrenaline available in the corpus cavernosum, resulting in sexual stimulation and ultimately in an erection in men.
In Cameroon, the bark of the yohimbe tree is used in folk medicine to treat impotence resulting from black magic and witchcraft. Preparations containing yohimbe are used in modern phytotherapy and in Western medicine to treat frigidity and impotence. It is also used in veterinary medicine. In homeopathic medicine, it has been sited as arousing the sexual organs, and affecting the central nervous and respiratory systems. Homeopathically, it is said to be able to help with congestive conditions of the sexual organs, including hyperemia of the mammary glands, resulting in stimulating milk production.
It’s likely that yohimbe was once used in western Africa as an initiatory drink in fetish and ancestor cults, as well as in initiations into secret societies. An initiation ritual was described by an explorer in West Africa who witnessed it during the late nineteenth century. Black magic sorcerers would give their followers a yohimbe drink to prepare them for a great fetishistic initiation. After imbibing the potion, the subject’s nerves would tense up in an extreme manner and an epileptic-type fit would overcome them. During this fit, the subjects would begin to unconsciously utter words that, when heard by the initiated, held prophetic meaning and demonstrated that the fetish successfully now dwells within them.
The Masai of East Africa call their warrior ritual drug “motoriki” or simply “ol motori,” meaning “the soup.” It is cooked from the bark of the yohimbe tree together with the roots of Acokanthera – a substance they also use as a poison for arrow heads. Since most archaic drug rituals almost always include an animal sacrifice, the warlike Masai kill a bull on such occasions. They collect its blood in a vessel, and then mix it into the finished brew of yohimbe bark and root pieces.
The motoriki drink produces an epilepsy-like tetanus in which the Morani – the young Masai warriors enduring this initiation – are visited by horrible visions in which they fight with demons and wild, savage animals. The terrible hallucinations are so strong that they must be watched over and held onto so that they will not injure themselves or others. However, there are reportedly numerous deaths due to Morani running amok while under the influence, or from respiratory failure. However, it is said those that survive this ritual will no longer fear anything.
In the early 20th century, yohimbe bark and yohimbine enjoyed great popularity in Germany as a psychoactive aphrodisiac. Today, yohimbe is used chiefly in North America but also throughout Europe for sexual magic rituals that borrow from the Indian Tantra and the techniques of various occultists such as Aleister Crowley. Yohimbe has also been known to be used as a sacrament for pagan wedding ceremonies.
The dried bark can be prepared as an extract in alcohol as a tincture, or brewed as a tea. To make tea, six teaspoons of dried yohimbe bark should be boiled with water and 500 mg of vitamin C per person, then sipped slowly. A recipe that can be used to decoct a tea which will produce a firm erection includes one tablespoon of dried yohimbe bark, one teaspoon of crushed dita seeds (Alstonia scholaris), one tablespoon of broken up cola nuts and one tablespoon of sasparilla. All ingredients should be boiled together for ten minutes, then sipped slowly.
The pharmaceutical industry uses yohimbe extracts to manufacture aphrodisiacs and medicines to treat impotence. These extracts are usually combined with atropine, Tunera diffusa, Strychnos nux-vomica, Stychnos, Lirisoma ovata or other substances. The bark is also used in aphrodisiac smoking blends, mixed with other herbs that soothe, while still others stimulate. Most preparations of the bark also produce mild, subtle euphoric effects.
The bark is available without restriction, while the pure alkaloids require a prescription. Ten drops of a pure 1% solution of yohimbe extract is said to stimulate the sexual organs of both men and women, although the resulting erection in men makes these effects more obvious than those experienced by women. Both sexes report feelings of mild euphoria and when taken in high concentrations, yohimbe extract has been reported to produce hallucinations and other-worldly experiences.
POTENTIAL DANGERS OF YOHIMBE / YOHIMBINE
There are widely varied reports about the dangers of Yohimbine, partly because, we suspect, it reportedly has been used as a hallucinogen by African tribes throughout history. The governments of Canada, Australia, Norway, Finland & United Kingdom have banned the trade of Yohimbe because of it’s potential to be life threatening, and the FDA in the United States is looking into ways of banning it, just like Ephedra, but it is presently still legal.
Yohimbe is reportedly showing up more and more in the recent past possibly due to its ability to reportedly provide both hallucinogenic and highly stimulating experiences when taken in dosages of 50-100 mg. Often mixed with other substances like ephedrine, the herb can be quite dangerous when taken in doses over 50mg. Yohimbe is also used in tantric rituals and when taken in excess, is also dangerous and unpleasant, causing many side effects such as severe nausea, intense irritability as well as stomach and colon reactions. In some cases Yohimbe can cause dangerously altered blood pressure. A drug that can both dilate or collapse veins, preventing blood flow can be quite dangerous for people with blood pressure or heart issues.
So, when working with any herbal product or unfamiliar entheogen, start off small, and test any reaction. It's better to feel nothing, than to find yourself in an unpleasant or worse; a dangerous situation.