Damiana has been used in Mexico and southward to Central and South America since the times of the ancient Aztec, and is still quite popular today.2,3 Although its effect on sexual desire was its primary use across cultures, it was also valued as a nerve relaxant, digestive stimulant, mood enhancer, and simply an enjoyable beverage that was given to children. In more recent times it has been used as an herbal smoke, often combined with other herbs, and a liqueur.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE: It is believed that the indigenous Guaycura in the Baja region of Mexico were the first to use damiana. It was taken during religious ceremonies, yet eventually banned as its passion inspiring powers got out of hand. According to legend, this herb got distributed when the Guaycura started trading it with the Aztecs.3 Still today in this area, damiana is used as a flavoring for liqueur. There are several large companies located in southern Baja Mexico which distributes this beverage world-wide. The bottle is shaped like a voluptuous woman baring large breasts, full belly, and wide hips, purportedly modeled after an Incan goddess. It is said that the original margarita incorporated this liqueur rather than the standard triple-sec or orange-flavored alcoholic beverage.4 A bottle is often given as a gift to new brides and grooms.3 Damiana was also valued in the ancient Mayan civilization which spanned modern day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Hondorus. The Maya used this plant similarly to the Aztecs and Guaycara, but also believed that it helped with balance and excessive giddiness.2 Throughout Central and South America, there are ethnobotanical reports of damiana’s therapeutic qualities. In Brazil it was taken as a tea and considered a general tonic.
Damiana was listed in the National Formulary from 1888 to 1947.2 Further, it was written in 1898, in King’s American Dispensatory, that “Damiana has been eulogized for its positive effects, acting energetically upon the genito-urinary organs of both sexes…and upon the system at large, it exerts a tonic influence.”7
This desire eliciting herb invites the mind to relax and go with the flow. It helps those that are too “in their head” to re-establish a connection with their more sensual side. The leaves are used to “relieve excess mental activity and nervous debility” in Germany, and the Dutch are quite aware of this plant’s ability to enhance desire.2
Damiana’s medicinal properties serve to uplift the spirit, improve digestion, relax the nervous system and to stimulate menstrual flow.2,5,6,8,9 Some scientific studies are investigating damiana to see if all of these reports are grounded in any kind of pharmacologic or phytochemical reality.