Historically, it has been shown that herbal medicines may cure or prevent certain ailments. However, there are very little recorded data available to support the dose, efficacy, side effects and interactions. Because the safety and efficacy of herbal remedies have not been assessed, unlike synthetic drugs, well-controlled and randomized studies are warranted to establish the therapeutic efficy and safety of such products. Determination of side effects and interactions with prescription medicines are also needed. The amount of active ingredients in herbals may vary among preparations; thus, standardization of herbal medicines is required.
The Plant: A low-growing flowering annual that’s originally from southern Europe but is now an invasive weed in parts of the United States and Australia. The plant’s common names, like puncturevine or devil’s thorns, tells you exactly why most people hate it: it drops sharp, spiny seed pods that lie in wait for unsuspecting victims to step on them. It’s also toxic to grazing livestock like sheep.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for intercourse. Because ED can have a strong psychological component, counseling with a psychotherapist or sex therapist often works. However, more often ED is a symptom of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which can impair blood supply to the penis. In addition, many medications interfere with sexual functioning.
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.
Many stores sell herbal supplements and health foods that claim to have sexual potency and fewer side effects. They’re also often cheaper than prescribed medications. But these options have little scientific research to back up the claims, and there’s no uniform method on testing their effectiveness. Most results from human trials rely on self-evaluation, which can be subjective and difficult to interpret.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University last year looked at 3,400 healthy Americans and found that men who were vitamin D deficient were 32% more likely to have trouble getting it up than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for other ED risk factors. In fact, the connection is so common, Walker says D levels are something he always checks in ED patients. Why? The sunshine vitamin is crucial for keeping the endothelial cells that line blood vessels healthy. Without enough of the stuff, blood flow is inhibited, affecting everything from your heart to your hard-on.


ED can be caused by a handful of things, but one thing’s for sure: You need a healthy supply of the neurotransmitter nitric oxide (NO) to get and maintain an erection. NO is produced in nerve tissue and helps jolt your Johnson by relaxing the smooth muscle so blood can fill the penis. After the initial release of NO, your body releases a cascade of chemicals—including more of the neurotransmitter—to help keep you hard and happy, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Science: Chemicals inside these plants called ginsenosides are thought to ramp up the physiological pathway that makes nitric oxide, the neurotransmitter that gets the blood flowing during penile erection. Some studies support that idea: one found that ginsenoside-rich ginseng berry extracts relaxed smooth muscle inside rabbit erectile tissue. But so far there haven’t been high-quality double-blind and randomized trials of the chemicals’ effect on humans. The jury’s still out on whether ginsenosides have any effect on people at all, or (if they do) whether they work as well as medications like Viagra.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, holds a similar role to that of ginseng in Chinese medicine. Though unrelated to ginseng, it appears to share similar properties and actions. Ayurveda considers this herb to be a rasayana, or particularly powerful rejuvenative. The name ashwagandha means “like a horse,” connoting that it is regarded as a premier sexual tonic.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) or male impotence is defined as inability of a man to achieve or maintain penile erection sufficient for sexual activity. It is primarily a neuronal and endothelial dysfunction of the corpus cavernosum of penile tissue, and is partly characterized by reduced production of nitric oxide (NO). Other factors that may contribute to the pathogenesis of ED include androgen deficiency in aging men, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, diseases of the prostate and heart, and anatomical deformity of the penis. ED may also be caused by some medications, prostate surgery and spinal cord injury. Psychological and social conditions such as stress, depression and unhappy marital relationship may contribute to the problem. Chronic infections and inflammation can also contribute to the disease process. ED is linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Several orally active drugs (sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, avanafil) are currently prescribed for treating ED to improve the arterial blood flow to the penile tissue. Medicinal plants and their extracts have been used in traditional medicine in southwest Asia and other countries to treat ED. The current review focuses on four medicinal plants that have been used as aphrodisiacs for enhancing sexual performance and for the treatment of ED. These plants include Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali); Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musli); Withania somnifera (ashwagandha); and Pausinystalia johimbe (formerly known as Corynanthe johimbe). Suggested mechanisms of action for each of the plant extracts will be discussed.
Cistanche is usually consumed in stem form, which grows in an extremely arid area with intensive sunshine. It contains various chemical constituents that have some bio-activities such as antioxidation, neuroprotection and overall antiaging. It is shown in a study to shorten erectile latency and prolong erectile duration in castrated rats. Cistanche extract also improves sex hormone levels, improving overall sexual health. The constituent known as echinacoside, promotes relaxation of aortic rings through the NO-cGMP pathway, in other words, it relaxes blood vessels in the penis and improves Nitric Oxide flow.
Ashwagandha’s reputation as a sexual enhancement herb is supported by research. One animal study showed that extracts of ashwagandha increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect. In another clinical trial, the herb (taken at a dose of 3 gm per day for 1 year) was given to healthy male adults 50–59 years of age. Among benefits noted: serum cholesterol levels decreased, gray hair was reduced, and a vast majority (over 70%) reported improvement in sexual performance.
Ginkgo biloba may increase blood flow to the penis. Researchers discovered the effect of gingko on ED when male participants in a memory enhancement study reported improved erections. Another trial saw improvement in sexual function in 76 percent of the men who were on antidepressant medication. This is why researchers believe that ginkgo may be effective for men who are experiencing ED due to medication.
×