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?
Damiana 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 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).
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.
What practitioners say
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).
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.
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.
Very 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.
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.
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.
- The barrique
- Mexican holly
- Old woman’s broom
- Mexican damiana
- Hierba del venado
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.
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
- 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)
- Flavonoids- including pinocembrin, luteolin
- 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 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.
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.
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 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.
- 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].
- The Sunlight Experiment. (2018). Damiana (Turnera diffusa) — Monograph. [online] Available at: https://thesunlightexperiment.com/herb/damiana [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].
- Mills, S.Y. (1993). The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine. Editorial: Penguin.
- Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
- 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.
- Stableford, A. (2021). The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine The Lotus Within. London: Aeon Books.
- Winston and Maimes, 2007. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company
- White Rabbit Institute of Healing. (n.d.). Damiana. [online] Available at: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/damiana/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2023].
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.