With the big hype surrounding St. Valentine’s Day already in full swing, many of us turn our thoughts to romance and, perhaps, aphrodisiacs. Now, I don’t tend to work with the western concept of aphrodisiacs — i.e., “Take this herb and you’ll have a good sex drive.” Rather, I approach the topic energetically — i.e., “What imbalance needs correcting in the body so the sex drive can increase?”
Come On Baby, Light My Fire: The Role of Kidney Yang in Libido
In most cases of flagging sex drive, the imbalance is what traditional Chinese medicine calls “Kidney Yang deficiency.” Kidney Yang is the heating/energizing aspect of the body. It encompasses both Qi — the circulating, transforming, holding, sustaining, enduring power — along with dryness, warmth and stimulation, as in the spark that “lights your fires,” if you will.
Physiologically speaking, Yang represents the body’s functions and organic processes such as warmth, libido, appetite, digestion and assimilation. Emotionally, it is the active, stimulating and outward expression of life. Because of this broad spectrum of functions, tonifying Kidney Yang not only increases sex drive and endurance, but has other benefits as well, such as reducing night time urination, coldness, cold and sore lower back and knees, white vaginal discharge, loose stools or diarrhea, infertility, impotence and frigidity.
While it might be nice to improve some of the above symptoms, what you probably really want to know about now is the impotence/frigidity part – i.e., “How can I get it on for Feb. 14?” So on to the herbs.
Herbs for Libido (with other added benefits)
There are some specific herbs that improve libido and decrease impotence and frigidity. In China, regular tonics are administered for sex drive, including “Doctrine of Signatures”-type medicinals such as male seal sexual parts (hai gou shen – now there’s fodder for pillow talk!). These kinds of medicinals come with their own set of ethical and compliance considerations; luckily, there are several simple herbs which may be used instead.
Be forewarned, however: just one shot of these herbs doesn’t always do the trick! Instead, you may need to take the herb for one to two weeks or more to experience results.
Contraindications for these herbs: Because these herbs are heating, they should not be taken if the person experiences any of the following:
Deficient Yin signs: night sweats, malar flush (redness and burning heat along the cheeks and nose), burning sensation in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and in the chest, afternoon fever or feelings of heat, restless sleep, dry throat or thirst at night, agitation, mental restlessness, dry cough, dry stools, hyper-sexuality, wet dreams and/or scanty dark urine
Excess heat signs: high fever, thirst, red face, aversion to heat, restlessness, irritability, burning sensations, scanty dark urine, yellow discharges and phlegm, strong body odors and discharges, rapid pulse, hypertension, constipation, possible blood in the stool, urine, vomit, or nose, irritable and aggressive temperament, loud, commanding voice, strong appetite, heavy coarse breathing, yellow or reddish colored eyes, dry and cracked lips, heavy menses which may be early and long lasting, hot, yellowish diarrhea
Discontinue use during the summer months (May through September) unless you live in cold northern climates (then it’s June through August).
EPIMEDIUM – Epimedium grandiflorum; yin yang huo
I just have to list epimidium first. After all, when you learn of its common name – horny goat weed – what more needs to be said?
Part used: aerial parts
Energy, taste and Organs affected: warm; acrid, sweet; Kidney, Liver
Actions: tonify Yang – warms the fires at the gate of vitality (ming men – Gate of Life fires)
Properties: Yang tonic, aphrodisiac, antirheumatic, antitussive, expectorant, anti-asthmatic
Dosage: 6-15 gms, infusion; steep in wine to enhance its properties
Precautions: Do not take for prolonged periods as it can damage the Yin, causing dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, thirst and nosebleed.
Other: This genus is composed of about 25 species and is often grown as an ornamental ground cover for shady borders. Also known as “licentious (or horny) goat wort (weed),” it is commonly available from nurseries. Grow in a shaded, moist environment.
Indications: impotence, frigidity, spermatorrhea, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, forgetfulness, withdrawal, painful cold lower back and knees, dizziness, headache, hypertension, menstrual irregularity, arthritis, rheumatism, spasms or cramps in the hands and feet, joint pain, numbness in the extremities, high blood pressure, chronic bronchitis
Uses: Although epimedium has been used by the Chinese for quite a long time, it is hitting the Western market now as a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac, just as its name, horny goat weed, implies. Indeed, epimedium is used in China to stimulate sexual activity and sperm production, treating symptoms of impotence, frigidity, spermatorrhea, involuntary and premature ejaculation, frequent urination, forgetfulness, withdrawal and painful cold lower back and knees.
Now, as with most Kidney Yang tonics (and tonics in general), results take awhile to appear, so don’t expect any immediate miracles like some prescription pills. At the same time, be sure to eliminate all cold/cooling foods and drinks, such as iced drinks, ice cream, raw foods, fruit juices and soy milk, as well as sugar, caffeine and alcohol, as these foods cause all the symptoms for which you want to take epimidium in the first place (sounding harder now?).
Epimidium tonifies Yin along with Yang and harnesses ascendant Liver Yang due to underlying Kidney and Liver Deficiency. All this means that it’s useful for lower back pain, dizziness, menstrual irregularity, peri/menopausal symptoms, headaches and hypertension. As well, this versatile herb expels Wind-Damp-Cold, treating arthritis, rheumatism, spasms or cramps in the hands and feet, joint pain and numbness in the extremities.
Epimidium further strengthens the bones (the Kidneys rule the bones), lowers blood pressure and treats chronic bronchitis, especially when there is Coldness (white phlegm) and difficulty on inhalation. I always include it in any peri/menopausal formula along with Yin tonics.
Epimidum is traditionally said to be good taken extracted in wine (Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger with Andrew Gamble, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Third Edition, 2004, Eastland Press, Inc., p. 713).
For impotence, take with cooked rehmannia (Rehmanniae Radix preparata – shu di huang), schisandra (Schisandra Fructus – wu wei zi) and astragalus seeds (Astragali complanati Semen – sha yuan zi).
DEER ANTLER – Cornu cervi parvum; lu rong
I have a friend who once complained about no sex drive. She missed intimacy with her husband AND she missed him desiring her as well. Deer antler was administered and bingo! In about two weeks she walked around simply beaming.
Deer antler velvet is regarded as “an intense tonic for the Liver and Kidneys that embodies the youthful male growth of the stag” (Ibid., p. 765).
Part Used: velvet of young deer antler
Energy, taste and Organs affected: warm; salty, sweet; Kidney, Liver
Actions: tonifies Yang – warms the fires at the Gate of Vitality (ming men – Gate of Life fires)
Properties: tonic, stimulant
Dose: 3-4.5 gm, decocted; 1-3 gm powder divided into 2-3 doses. NOTE: It is very important to start off with low doses and gradually work up; otherwise symptoms of dizziness or red eyes can occur.
Precautions: Do not use if you have any of the following: bleeding gums, bad breath, mouth sores and headaches across the forehead (Stomach Heat), blood in the sputum, stools, urine or vomit, coughing up of blood, bloody nose, excessive menses, or red and hot skin eruptions (Heat in the Blood).
Indications: fatigue, infertility, low sex drive, impotence, frigidity, cold extremities, lightheadedness, ringing in the ears, sore and weak lower back and knees, frequent, copious, clear urination; children’s physical and/or mental developmental disorders, failure to thrive, mental retardation, learning disabilities, insufficient growth or skeletal deformities; vaginal discharge, uterine bleeding, chronic ulcerations or boils, peri/menopause
Other: When deer antler is cooked a long time, a residue collects. This is powdered into a different medicinal called antler glue (lu jiao shuang), which is used to nourish Blood, stop bleeding and tonify Kidney Yang. This powerful Yang tonic also supports Yin and Essence and tonifies Qi and Blood, thus making it very beneficial for many conditions.
CHINESE GINSENG – Panax ginseng; Ren Shen
Panax ginseng is a premier Qi tonic – building staying and holding power (get my drift?). After all, its nickname is “man root” because the shape of the root actually resembles a man.
Because ginseng tonifies the primal Qi which “underlies and supports all the Qi activities of the body, this herb is used in a wide variety of situations where a stronger primal Qi will indirectly aid in their resolution” (Ibid., p. 711).
Generally, though, ginseng has to be taken for a while to build the sex drive and sexual power. In fact, ginseng increases adrenal cortex function and stimulates the pituitary gland to produce more sex hormones. Traditionally it is taken regularly by men age 40 and over, although women may take it, too.
I remember a Chinese pharmacist once showing me a selection of very old and large ginseng roots, valued from $1,000 to $10,000 each (all truly looking like a man!). According to Michael, who studied with him, this Taoist herb teacher claimed certain wealthy Chinese and American celebrities visited him once a year for his rejuvenation technique: a week of avoiding all greasy and fried foods along with drinking the Yin tonic formula Liu Wei Di Huang Wan two to three times a day. Afterward, they’d purchase an expensive ginseng root (costing thousands), cook and eat it along with drinking the tea to rejuvenate their physical and sexual energy. It must have worked, for they returned year after year for this expensive protocol.
The most potent variety of panax ginseng is the red Korean ginseng, which has a warmer in energy, as it’s prepared by steaming and then sun-dried or dried by heating.
Part Used: aged Chinese ginseng root
Energy, taste and Organs affected: slightly warm; sweet, slightly bitter; Lung, Spleen
Actions: tonify Qi
Properties: stomachic, stimulant, nutritive, rejuvenative, demulcent, adaptogen
Dose: 1-9 gms, up to 30 gms for hemorrhage shock; decoct 1 tsp./cup water; 20-60 drops tincture, 1-4 times/day; freeze-drying may increase potency
Precautions: according to Sharol Tilgner in Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, concurrent use with the drug phenezine has resulted in manic-like symptoms
Indications: all Deficiency diseases, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, lethargy, lack of appetite, chest and abdominal distention, chronic diarrhea, prolapse of stomach, uterus or rectum, palpitations with anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, restlessness, excellent for convalescence, debility and weakness in old age, debility, weakness, tiredness, poor appetite and digestion, emaciation, shock
Uses: As a primary herb for Deficiencies, ginseng revitalizes the body and mind, strengthening weakness, low energy and vitality, shock, collapse due to loss of blood, chronic fevers, heart weakness, debility, convalescence and weakness in old age. It promotes weight and tissue growth and increases longevity and resistance to disease.
Ginseng particularly benefits digestion and Lung function, treating lethargy, lack of appetite, abdominal and chest distention, chronic diarrhea, prolapse of stomach, uterus or rectum, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, wheezing, tuberculosis and restlessness. As a cardiac tonic, ginseng relieves palpitations with anxiety, insomnia and forgetfulness.
Ginseng may be used when the root is four years old, but it’s best to harvest when it is at least seven years old, as the older the root, the more potent its medicine (and unfortunately, the more expensive it becomes as well).