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Damiana is used as a nervine, anxiolytic and mild antidepressant


Turnera diffusa Passifloraceae

Damiana’s is used primarily for conditions in the nervous, urinary and reproductive systems. It has been used as an aphrodisiac to boost sexual potency by the native peoples of Central and South America for thousands of years. Modern uses are more towards the neuroses- depression and anxiety.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Nervous system trophorestorative
  • Autonomic nervous system balancer
  • Central nervous system balancer
  • Anxiolytic
  • Anti-depressant
  • Mood enhancer
  • Mucous membrane tonic
  • How does it feel?

    Damiana is a beautifully aromatic, warm and uplifting medicine which tastes slightly bitter and has some spicy tones. The leaves have a strong resinous aroma when crushed.

  • What can I use it for?

    damianaDamiana is a warming aromatic medicine with uplifting and mood enhancing qualities. It can be drank as a tea or taken as a tincture to help with mild anxiety or low mood. It may also be helpful for premenstrual syndrome, especially where accompanied by mood swings. 

    It is a potent anxiolytic which is often used for stress relief, nervous tension and exhaustion via a neutralising effect on the nervous system. It works well in combination with adaptogenic herbs such as ashwaghanda and astragalus.

    It has also been used successfully for a long time for sexual debility, particularly in men. However, these type of reproductive problems would be best addressed by a trained medical herbalist who will be able to help identify and treat the root of the problem. It is however traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and sexual tonic for both men and women.

    Damiana has decongesting properties. It may be used for catarrh, headaches, migraines and menopausal symptoms. It also has a mild laxative effect and can be used as an appetite enhancer.

  • Into the heart of damiana

    damiana leaves with flower budDamiana is a restorative and mucous membrane tonic which harmonises the tone of the soft tissue lining in our central organs. The organ systems most affected by damiana’s restorative properties are the reproductive, urinary and digestive systems.  

    Damiana is energetically warming due to its pungency and high volatile oil content. These stimulating qualities make it an excellent diffusive circulatory tonic, particularly for the pelvic region. Due to this action, damiana can be used to alleviate gynaecological problems such as pelvic stagnation, delayed menstruation (8) and for uterine cramps.

    It has a harmonising and restorative action on a branch of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It also effects the central nervous system (CNS) in a more stimulating way. It works best in depressed, debilitated and deficient conditions (6) where the tissue state is weak, atrophic and debilitated.

    The ANS is a component of the peripheral nervous system that regulates involuntary and automatic physiological processes such as; heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion. The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. Many of the systems that damiana effects and which are discussed in this monograph are innovated by the ANS (i.e. reproductive, digestive, urinary). 

    There are two branches of the ANS- parasympathetic and sympathetic. Put simply their roles are as follow. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) regulates the ‘rest and digest’ functions such as sleep, digestion, slowing down the heart and breath rate. Whereas the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) essentially controls the stress response i.e. the fight or flight- such as to increase strength and power – elevating blood pressure and speeding up the heart and breath rate.

    Prolonged exposure to high stress hormones can create disharmony in the ANS which often defaults to excess in the SNS (fight or flight). A herbalist will often address the ANS with use of adaptogens, nervines and ANS balancers due to the prevalence of high stress hormones in our modern culture.

    Damiana has many properties which make it specific for nervous disorders, debility, convalescence and stress tension. It works well alongside classic adaptogens such as ashwaghanda or astragalus which can support the adrenal glands and support the systems most affected by stress. Damiana may also be combined with other nervous system restoratives such as oat straw and vervain. Damiana works to restore balance in the nervous system as a nervous trophorestorative (6).

  • Traditional uses

    Damiana’a use as medicine dates back many thousands of years. It was beloved by the Aztecs and Mayans who used it to treat impotency, increase sexual drive in both men and women, as well as to stimulate the nervous system. The Mayans would use damiana for ‘giddiness, and loss of balance’ (2).

    Traditionally in central America the fragrant leaves were brewed into a tisane (tea) love potion as an infusion sweetened with honey. It has also been used as a mood enhancer recreationally in liquor or smoking pipes which was used to reduce anxiety.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    damiana plantNervous system

    Damiana has a number of desirable therapeutic actions which can be applied in both the neuroses and the neuralgias. It has some interesting effects in the nervous system due to its ability to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) as well as harmonise the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This gives damiana a mood enhancing and uplifting action yet it is also a relaxant and anxiolytic which makes it useful for conditions involving stress and anxiety (2, 3, 6).

    The mood enhancing and uplifting effects of damiana for lower mood or depressive states are most commonly referenced in papers and articles. It may however be less desirable for hyperactive or excitable presentations of anxiety due to the possible overstimulation. Damiana is often used by herbalists for fatigue, malaise, and to counter the effects of nervous exhaustion and stress.

    Damiana is traditionally used as an ANS balancer (2, 4). It also innovates the CNS- particularly through sacral nerve pathways which may explain some of its direct stimulating actions in the pelvic region (4).

    The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia cites indications for damiana’s use for anxiety neurosis and depression (2, 5). It is indicated where coital inadequacy is linked to psychological or emotional factors (3, 5) and is most referenced for use in male cases of this circumstance.

    Damiana combines well with passionflower and skullcap for nervous system disorders such as anxiety and depression.

    The combined actions of damiana’s complex phytocompounds are likely to exert a synergistic effect. Apigenin, a flavone compound in damiana was found to have a number of nervous system actions. Studies found that apigenin is antinociceptive (sensory system involved in pain recognition) (9) and that it is also anxiolytic (10).

    Other compounds called cyanogenic glycosides in damiana also contribute to the relaxing influence of damiana on the nervous system. Damiana is also thought to work via a GABA moderating effect (2). GABA is known for inducing a calming action and is thought to play a major role in controlling anxiety, stress and fear (2). Additionally, a constituent thymol found in damiana has psychoactive properties (8).

    Reproductive system

    Damiana is perhaps one of the most well referenced herbs for the use as an aphrodisiac for both men and women. It works directly as a reproductive/ pelvic tonic to increase circulation to the sexual organs. It is thought to increase the libido and improve stamina (4). 

    Damiana is specific for sexual or reproductive problems in men (2). It is sometimes used by herbalists to treat spermatorrhoea, premature ejaculation, sexual sluggishness, impotency and prostate complaints (2) depending on the cause of the problem. Sometimes these problems may be caused by endocrine issues or secondary health problems. 

    Damiana stimulates the pelvic region and improves innovation to the male reproductive system. The alkaloids in damiana are also thought to have a testosterimimetic effect (mimicking the effects of testosterone) (3). Other male reproductive tonics such as saw palmetto or goji berry may also be used in combination with damiana.

    Damiana is sometimes used for the menopause. It is a choice herb for its nervine and mood enhancing properties but it also has some oestrogenic activity that may explain its use in helping with vaginal dryness (8). 

    Two isolated compounds pinocembrin and acacetin have been found to significantly suppress aromatase activity. Aromatase is an enzyme responsible for a key step in the biosynthesis of oestrogens. Damiana also contains flavone compounds which are shown to produce oestrogenic effects (11). This may suggest a regulatory action on oestrogen although the implications of this research are not yet clear in terms of possible application for hormonal imbalance.

    Urinary system

    As damiana improves the circulation in the pelvic region, it is also often used for conditions in the urinary system. It is a mild diuretic effect as well as being a mucous membrane tonic to the urinary tract. 

    Herbalists may use damiana in combination with other urinary tonics to help support tissue health and reduce inflammation in the urinary system (4). This may be suitable during the recovery phase of a urinary tract infection or for other irritation and inflammation in the bladder. 

  • Research

    damiana plantsVery little research has been carried out around the effects of this damiana on human subjects. However, there are a number of in vivo/ in vitro studies that focus on some of its active compounds. A small number of in vitro and in vivo have been included below to demonstrate the mechanism of action for some of the uses of damiana that have been discussed in this monograph, however there is a lack of available human studies.

    Animal studies are not condoned by herbal reality, however for the purpose of including research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some animal studies have been included herein. 

    Nervous system

    An in vivo study was carried out to investigate the antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like effects of an aqueous extract of damiana on adult male mice. Additional analysis on spermatic quality and testes morphology during a complete spermatogenesis cycle was carried out. Plus-maze, forced swimming and open field tests were used to identify the possible anxiolytic, antidepressant and stimulant effects.

    The study results showed a remarkable anxiolytic and antidepressant effect without affecting locomotor activity which is relevant as often times anxiolytic medicines reduces one’s ability to move freely. Additionally, the highest dose improved cellular turnover in the testes of mature mice.

    The study concludes that clinical potential of damiana in the treatment of depression can be supported by its efficacy to positively modulate behavior. The study also concludes that damiana is safe in a wide range of doses (12).

  • Did you know?

    Damiana is a wild flowering shrub that grows in South and Central America. Historically, damiana tea was used mostly as a love potion to induce aphrodisia.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Damiana is a relatively small, woody shrub that produces small, yellow five petalled aromatic flowers. It blossoms in early to late summer and is followed by fruits that taste similar to figs.

    Damiana usually grows to a height of about 1 metre. Its pale green leaves are 0.5–1 in (15–25 mm) long are arranged alternately, up to 3 cm in length, oblanceolate with a pair of glands at the leaf base. The leaf has a scalloped margin and an acute leaf apex. The abaxial surface of the leaves is pubescent. The foliage is pungent.

    The complete flowers are arranged solitarily in leaf axils. The flowers are subtended by 3 bracts. The calyx has 5 fused green sepals and the corolla has 5 unfused yellow petals. There are 5 stamens, each fused to the base of a petal. The ovary is superior with a single locule and many seeds. The fruit is a capsule at maturity.

  • Common names

    • Oreganillo
    • The barrique
    • Mexican holly
    • Old woman’s broom
    • Mexican damiana
    • Pastorata
    • Hierba del venado
  • Safety

    Traditional use of this plant has been suggested for abortive purposes therefore it is not recommended for use during pregnancy. It is also not recommended for use during breastfeeding.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    None known

  • Preparation

    • Tea
    • Infusion
    • Tincture
    • Capsules
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 60%): Take between 2-4ml in a little water – twice a day.

    Infusion: To make an infusion place between 1-4g of dried damiana in one cup of boiling water for 10- 15 minutes. This should be drunk hot up to 3 times a day.

  • Plant parts used

    Aerial parts: Flower and leaf

  • Constituents

    • Volatile oils (up to 1%) – including 1,8-cineole, p-cymene, alpha and beta-pinene, thymol, alpha-copaene, calamene, beta-pinene, alpha-pinene (2), sesquiterpene c-copane, arbutin (3)
    • Alkaloids
    • Tannins
    • Flavonoids- including pinocembrin, luteolin
    • Beta-sitosterol
    • Damianin
    • Glycosides – gonzalitosin, arbutin, tetraphyllin B (2), apigenin (10)
    • Cyanogenic glycosides
    • Gum, Resins (2)
    • Miscellaneous; albuminoids, alpha-copaene, barterin, beta-sitosterol, chlorophyll, gamma-cadinene, gonzalitosin-i, hexacosanol-1, quinovo-pyranosides, tetraphyllin b, triacontane, and trimethoxy-flavones, as well as tricosan-2-one, squalene, acacetin, eremophyllane and simple sugars (2).
Damiana (Turnera diffusa)
  • Habitat

    Damiana grows natively on dry, sunny, rocky hillsides in south Texas, Southern California, Mexico, and Central America. It is also found in human altered environments such as roadsides, gardens, abandoned fields and dune areas as well as along the borders of broadleaf evergreen forests.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants and nature serve explored, damiana has not yet been assessed for its conservation status.

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that effect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    damiana dried leavesDamiana grow best in full sunlight in light and free draining soil. They need little water but are not drought or frost resistant.

    • Seeds can be planted from early to mid spring. Pour a 2-inch deep layer of seed potting mix (ideally one that contains perlite, sand or vermiculite for good drainage) into a seed flat or small container. 
    • Moisten the potting mix, then plant the seeds approximately 1 inch apart in the seed flat covering them lightly. Make sure the covering layer of potting mix is no more than three times the diameter of the seeds. Use a clear plastic cover (perhaps a recycled lid) to help retain moisture of the soil. 
    • Water the seeds from below if the top of the soil begins to dry
    • The young damiana seedlings may be potted up into a larger pot with regular potting soil to ¾-inches full. continue filling the pot until the roots are covered with soil. Leave ¼ inch of space between the soil and the rim to allow for watering. 
    • Water the plant thoroughly and place it near a window that receives full sunlight.
  • References

    1. herbalgram.org. (2023). Damiana01-13-2017 – American Botanical Council. [online] Available at: http://herbalgram.org/resources/herbclip/herbclip-news/2017/damiana/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].
    2. The Sunlight Experiment. (2018). Damiana (Turnera diffusa) — Monograph. [online] Available at: https://thesunlightexperiment.com/herb/damiana [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].
    3. Mills, S.Y. (1993). The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine. Editorial: Penguin.
    4. Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
    5. British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee (2003). A guide to traditional herbal medicines : a sourcebook of accepted traditional uses of medicinal plants within Europe. London: British Herbal Medicine Association.
    6. Stableford, A. (2021). The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine The Lotus Within. London: Aeon Books.
    7. Winston and Maimes, 2007. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company
    8. White Rabbit Institute of Healing. (n.d.). Damiana. [online] Available at: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/damiana/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2023].
    9. Ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and bioactivity of the genus Turnera (Passifloraceae) with a focus on damiana—Turnera diffusa. (2014). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 152(3), pp.424–443. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2014.01.019.
    10. Kumar, S. and Sharma, A. (2006). Apigenin: The Anxiolytic Constituent ofTurnera aphrodisiaca. Pharmaceutical Biology, 44(2), pp.84–90. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/13880200600591758.
    11. Zhao, J., Dasmahapatra, A.K., Khan, S.I. and Khan, I.A. (2008). Anti-aromatase activity of the constituents from damiana (Turnera diffusa). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 120(3), pp.387–393. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2008.09.016.
    12. Ana María, D.-B., Rosa María, V.V., Lilian, M.-N., Lucía, M.-M., Oscar, G.-P. and Rosa, E.-R. (2019). Neurobehavioral and toxicological effects of an aqueous extract of Turnera diffusa Willd (Turneraceae) in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 236, pp.50–62. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2019.02.036.
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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