Romantic Herbs

Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)
This content originally appeared on 

In February, all those red hearts and amorous greeting cards can inspire us to rekindle any dampened flames with our significant others. In the hierarchy of health, libido ranks last in terms of importance, so it's not surprising that many Americans--about 20 to 30 percent of men and 40 to 45 percent of women--simply aren't in the mood.

Different culprits contribute to low libido, including stress, aging, hormones, cardiovascular and blood sugar health, and drug side effects. Fortunately, we have foods and herbs to lend a hand.

Lifestyle Tips to Improve Libido

Pay attention to stress. If you live in a state of chronic stress, your stress hormones "steal" the building blocks of reproductive and mood-boosting hormones. Good circulation and healthy vascular lining is also important to get the blood where it needs to go. Think exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep, as well as stress-busting and circulation-enhancing aphrodisiac herbs.

Cardiovascular health is linked to the health of your reproductive organs: In other words, a heart-healthy diet is a sex-friendly diet. Aphrodisiac foods tend to also be heart tonics, including garlic, hot peppers, avocados, and chocolate. Oysters and other shellfish boast high zinc and iron content (deficiencies of either can lessen libido and reproductive function in men and women, respectively) as well as unusual amino acids that encourage the production of sex hormones.

Herbs for Libido

Maca (Lepidium meyenii): This Peruvian herb is a stress-busting adaptogen with a reputation for supporting mood, hormone balance, and libido. It's helpful in middle age for maintaining vitality and virility during hormonal transitions.

Several human studies support its ability to boost desire and sexual function, including in postmenopausal women, women with antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, men with erectile dysfunction, and healthy adults of both genders. Preliminary research supports its use for fertility, sperm count and motility, and prostate health.

Maca's pleasant taste blends well with spices and chocolate. It can be taken as a powder (great for smoothies or mixed into nut butter), tincture, or capsule. It may take up to two months for results to build. If it upsets your tummy, try tinctures or gelatinized maca.

Damiana (Turnera diffusa): This classic Mexican aphrodisiac is also a nervine herb that helps restore the nervous system. It has a long history of use to improve libido, lift mood, and boost energy while lessening anxiety. Think of it when you can't unwind enough to even think about sex, let alone enjoy it.

Damiana seems to support estrogen in women (relieving vaginal dryness) and testosterone in men. Animal studies support its capacity to improve the male ability to go for round two. Though available as a tincture, tea, or capsule, it's also available as an elixir or liquor, combined with chocolate, spices, vanilla, and/or other more tasty ingredients. Damiana may contain small amounts of caffeine.

Asian Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng): This traditional energizing tonic from China boosts performance for men with erectile dysfunction (ED). Men in studies experienced improved erections with ginseng, including penetration, erection maintenance, penile tip rigidity, and increased desire. A typical dose would be 600 to 1,000 milligrams (mg) three times daily.

ED can be the canary in the coal mine for other health issues, particularly cardiovascular health including atherosclerosis and diabetes, as well as prescription side effects. Work with your healthcare practitioner to rule out underlying causes.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): This Indian Ayurvedic herb helps get both men and women in the mood. When compared to those taking a placebo, women who took a 300 mg capsule of concentrated root extract twice daily had significantly better sexual function after eight weeks, including better desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasms, and satisfaction as well as less pain.

In another study, ashwagandha improved semen volume, sperm count, and mobility as well as testosterone levels in men with fertility issues. Ashwagandha offers many other health benefits, including improved energy, reduction of nervous tension and anxiety, and the boosting of cognition and mood.

Safety Check on Aphrodisiac Herbs

The herbs in this article have a high degree of safety when used in recommended dosages (check the product label). Always double-check with your healthcare practitioner for any potential herb-drug interactions.

Click to See Our Sources

SELECTED SOURCES "Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha . . ." by V.R. Ambiye et al., 11/28/13; "A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepres-sant-induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women" by C.M. Dording et al., 2015, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med

"Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women . . ." by S. Dongre et al., Biomed Res Int, 10/4/15

"Maca (L. meyenii) for Improving Sexual Function: A Systematic Review" by B-C Shin et al., BMC Complementary & Al-ternative Medicine, 2010

"Study of the Efficacy of Korean Red Ginseng in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction" by E. de Andrade et al., Asian J Androl, 3/07

"Turnera diffusa Wild (Turneraceae) Recovers Sexual Behavior in Sexually Exhausted Males" by R. Estrada-Reyes et al., J Ethnopharmacol, 6/25/09