Family: Turneraceae (Turnera Family)
Damiana is a small shrub with aromatic leaves found throughout Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies. The botanical name of the plant describes its use as an aphrodisiac. For more than 100 years, Damiana's use has been associated with improving sexual function in both males and females. Damiana acts as an anti depressant, tonic, diuretic, to treat coughs and as a mild laxative. It is said to relieve headaches, control bed-wetting, and stimulate muscular contractions of the intestinal tract. Damiana is a stimulating nerve tonic used for debility, depression and lethargy. Damiana is held in high repute by Mexican herbalists, particulary as an aphrodisiac, prescribed as a thick decoction before bedtime.
The leaves contain the antimicrobial hydroquinone arbutin, various volatile oils which also have an antimicrobial action, and various flavonoids. Also, damiana extracts have been shown, in the test tube, to weakly bind to progesterone receptors. Damiana may thus be a potentially useful herb for some female health problems.
Known commonly as Damiana, Turnera diffusa is a relatively small shrub that produces small yellow flowers rich with scent. Its use as a "love drink" dates back to prehistoric Mayan times, and it has remained popular as an aphrodisiac in Central and South America since.
The elusive notion of a "love potion" has existed for centuries, that secret mixture of exotic ingredients that will cause the object of affection to fall madly into love, thereby making the potion giver's dreams come true. The word "aphrodisiac" even comes from the ancient Greek goddess of sensuality, Aphrodite. Technically speaking, an aphrodisiac is any agent that can be used to increase sexual desire. Due to the relativity and vagueness of this effect ("love" or even "desire"), there is always a risk that the power of suggestion (or "placebo effect") can influence a substance's effect.
The first official record of damiana as an aphrodisiac comes from the Spanish missionary, Jesus Maria de Slavatierra, in his Chronica of 1699. After witnessing its us in northern Mexico, he bestowed the plant its current name either as a reference to Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists, or Peter Damiani, famous for fighting the immorality he saw among the clergy of the eleventh century.
An Austrian by the name of Josef August Schultes is credited as the first to write a formal botanical description of the plant early in the nineteenth century. Almost fifty years later, in 1874, the plant was first introduced to U.S. markets as an aphrodisiac. In the years immediately predating prohibition, Dr. John S. Pemberton, known as the inventor of Coca-Cola, even concocted a formula he called French Wine Coca," containing extracts of coca, cola, sweet wine, and damiana. By 1880 the plant had made its way across the Atlantic, where, as in Mexico and the U.S., it maintains a steady popularity as a "legal alternative" to marijuana and tobacco.
Even more than a commercial product, damiana has a long history of medicinal use across the Americas. The plant itself can be grown from seed or cutting, and requires a warm or hot climate, but has no specific soil type requirements, and even grows well in the desert. It has also more recently been found in Asia and various islands in the Indian Ocean.
Though there are no ritual uses of damiana on record, the long Mayan history of damiana as a medicine is reflected in its Mayan name, mis kok, which translates to "asthma broom". When intended to "sweep away" problematic breathing, the plant was often ground into powder and mixed with boiling water to be consumed as a medicinal tea. It was also burned as incense or smoked.
But a recent Mexican nickname for damiana, "shirt remover", reflects its primary historic medicinal role, that of an aphrodisiac. In Mexico, it has been used as a twice-a-day treatment (for two weeks at a time) to ease the intensity of and regulate menstrual cycles. In Northern Mexican regions, the plant has been utilized to treat physical weakness and nervousness. The same people have been known to use the plant to treat stomach and headaches, rheumatism, and the painful stings of scorpion. And, throughout it all, damiana has retained its role as an aphrodisiac.
In the Bahamas, the plant has also found popularity as a treatment for headaches. There, it is consumed primarily by inhaling the steam made by boiling water mixed with the plant. The tea of damiana is also used to treat bet wedding.
Twentieth-century phytotherapists have further established the versatility and physical benefits of damiana for treating menstrual pains and cramps, and improving mood in general. Homeopathic uses turn to a tincture made from the dried leaves for its aphrodisiac effects, along with treating incontinence in older individuals. Other compounds, like Damiana Pentarkan, which consists of the plant mixed with ginsing, muira puama, phosphoric acid, and ambergris, is currently used to treat sexual weakness.
The relatively unassuming appearance of the damiana plant would seem to run counter to popular "myths" of aphrodisiacs, many of which gain their reputation from the principles of "sympathetic magic". For example, one reason for the legend of a rhinoceros horn as a powerful aphrodisiac can surely be attributed to their phallic-looking shape, and association with so powerful a beast. Or the tiger penis, regarded as an aphrodisiac almost purely for the virility and aggressiveness of the animal source.
By comparison, the damina plant's longevity as a well-regarded aphrodisiac seems to eschew such base association and survive solely on its confirmed psychoactive components and record of performance in use. While the entire plant will grow to an average height of about 30 cm, the plant's leaves tend to grow no longer than 2 cm. The small yellow flowers, only about 12 mm in length, bloom during the late-summer months (July-September).
The psychoactive material of the plant includes all herbage, aside from the root (herbage sans roots). Damiana leaves are .2 to .9% essential oil, 6% hard resin, 8% soft resin, 3.5% tannin, and 6% starch. The essential consists of about half sesquiterpenes (guajan derivitaves and similar others) and about half monoterpenes (pinene, thymol). And, while it is often claimed that the leaves contain caffeine, this is largely unsubstantiated. The stems, however, have been shown to contain caffeine.
Damina is available from pharmacies and herbalists without restriction. U.S. health food stores will often carry tinctures and extracts of the plant on their shelves, as will many sex shops.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Damiana makes a fragrant, sparkling tea with a delicious aroma and an agreeable bitter taste. The Aztecs would drink a mixture consisting of 32 grams of fresh leaves boiled for 15 minutes in approximately 1 liter of water. Often, a pipe of damiana would be smoked to increase the desired effect.
The dried damiana herbage can also be prepared as tea (see above) or as an alcohol extract. It is versatile enough to function as an infusion, decoction, or cold-water extract. For a decoction, damiana should be boiled for up to an hour and allowed to cool for 24 horus. For tea, the dosage is generally 4 g per cup or mug. Drinking the tea will produce mild effects, felt mostly in the lower abdomen, possibly as a result of increased blood flow to the region. This localized effect contributes to damiana's repeated reports of being a relaxing agent with respect to menstrual cramps.
For the stronger aphrodisiac infusions, damiana can be combined with wine or cola nuts. In Mexico, damiana is a common ingredient in certain liquors. A 1992 test gave damiana the best results among other plants and natural drugs with alleged aphrodisiac properties. Along with these, the herbage is also widely believed to have tonic, diuretic, and stimulant characteristics.
It is also smoked and burned as incense. As such, damiana is often an ingredient in psychoactive smoking blends, or rolled together with hashish. Smoking will result in a mildly euphoric state, not unlike marijuana, which will last approximately an hour.
Find many Damiana products at Shaman's Garden or IAmShaman.