Damiana, of the Turneraceae plant family, is an aromatic shrub with small yellow flowers that grows on dry, sunny, rocky hillsides in south Texas, Southern California, Mexico, and Central America. The two species used in herbal healing, both of which are referred to as damiana, are Turnera aphrodisiaca and Turnera diffusa. Damiana usually grows to a height of about 24 in (60 cm). Its pale green leaves, which turn yellow-brown when dried, are 0.5–1 in (15–25 mm) long and quite narrow. They have serrated (jagged) edges. The leaves and sometimes the stems of the plant have medicinal uses. Other names for damiana include old woman's broom, Mexican damiana, pastorata, hierba del venado, oreganello, and the bourrique.
Damiana affects primarily the urinary and reproductive systems. It has been used as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual potency in men by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians, for thousands of years. It is said to act as a sexual stimulant and produce a feeling of general well being. Damiana is sometimes used in men to treat spermatorrhea, premature ejaculation, sexual sluggishness, and prostate complaints. It is often used in combination with other herbs to treat impotence.
In the past 100 years, damiana has shifted from being primarily a male sexual remedy to also being prescribed for women. In women it is used to treat painful menstruation, menopause disorders, and headaches caused by menstruation.
Today both men and women may use damiana to relieve anxiety, nervousness, and mild depression, especially if these symptoms have a sexual component. The herb is also used as a general tonic to improve wellness. As a general tonic it is said to act as a stimulant, improve circulation, and regulate hormonal activity. Some herbal practitioners also use it as a diuretic. Damiana tonic should be used moderately, and not be taken on a long-term basis.
Damiana has also been used traditionally to improve digestion and to treat constipation, as in larger doses it has a mild laxative effect. Other uses include treatment of asthma, cough and flu, and nephritis. During the 1960s, damiana was touted as a recreational drug. Some users claimed that damiana produced a mild "high" or hallucinogenic effect similar to marijuana that lasts an hour to an hour and a half.
In addition to its medicinal uses, damiana is used in Mexico to flavor liqueurs, tea, and other beverages and foods. It tastes slightly bitter, and the leaves have a strong resinous aroma when crushed. Damiana is approved for food use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Despite its long history and frequent use in many different cultures, scientists have been unable to isolate any active ingredients that would account for damiana's aphrodisiac, stimulant, or hallucinogenic properties. The herb contains a volatile oil that may mildly irritate the genitourinary system. This volatile oil may be at the root of damiana's reputation as an aphrodisiac.
The German Federal Health Agency's Commission E, which was established in 1978 to independently review and evaluate scientific literature and case studies pertaining to herb and plant medications, found no proof that damiana acts either as a sexual stimulant or as a hallucinogen. On the other hand, they also found no proof that damiana was likely to cause harm. A 1999 study on rats conducted in Italy found that extracts of Turnera diffusa had no effect on sexually potent rats, but did increase the performance of sexually sluggish or impotent rats. There have been no clinical trials involving humans.
Tish Davidson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,