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Damiana

Updated on October 4, 2008

Damiana is a shrub native to Central America, Mexico, South America, and the West Indies. It belongs to the family Turneraceae. Damiana is a relatively small shrub that produces small, aromatic flowers. It blossoms in early to late summer and is followed by fruits that taste very similarly to figs. The shrub is said to have an odor somewhat like chamomile or Cannabis sativa, due to an oil present in the plant. The leaves have traditionally been made into a tea which was used by native people of Central and South America for its aphrodisiac effects. Spanish missonaries first recorded that the Mexican Indians drank Damiana tea mixed with sugar for its ability to enhance lovemaking.

Damiana today is conventionally made into a tea, although in herbal medicine, damiana is used to treat conditions ranging from coughs to constipation to depression. The herbal supplement is reputed to help with energy, emphysema, low estrogen, frigidity, hot flashes, impotency, infertility, menopause, Parkinson's disease, PMS, inflammation of prostate, Lou Gehrig's disease, and more dealing with reproductive organs in both males and females.

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.

The leaves and occasionally the stems of damiana are used medicinally. They are normally harvested while the plant is in flower and then are dried. Dried leaves turn a yellow-brown color and may be powdered, used in capsules, or steeped in water or alcohol. Damiana is always used internally, never topically.

Now a days Damiana most famously is a liqueur, that legend has it, was used to make the first margarita. Which would make more sense than what we now traditionally use a "French Orange Liqueur" in the Mexican cocktail. A Damiana Margarita is amaziing and once you have tasted one you will never want a standard verision maragrita ever again.

Along with chocolate, vanilla, and red pepper, damiana came to the notice of the white man when the Spaniards moved into Mexico. Anglo doctors in Texas learned of the plant from the Native Americans and introduced it to the English-speaking colonies. From that point, the use of damiana spread as far north as Canada.

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