While researching for this article I wasn’t too surprised to find that most of the research into aphrodisiacs was targeting men. But after some deeper digging, I was able to find some small studies that included both men and women.
The size and variability of these studies mean that it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions (especially since the placebo worked almost as effectively in some), but there seem to be quite a few herbs that can increase libido, energy, and arousal in both men and women, without scientists knowing for sure what the exact mechanisms behind them are.
Of course, it’s a massive industry, so more and more studies are being conducted on natural, herbal aphrodisiacs, which means there are some strong theories about how they work; it isn’t only about increasing testosterone in men and estrogen in women. Some herbs increase blood flow, while others decrease anxiety and inhibition. Some herbs boost stamina while others boost arousal.
The amino acid arginine has been proven to help with erectile dysfunction, but some studies suggest it may also improve sexual satisfaction in both men and women. Arginine is a hormone precursor as well as a building block for nitric oxide. It also increases blood flow. Powdered soy protein (isolate) and gelatin are both high in arginine (but you would have to consume an unrealistic 100g in order to reach the recommended 6g of arginine, so I would recommend adding other foods high in arginine to your daily diet, such as nuts and seeds).
The following plants have the most reliable science behind them for use as aphrodisiacs:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root contains withanolide steroids which increase energy and arousal.
Puncture vine or Bindii (Tribulus terrestris) leaves and flowers. A small study found there may be aphrodisiac effects in both men and women, although it doesn’t seem to be from an increase in testosterone, but rather from the steroidal glycoside saponins furostanol and spirostanol and the subsequent release of nitric oxide in your body which increases energy and vigor. It also contains protodioscin which converts to dehydroepiandrosterone in both males and females.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) root is one of the few plants that have been tested on both men and women, with varying results. It seems to be effective against the phycological impacts of sexual dysfunction in men and women, such as depression and anxiety, and it might also increase fertility. Even though it contains phytoestrogen, it doesn’t seem to change hormone levels in neither men nor women.
Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng) root is believed to increase energy via the release of nitric oxide and some studies showed an increase in arousal and satisfaction.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) leaves can help to relax the body and increase blood flow and some studies reported an increase in sexual desire and arousal, while others only reported a positive effect in menopausal women.
DIY Herbal Aphrodisiac
- 1 tablespoon of either powdered soy protein or gelatin
- 1 teaspoon powdered red ginseng root
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginkgo leaves
- 1 teaspoon powdered ashwagandha root
- 1 teaspoon powdered maca root
- 1 teaspoon powdered puncture vine/bindii leaves and flowers
- Mix your powdered ingredients together (and don’t stress if you can’t find every ingredient in the list above, just exclude those you don’t have, or replace them).
- Either fill your size 00 capsules (which equals 1g each) if you prefer to take pills or alternatively, add a teaspoon to a daily smoothie.
- Store the capsules or powder mix in an airtight container out of sunlight.
Take 2 capsules, 3 times a day (preferably after meals) for 10 weeks or add a teaspoon or two to your daily smoothie.
Some studies recorded an improvement by the first week, while others noted an improvement after 6 – 10 weeks. It is best to start with a small dose and see how your body reacts.
If you wish to use these plants but you’re presently taking medication, be careful to check with your doctor first.
The Bottom Line
There are many plants and foods that have the ability to increase sex drive, but the list is rather long. However, only a small number of these purported aphrodisiacs are supported by scientific research. Start with small doses and gradually raise the dosage based on your tolerance if you’re interested in trying the options supported by research.