Do Herbal Aphrodisiacs Really Work? 7 Myths and Facts Revealed

Published on January 31, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Many people are curious about using plants and herbs to support libido and create a romantic atmosphere but are unsure which herbs really work.

This is understandable, given the mythology surrounding herbal aphrodisiacs and the never-ending parade of aggressively marketed (and questionable) libido-boosting supplements.

In this fun and light-hearted article, we’re busting through the herbal aphrodisiac confusion to bring you the facts on which plant and herbal aphrodisiacs work, which are myths at best, and how to use them safely.

What Are Herbal Aphrodisiacs?

Plant or herbal aphrodisiacs are plants, foods, herbs, and spices that promote normal sexual function, performance, pleasure, relaxation, and desire.

The word "aphrodisiac" comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and people have been using herbal aphrodisiacs for centuries.

There are Three Types of Aphrodisiacs based on their mode of action (Herbal or Otherwise):

  1. Those that provide libido support,
  2. Those that promote potency,
  3. And those that enhance sexual pleasure.

Some examples of traditional plants and herbs that support libido include: REF#3474 REF#3475

  • Ginseng, used by Native Americans and Traditional Asian Medicine practitioners
  • Maca Root, used by the ancient Mayans
  • Mandrake Root, used by Africans and Europeans
  • Rose in the Middle East and Europe
  • Pomegranates in the Middle East and Mediterranean

People would take these for various reasons, such as to set the mood on their wedding night, to support normal sexual function as they age, or to encourage reproductive function and conception.

Many of these herbal aphrodisiacs are still used traditionally or as supplements to promote normal sexual function. But do they work?

Next, we’ll explore the myths and facts behind various legendary herbal and plant-based aphrodisiacs.

As previously mentioned, aphrodisiacs can be any substance or practice supporting sexual function and desire, including foods, minerals, herbs and spices, animals, or pharmaceutical or recreational drugs.

Some people also swear by certain practices, such as different types of meditation, exercises, or yoga, as aphrodisiacs.

This article will discuss the history and function of natural aphrodisiacs in the form of foods, plants, and herbs.

Fact Check: Which Herbal Aphrodisiacs Really Work?

To be fair, the science of herbal aphrodisiacs is still in its infancy compared to how these plants have been used for millennia in traditional herbalism and folklore.

Therefore, we’ll also examine the historical and traditional uses of all the herbal aphrodisiacs so you can judge what may be worth trying.

Plant/Herbal Aphrodisiac #1: Asparagus—Myth or Fact?

The idea behind using Asparagus as an aphrodisiac comes from its phallic-like appearance, which has led many people to presume it helps support male libido.

It also grows in the springtime, which has led many to associate it with fertility.

So, is its use as a plant aphrodisiac myth of fact? It appears to be both.

Different types of Asparagus are used extensively in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote fertility, erectile function, sex drive, and semen quality. REF#3476

Animal research also suggests Asparagus may improve and support healthy sexual behavior, but more research is needed. REF#3477

Traditional use coupled with preliminary research suggests a benefit. 

Plus, Asparagus is a healthy and beautiful vegetable, so why not order some or cook some up on your next special date night?

Herbal Aphrodisiac #2: Horny Goat Weed—Myth or Fact?

You can learn a lot from a name, especially in traditional herbalism.

In the case of Horny Goat Weed, its name stems from its observed effect on Chinese goat herds, which would increase their sexual activity when consuming the plant.

Goat herders presumed this effect would translate to humans, and thus the legend of Horny Goat Weed as an aphrodisiac has endured.

But does the herb live up to its name and reputation? Emerging research suggests its use may be FACT…but more research is needed.

Researchers believe the active ingredient, icariin, may support aspects of normal sexual function, such as erectile function. REF#3478

It is believed to work via its supportive effects on nitric oxide production, which is essential for achieving and maintaining an erection.

More studies are needed to confirm how Horny Goat Weed may work as an aphrodisiac. 

However, its long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, coupled with anecdotal evidence and emerging research, make it a popular addition to many libido-support supplements.

Plant/Herbal Aphrodisiac #3: Chili Peppers—Myth or Fact?

Many people swear by the heat-inducing properties of chili peppers for revving up libido.

Although the theory of spicy food increasing circulation to everywhere—including the genitals— and revving up endorphins is convincing, there is no direct scientific evidence to date to support their use as a plant aphrodisiac.

Therefore, this claim is a myth.

However, if spicy food gets you in the mood, adding a few chili peppers to your next romantic meal can't hurt.

Plant/Herbal Aphrodisiac #4: Maca Root—Myth or Fact?

Maca Root has long been revered in Peruvian and Mayan cultures as a potent herbal aphrodisiac capable of supporting sexual desire, potency, fertility, and stamina. REF#3479

Americans have also caught on to its reputation, and many swear by this plant’s ability to promote libido and support hormonal function.

With so much buzz around Maca, one would think the science is settled. However, its scientific efficacy as an aphrodisiac has not yet been confirmed.

Is Maca Root a true aphrodisiac? The jury’s still out.

To be fair, there is plenty of anecdotal and historical evidence to suggest Maca does help support libido and sexual function. However, substantial evidence linking Maca to a direct effect on libido is lacking.

Studies have shown Maca may support many bodily functions, such as Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis (HPA axis) function, that contribute to libido, reproductive, and sexual function. REF#3480 REF#3481

Some researchers believe Maca’s bioactive substances, such as aromatic isothiocyanates, prostaglandins, and sterols, may be responsible for its aphrodisiac properties. REF#3482

Ultimately, there appears to be some truth to the sexual power of this mythic plant. However, more research is needed.

Plant/Herbal Aphrodisiac #5: Pomegranates: Myth or Fact?

Pomegranates are a romantic fruit that has symbolized fertility, sexuality, and rebirth for thousands of years.

They are also associated with the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and are considered an aphrodisiac in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures.*

Myth or fact? Pomegranates as an aphrodisiac: They have factual potential.

Historical, anecdotal, and some research suggests that Pomegranates may support libido.

For example, animal studies show Pomegranate juice may support sexual function by promoting normal testosterone levels REF#3483, and a small human study found Pomegranate juice supported normal erectile function in men. REF#3484

Pomegranates contain a wealth of nutrients and plant compounds, most notably antioxidant flavonoids and phytoestrogens, REF#3485 which may play a role in its reproductive support properties, but more research is needed.

Looking for a Pomegranate mocktail to set the mood? 

Try this Blood Orange Spritzer Mocktail with Pomegranate Juice featured in 4 Herbal Mocktails To Spice Up Any Party.

Natural Aphrodisiac #6: Deer Antler—Myth or Fact?

Myth or fact: Deer Antler is an herb or plant: Myth! 

So why are we talking about it in this article?

We’re including it here because of its use in many Traditional Chinese herbal formulas.

Deer Antler, specifically the velvet of Deer Antler, has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote energy, bone health, vitality, sexual function, and endurance.* 

Although there is limited scientific evidence to support its use for energy, bone health, and muscle strength, its use for libido has not been confirmed. REF#3486 REF#3487

Myth or fact? Deer antler as an aphrodisiac: Myth.

As discussed in Deer Antler Velvet: Benefit or Hype, there are also animal welfare concerns about the pain caused by harvesting deer antler velvet.

Therefore, even though it has been used for centuries as a libido-support substance, its use as an aphrodisiac is not recommended.

Plant/Herbal Aphrodisiac #7: Damiana—Myth or Fact?

Damiana is a popular ingredient in herbal supplements aimed at supporting libido in men.

It’s also been a cherished aphrodisiac in Mexican herbal folklore for centuries for men and women, and there is substantial anecdotal evidence to support its use. REF#3488

However, solid scientific evidence is lacking.

Some animal research has shown Damiana may support healthy sexual function in male rats, REF#3489 and researchers believe specific flavonoids may be responsible for its aphrodisiac potential. But human studies are unclear. REF#3490

So, is Damania as an aphrodisiac in the Myth or Fact category? Based on limited research, it would appear more myth than fact. 

However, traditional herbalists would likely argue its merits based on traditional use, anecdotal evidence, and emerging research. 

Ultimately, more research is needed to form conclusions.

Are Herbal Aphrodisiacs Safe to Use?

Herbal and plant aphrodisiacs are generally safe to use.

However, if you’re experiencing regular issues with sexual function, are on any type of medication, or have any pre-existing conditions, check with your healthcare practitioner.

Herbs, whether aphrodisiac or not, typically take time to work, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t notice an immediate benefit. 

You can enhance your chances of success by focusing on other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, such as exercise, eating well, stress reduction, and prioritizing sleep. Research has shown all these things play a significant role in protecting healthy sexual desire and function. REF#3491 REF#3492

Since herbal aphrodisiacs are big business, sourcing high-quality products from reputable companies is essential.

If a company or product makes wild claims that sound too good to be true, and/or you don’t recognize the ingredients on their label, that is likely a product to avoid.

Regardless, ensure the supplements you’re buying do not contain synthetic or drug-based enhancers or stimulants (this does happen with aphrodisiacs!) and are third-party tested for identity, quality, potency, and contaminants. 

Unfortunately, the natural aphrodisiac industry is rife with poor-quality products from shadow supplement companies that run a higher risk of contamination.

For more information on the science behind popular plant, herbal, and other natural aphrodisiacs, check out: What Are Aphrodisiacs? A Guide to Their Benefits for Men & Women.


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