Natural Aphrodisiacs: Plants That Turn You On

Throughout history, humans have sought to improve their sexual prowess and fertility through any available means. Long before the invention of drugs like Viagra, people relied on various plants, animal parts, and minerals to get them in the mood.

These natural aphrodisiacs ranged from popular foods, including strawberries, chocolate, and oysters, to less appetizing fare like rhinoceros horn and sparrows’ brains.

There is little scientific evidence suggesting that most of these substances do anything to increase sexual desire or ability. However, a few plants have proven aphrodisiac qualities and may help enhance libido, erectile function, and sexual pleasure.

Keep reading to learn more about our top 5 plants that turn you on.


Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is native to Peru, where it grows at high altitudes deep within the Andes. It is a member of the Brassicaceae family, making it a distant relative of cabbage, and local people usually consume it as a root vegetable.

It is highly nutritious and prized as a food and traditional medicine that improves energy, fertility, and libido. It is now becoming widely available worldwide in supplement form.


Research into maca as an aphrodisiac has yielded some promising results. A 2000 study showed that maca extract enhanced sexual function in male mice and rats, measured by the number of complete penetrations and sperm-positive females. There were also improvements in a measure known as “latent period of erection” in animals with erectile dysfunction (ED).

Maca may benefit sexual function in humans too. A 2002 study showed that maca improved sexual desire in men after eight weeks of treatment. These effects were independent of changes in mood or reproductive hormones.

The herb may also be helpful for menopausal women, who often experience decreased libido. A 2008 study found that six weeks of maca treatment reduced psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.

How Does It Work?

The mechanism behind maca’s aphrodisiac properties is unclear. Some experts believe it may affect hormonal function, but research is ongoing.

Safety and Side Effects

Maca appears to be relatively safe, providing it is prepared correctly. Reported side effects include:

  • Altered menstrual cycles
  • Moodiness
  • Cramps
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia

Furthermore, maca’s effects on various hormones have not yet been established. Therefore, anyone with an endocrine disorder should consult a physician before use.


Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe) is an evergreen tree native to West Africa. It has traditionally been used to treat ED and, more recently, as an exercise enhancer.

The tree’s bark contains the active compound yohimbine, an alpha-2-adrenoreceptor antagonist. This means it blocks a specific adrenaline receptor subtype, increasing noradrenaline and dopamine release.


The FDA approved yohimbine as an ED treatment in the 1980s, but its use is controversial due to its high risk of adverse effects.

A 1998 review of seven studies concluded that the benefits of yohimbine for ED outweighed the risks. Furthermore, a 2007 study found the drug potentially useful for men with orgasmic dysfunction.

How Does It Work?

It seems that yohimbe could support sexual function in several ways, including dilating the blood vessels to increase blood flow, stimulating the pelvic nerves, and increasing neurotransmitter release.

Safety and Side Effects

Yohimbe’s effects on the nervous system can result in numerous side effects, including:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Manic behavior
  • Irritability
  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Flushing
  • Headaches

Yohimbe extracts have also been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and seizures. This is especially concerning since many products do not list the specific yohimbine content. Therefore, unregulated yohimbe supplements are challenging to dose accurately and present a genuine risk to consumers.

The unregulated nature of sexual supplements like yohimbe makes it challenging to dose accurately and presents a genuine risk to consumers.
Tongkat Ali

Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a tree native to Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Malaysia. Among its many potential benefits, it is said to enhance male virility and sexual prowess. In fact, the plant’s name translates as “Ali’s walking stick,” possibly a reference to its aphrodisiac qualities.


One of the herb’s primary uses is as an ED treatment. A 2015 review found that it significantly improved symptoms in patients with lower (but not higher) scores on the International Index of Erectile Function scale.

Furthermore, a 2017 review found that Tongkat Ali “demonstrated considerable effects” on various male sexual health disorders in 7 of 11 studies. The authors concluded that there is “convincing evidence” supporting Tongkat Ali’s benefits for male sexual health.

How Does It Work?

The plant has many active constituents, but chemicals called quassinoids are thought to be among the most relevant. They appear to increase testosterone levels and promote sperm production in rodents and humans.

Safety and Side Effects

Tongkat Ali appears to be relatively safe, although a few side effects have been associated with long-term use, including:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Facial flushing
  • Testicular pressure
  • Aggressiveness

These are based on anecdotal reports, and there is not much scientific evidence explaining their mechanisms. Nonetheless, anyone considering taking Tongkat Ali should exercise caution and consult a physician first.

Horny Goat Weed

Horny goat weed (Epimedium species) is native to East Asia and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The plant reportedly received its name after a goat herd observed its aphrodisiac effects on his flock after eating it. Now, its primary use is as an ED treatment.


There is not much human research on horny goat weed, but animal studies suggest it could benefit ED.

How Does It Work?

The plant contains a chemical called icariin, which inhibits an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5). Therefore, its mechanism of action is similar to that of drugs like Viagra.

A 2013 study found that icariin increased blood flow in penile tissues in rats. It also appeared to have neurotrophic effects in animals with pelvic nerve damage.

Unfortunately, icariin appears to have a low bioavailability in humans when taken orally. However, horny goat weed contains a range of other active compounds that may prove beneficial for health.

Safety and Side Effects

Horny goat weed appears to be safe for short-term use, although side effects such as severe respiratory problems have been reported. It can also interact with numerous medications and other supplements. Furthermore, due to possible effects on the endocrine system, people with hormone-sensitive conditions should not use horny goat weed.

Many natural aphrodisiacs like horny goat weed are safe for short-term use but can cause serious side effects or interact with other medicines.

We couldn’t write an article on natural aphrodisiacs without mentioning Cannabis sativa. In recent years, several studies have emerged suggesting the plant could help to enhance sexual function and pleasure when used appropriately.


Furthermore, whereas most research has focused on aphrodisiacs for males, cannabis could prove useful for females too. A 2019 survey found that women who used cannabis frequently (before sex or not) were more than twice as likely to report satisfactory orgasms than non-users. The women also reported increased sex drive and reduced pain during intercourse.

Another 2019 survey explored how cannabis use affected sexual experiences in women and men. Over half of the respondents reported positive effects, including increased satisfaction, sensitivity to touch, relaxation, and focus. Moreover, around half of the participants who had difficulty reaching orgasm found it easier to do so with cannabis.

How Does It Work?

Cannabis contains cannabinoids, such as THC, CBD, and many others. These chemicals interact with specialized cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain, such as CB1 and CB2 receptors. There is a high concentration of these receptors in several brain regions associated with sexual function.

Furthermore, cannabinoids can also interact with the hormones and neurotransmitters that affect sexual behavior.

Safety and Side Effects

While generally considered safe, cannabis can cause several side effects, some of which may actually interfere with sex. For example, high doses could lead to anxiety or lethargy, depending on the strain. Anyone inexperienced with cannabis should take a “low and slow” approach to see how it affects them before consuming large amounts.

Final Thoughts on Natural Aphrodisiacs

People have used natural aphrodisiacs for thousands of years to enhance sexual desire, function, and pleasure. Many of these substances have been proven beneficial by modern science and may cause fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals.

However, being natural doesn’t necessarily mean something is safe. Anyone considering using the herbs listed above, or any other natural product, should perform due diligence first. We recommend researching the dosage, side effects, and possible drug interactions before use. And only buy from reputable brands that are transparent about their manufacturing processes and ingredients.

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