The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Turnera diffusa Willd. ex Schultes





The yellow-blooming damiana (Turnera ulmifolia) occurs throughout the American tropics and has spread to Asia as well as various islands in the Indian Ocean. (Photographed on Oahu, Hawaii)




Turneraceae (Turnera Family)

Forms and Subspecies


The damiana that is found in Baja California has been described as a variety: Turnera diffusa Willd. var. aphrodisiaca (Ward) Urban



Turnera aphrodisiaca L.F. Ward

Turnera aphrodisiaca Willd.

Turnera humifusa Endl.

Turnera pringlei Rose

Folk Names


Ajkits, damiana, damiana amarilla, damiana americana, damiana de California, garañona, hierba de la mora, hierba de la pastora (Spanish, “plant of the shepardess”),314 hierba del pastor (Spanish, “plant of the shepherd”), hierba del venado (Spanish, “plant of the deer”), itamo real, jícamo real, Mexican damiana, mezquitillo, miixkok, misibkok (Mayan, “asthma sweeper”), misibkook, mis kok (Mayan, “asthma broom”), old woman’s broom, oreganillo (“little oregano”), oreja de venado (Spanish, “ear of the deer”), paraleña, pastorcita (Spanish, “little shepherdess”), pastorica, rosemary, salverreal, San Nicolás, shepherd’s herb, stag’s herb, xmisibkok, xmisibkook




It is very likely that damiana was in use as a medicine and love drink in northern Mexico and the area of the Maya during prehistoric times. The missionary Jesús María de Salvatierra first mentioned its aphrodisiac use among the Indians of northern Mexico in his Chronica of 1699. The name damiana is derived from that of either Saint Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists, or Peter Damiani, who railed against the immorality of the clergy in the eleventh century.

The first botanical description of the plant was written by Austrian botanist Josef August Schultes (1773–1831) in 1820. In the nineteenth century, the plant was included in the U.S. (1874) and Mexican pharmacopoeias as a tonic and aphrodisiac (Martínez 1994, 121*). It was introduced into Europe in 1880 (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 174*). Since the late 1960s, the plant has been regarded as a “legal high” and as a substitute for marijuana as well as tobacco (Cannabis indicaNicotiana tabacum).

Prior to Prohibition in the United States, Dr. John S. Pemberton (1831–1888), the inventor of Coca-Cola, developed a tonic beverage inspired by Vin Mariani. Known as French Wine Coca, it contained extracts of coca, cola, Mediterranean sweet wine, and damiana (cf. Erythroxylum novogranatense).



Damiana occurs from Southern California (Baja) to Argentina. The main region of the plant is in northern Mexico and Baja California.



The plant can be grown from seed (very difficult) as well as cuttings. It requires a warm or hot climate but does not have any great requirements in terms of soil type (Grubber 1991, 26 f.*). Damiana also grows well in desert zones (Miller 1985, 21*).



The plant usually attains a height of about 30 cm but in rare cases can grow as tall as 2 m. The leaves, which are alternate, lanceolate, serrated, and covered with a few hairs, can grow up to 2 cm in length. The yellow flowers, which are only 12 mm in length and grow from the leaf axils, bloom from July to September. The round, three-chambered capsule fruit is just 2 to 4 mm in size and contains only one or two pear-shaped seeds.


The damiana plant may be named after Saint Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists. (Colorized woodcut showing the brothers Cosmas and Damian; title page by Hans Wechtlin to Feldbuch der Wundartzney, by Hans von Gersdorf, Strassburg, 1517)



Dried damiana herbage (Turnera diffusa).


Damiana can be easily confused with other species in the genus Turnera as well as with Chrysactinia mexicana. It can be distinguished from the rich green Turnera ulmifolia on the basis of the greenish blue color of its leaves and its distinctly smaller flowers.

Psychoactive Material


—Herbage sans roots (herba damianae, damiana herbage)

Preparation and Dosage


The dried herbage can be prepared as a tea or an alcohol extract, smoked, or burned as incense. For aphrodisiac purposes, one can either smoke a joint made from the leaves or drink a tea prepared from the herbage (Gottlieb 1974, 27 f.*).

Damiana herbage is an ingredient in some psychoactive smoking blends (Miller 1985, 23*). It is especially popular as a substitute for tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) for smoking together with hashish (see Cannabis indicaCannabis sativa).

Damiana tea can be prepared as an infusion, a decoction, or a cold-water extract. An infusion of damiana herbage, to which orange blossoms can be added if desired, should be allowed to steep for three to five minutes. Boil the herbage for up to an hour to produce a decoction that is more potently effective. Cold-water extracts should be allowed to sit for twenty-four hours. The dosage for teas is 4 g per cup or mug (Lowry 1984, 267). The dosages can be increased as desired, as side effects are unknown.

For aphrodisiac purposes, damiana is often combined with equal parts of saw palmetto fruits (cf. palm winewine) and occasionally also with cola nuts (Cola spp.). A preparation of former times known as píldoras de damianaconsisted of 5.5 g of phosphorus, 9 g of Strychnos nux-vomica, and 10 g of damiana (Martínez 1994, 122*). Damiana also can be combined with pure strychnine (Lowry 1984).

The herbage is well suited for making liqueurs. In Mexico, it is used to manufacture a liqueur that is alleged to have aphrodisiac effects.



Damiana Liqueur


1 bottle (0.7 l) alcohol (white rum [sugarcane spirits] or tequila [cf. Agave spp.])

approximately 10–20 g damiana herbage (Turnera diffusa)

approximately 20–25 g saw palmetto fruits (fructus sabalae serrulata tot.) (cf. palm wine)

2 vanilla pods (= 7–9 g) (Vanilla planifolia) 4 cinnamon sticks (approximately 15 g) (Cinnamomum verum)

approximately 2 g mace (Myristica fragrans)

approximately 0.5 g galangal root (Alpinia galanga [L.] Willd. [syn. Maranta galangal L.]) or Alpinia officinarum Hance) (cf. Kaempheria galanga)


Slice the vanilla pods lengthwise or in half. Add all of the ingredients to the spirits and allow the mixture to sit in a warm location for at least two weeks. Then either filter out the ingredients or leave them in the bottle. Drink one small glassful daily or one hour before an erotic encounter.



A Mexican Recipe for an Aphrodisiac Damiana Tea


30% damiana (Chrysactinia mexicana Gray)

10% gobernadora (Larrea tridentata [DC.] Cav.; also Larrea divaricata [?])

50% damiana californica (Turnera diffusa Willd.)

10% garañona (Castilleja canescens Benth. or Castilleja arvenis Schl. et Cham.)


Combine all the ingredients. Add 2 teaspoons of the mixture to 1 liter of water; drink 1 cup after every meal.


“Damiana has mild diuretic and aphrodisiac effects, especially among women. Most specialists consider the libido-promoting effects to be induced psychogenically as a result of the mental state of expectation of the believed effectiveness.”






(1996, 59*)


Ritual Use


No traditional use of damiana based upon its psychoactivity is known from Mexico.

In the voodoo cult practiced in the southern United States, damiana is consecrated to the love goddess Erzulie and is used in love magic (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1986, 122 f.*; Riva 1974).

The use of damiana herbage as an incense is most likely a modern invention. Because it is also regarded as an aphrodisiac when burned, damiana herbage is often added to so-called Pan, Venus, or love incenses. When used as a fumigant, damiana produces a pleasantly herbal, sweet scent that is characteristic and easily recognizable when encountered again. It combines very well with copal (resin of Protium copal or Bursera spp.; cf. Bursera bipinnata).

“The effects of damiana apply especially to the genital area. According to information provided by American physicians, its effects are exciting to the highest degree and are in this regard comparable to the effects of coca.”




The Maká Indians once had a magic custom that used the roots of Turnera ulmifolia to improve the sound of the flutes they used in rituals (Arenas 1987, 287*).



In Mexico, a commercial damiana liqueur is bottled in containers in the shape of a female torso, an advertisement for the aphrodisiac effects of the drink (Rätsch 1990, 160*).

Medicinal Use


In Indian medicine, damiana is used primarily in the treatment of asthma. This use is reflected in the Mayan name mis kok, “asthma broom,” for the plant “sweeps away” the illness. When used for this purpose, the herbage can be drunk as a tea, burned as a fumigant, or smoked. In Mexico, damiana’s good reputation as an aphrodisiac has led to the nickname “shirt remover” (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 566*). In Mexican folk medicine, damiana tea is drunk twice a day for fifteen days as a diuretic and to regulate the menstrual cycle (Jiu 1966, 256*). The Indians of northern Mexico use the plant primarily to treat muscle weakness and nervousness and, of course, as an aphrodisiac (Martínez 1994, 121*). Damiana is also used in northern Mexico to treat stomach problems, rheumatism, headaches, and scorpion stings (Wolters 1996, 57*). A variety of different preparations are drunk to treat smoker’s cough (cf. Nicotiana tabacum) (Argueta V. et al 1994, 566*).

In the Bahamas, the steam produced when damiana herbage is boiled in water is inhaled to treat headaches (Brown and Malone 1978, 12*). Bed wetters drink a damiana tea in the morning for three or four consecutive days “to strengthen their backs” (Eldridge 1975, 320*).

In phytotherapy, damiana has been found to be especially effective in treating menstrual pains and cramps, as it not only has antispasmodic properties but also improves the mood. When used for this purpose, cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum Nees [syn. Cinnamomum cassia Bl.]) can be added to the tea (Lowry 1984).

A tincture (mother tincture) of the dried leaves, known as Damiana, is used in homeopathy as an aphrodisiac and for other purposes (Schneider 1974, 3:362*):


Should be of use for sexual neurasthenia. Sexual weakness as a result of nervous prostration. Incontinence in older persons. Chronic prostatorrhea. Kidney and bladder catarrh; frigidity in women. Helps to produce a normal menstrual flow in young girls.—Dosage. —Tincture and liquid extract, amounts of 10–40 drops. (Boericke 1992, 292*)


Damiana also is found in many homeopathic compounds used to treat such ailments as sexual weakness. For example, Damiana Pentarkan consists of damiana, ginseng (Panax ginseng), muira puama (Liriosma ovata), phosphoric acid, and ambergris.



Damiana leaves are 0.2 to 0.9% essential oil, 6% hard brown resin, approximately 8% soft resin, 3.5% tannin, and 6% starch (Brown and Malone 1978, 12*). According to the Mexican pharmacopoeia, the herbage contains 8.06% chlorophyll, white resin, and essential oil; 6.39% hard brown resin; 3.46% tannin; and 7.08% yellow dye (Martínez 1994, 120*). According to a different analysis, the herbage contains 0.51% essential oil of a greenish color, two resins, 0.7% arbutin, the bitter substance damianin, tannin, sugar, and albuminoids (Steinmetz 1960). The essential oil consists of some twenty substances, of which 1,8-cineol, α-pinene, β-pinene, and para-cymene have been identified (Auterhoff and Hauffel 1968; Argueta V. et al. 1994, 566*). About half of the essential oil consists of sesquiterpenes (guajan derivatives and similar substances) and the other half of monoterpenes (pinene, thymol); cineol and para-cineol were detected in only a few of the samples (Wolters 1996, 59*). Although it has often been claimed thatcaffeine is present in the leaves, this is questionable (Lara Ochoa and Marquez Alonso 1996, 47*; Lowry 1984, 268). In contrast, the stems have been determined to contain caffeine (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 566*). The flavone 5-hydroxy-7,3’,4’-trimethoxyflavone has been isolated from the herbage (Domínguez and Hinojosa 1976), as has tetraphylline B (Spencer and Seigler 1981). Ephedrine is not present.

The leaves of the related Turnera ulmifolia contain procyanidin, and the seeds and leaves higher concentrations of caffeine (Wolters 1996, 59*).



Smoking the herbage produces a pleasant state of euphoria and mild, marijuana-like effects (Miller 1993, 8*). The “high” lasts for some sixty minutes (Lowry 1984, 268). Drinking the tea or other preparations produces effects that are only subtly perceptible and in no way spectacular. Damiana has effects upon the lower abdomen, which can result in an increase in the flow of blood into the region. Women have repeatedly reported that damiana has a very relaxing effect on menstrual cramps or pains.

The herbage is generally considered to have tonic, diuretic, stimulant, and aphrodisiac effects.315 Damiana received the best marks in a test of different plants and natural drugs said to have aphrodisiac properties (Radakovich 1992, 32). An ethanol extract of the plant had antibiotic effects upon Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtili (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 566*). Jiu (1966, 257*) was able to measure an effect upon the central nervous system.


The love plant damiana inspired the German electronic musician Rüdiger Gleisberg to create this album. (BSC Music/Rough Trade 1997)


Commercial Forms and Regulations


Damiana is available without restriction from pharmacies and herb shops (damiana folium conc., herbae damianae). In the United States, tinctures and extracts of damiana can be purchased in health food stores and supermarkets. Damiana mother tincture is available in Europe. Damiana extracts and drops are sold in sex shops.

A “damiana essence” is occasionally offered for sale. However, this is actually davana oil, which is obtained from different stock plants (e.g., Artemisia pallens; cf. Artemisia spp.). Raw plant material from Turnera ulmifoliaHaplopappus spp., and Chrysactinia mexicana is also sold under the name damiana.



Auterhoff, H., and H. P. Hauffel. 1968. Inhaltsstoffe der Damiana-Droge. Archiv für Pharmazie 301:537–44.


Der Marderossian, Ara H., et al. 1977. Pharmacognosy: medicinal teas—boon or bane. Drug Therapy 7:178–86.


Domínguez, X. A., and M. Hinojosa. 1976. Mexican medicinal plants. XXVIII: Isolation of 5-hydroxy-7,3’,4’-trimethoxy-flavone from Turnera diffusaPlanta Medica 30 (68): 68.


Fryer, F. A. 1965. A chemical investigation of damiana (Turnera diffusa). Specialities 1 (12): 21.


Lope, Vergara. 1906. Damiana. Anales del Instituto Médico Nacionál 8:238.


Lowry, Thomas P. 1984. Damiana. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 16 (3): 267–68.


Radakovich, Anka. 1992. Love drugs. Details 8:32–33.


Ramírez, José. 1903. La damiana (Turnera diffusa aphrodisiaca). Anales del Instituto Médico Nacionál 5:238.


Riva, Anna. 1974. Voodoo handbook of cult secrets. Toluca Lake, Calif.: Occult Books.


Ruíz, Luis E. 1906. Damiana. Anales del Instituto Médico Nacionál 8:87.


Spencer, K. C., and D. S. Seigler. 1981. Tetraphyllin B from Turnera diffusaPlanta Medica 43:175–78.


Steinmetz, E. F. 1960. Damiana folia. Acta Phyto Therapeutica 7 (1): 1–2.


Zubke, Achim. 1998. Damiana, das sanfte Aphrodisiakum. HanfBlatt 5 (44): 8–10.



“Damiana is the means for loving thy neighbor!”