I learned a lot about herbs when I was working with a friend to formulate glycerin-based herbal products. While creating them we would routinely taste the formulas to see if we got them right. Tasting the formulas gave me the opportunity to experience the effects of various herbs and blends of herbs firsthand.
I clearly remember tasting our newly-made damiana aphrodisiac formula because I felt such a surprising lift when I tried it. It was an instant boost to both my mood and energy, not unlike the first time I tried coffee. Unlike coffee, however, damiana produced a more relaxing, mellow energy. For me, it was kind of playful and giddy.
I had known about damiana's reputation as an aphrodisiac, but in my experience, loss of desire is rarely a physical problem. It’s more often emotional, based on the difficulties a person has experienced. Because of this, I’d never been confident that herbs are that effective at directly boosting sexual desire.
But after tasting damiana, and the formula we made with it, I better understood how it could help. Damiana has antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. Stress reduces the sexual response, so it makes sense why an herb like damiana can help increase desire. Reducing stress can help one have more energy for sex.
Stress and Libido
Understanding the synthesis of both stress and reproductive hormones helps explain how stress depresses libido. The chart (pictured right) shows how all steroidal hormones start with cholesterol, which is converted into pregnenolone in the adrenal glands. Pregnenolone can then be used to create DHEA or progesterone.
When under stress, there is a demand for cortisol, which is formed from progesterone. So, more pregnenolone is converted into progesterone to become cortisol. This means that there is less pregnenolone to be converted into DHEA. Since DHEA is converted via the ovaries and testes in the estrogens and testosterone, this reduces the levels of sex hormones.
This is one of the reasons why a person who has been under stress for an extended period of time may lose their desire for sex. They will also suffer from high levels of anxiety, low energy, restless sleep, and a type of depression that arises from nervous exhaustion. Other effects of long-term stress include digestive problems, constipation, and reduced immune reactions. All of these issues fit the profile for damiana, which acts as a tonic to the nervous system and glands, being both energizing and relaxing at the same time.
Besides reducing depression and anxiety, improving sleep, increasing energy, and improving libido, damiana also has a diuretic and laxative action. Since stress can also lead to difficulty with urination and intestinal motility, these actions may also be part of the stress-relieving properties of damiana. However, as a diuretic, it also helps fight urinary tract infections, possessing arbutin, the same active constituent as uva ursi. Arbutin is converted into the antiseptic hydroquinone in the urinary system.
You can learn a lot about herbs just by tasting them, smelling them, and most important of all, using them. Based on my experience, I’d say damiana is a good remedy for anybody who feels slightly depressed and has lost interest in intimacy due to chronic stress. It can be used either alone or in combination with other adaptogens and tonics for this purpose. But, don’t take my word for it. Try using it and see what your experience is like.