The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Pausinystalia yohimba (K. Schum.) Pierre ex Beille


Yohimbé Tree




Rubiaceae (Coffee Family)

Forms and Subspecies


Presumably none



Corynanthe johimbe K. Schum.

Corynanthe yohimba K. Schum.

Corynanthe yohimbe K. Schum.

Pausinystalia macroceras Kennedy (non [Schum.] Pierre)

Pausinystalia johimbe (K. Schum.) Pierre ex Beille

Pausinystalia yohimbe Pierre

Folk Names


Johimbe, liebesbaum, lustholz, pau de cabinda (Portuguese), potenzbaum, potenzholz, potenzrinde, yohambine (Arabic), yohimba, yohimbe, yohimbé, yohimbébaum, yohimbehe, yohimbéhé (French), yohimbehon, yohimbene, yohimbe tree, yohimbé tree, yohumbe, yumbehoa



Since ancient times, the bark of this tree has been used in Africa as an aphrodisiac, especially among the Bantu peoples (Miller 1993, 70*). It is possible that the ancient Egyptians may have known about and even imported the bark through trade relations with western Africa. In Cameroon, this jungle tree has long been esteemed as an aphrodisiac and stimulant (Dalziel 1937).

The German chemist Spiegel isolated the alkaloid yohimbine from the bark in 1896, and the compound subsequently found use in Western medicine as a treatment for impotence and as a local anesthetic (Brown and Malone 1978, 20*; Schneider 1974, 3:34*). The tree was correctly botanically described in 1901 (Gilg and Schumann 1901, 94 f.). The bark is a source of alkaloids of pharmaceutical value (Oliver-Bever 1982, 39).


At the beginning of the twentieth century, yohimbé bark and yohimbine enjoyed great popularity in Germany as psychoactive aphrodisiacs. (Magazine advertisement, 1915)




The tree occurs in the tropical forests of Nigeria and Cameroon and in the Congo (Hutchinson and Dalziel 1963, 112).



The plant can be propagated either from seeds or from cuttings. Details, however, are lacking.



This evergreen tree, which can grow to a height of 30 meters, somewhat resembles an oak. It has oval, attenuated leaves (7 to 13 cm long) and bushy inflorescences and produces winged seeds. The light or gray-brown bark is 4 to 8 mm thick with both longitudinal and transverse fissures and is usually heavily overgrown with lichens.

The yohimbé tree is easily confused with Pausinystalia macroceras (K. Schum.) Pierre ex Beille and with some members of the genus Corynanthe (Corynanthe spp.).

Psychoactive Material


—Bark (cortex yohimbe, yohimbe cortex, yohimbehe cortex, yohimberinde, yohimbeherinde, potenzrinde, yohimbé bark)


The raw drug is apparently counterfeited with the bark of other Pausinystalia species and Corynanthe spp.:


It is interesting, by the way, that the natives in the French Congo used the bark of a tree that they called “endun” and that Pierre named “Pausinystalia trillesii” as an aphrodisiac. This bark also contains yohimbine; the tree itself probably belongs to the genus Corynanthe. (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 172*)


Preparation and Dosage


Only the dried bark is used. It can be prepared as an extract in alcohol (tincture) or as a tea (cf. Geschwinde 1996, 146*).

To make tea, 6 teaspoons of yohimbe bark per person should be boiled with 500 mg of vitamin C for ten minutes and then sipped slowly (from Gottlieb 1974, 76*; Miller 1985, 117*).

The following ingredients can be used to decoct a tea for a “firm erection” (from Gottlieb 1974, 81*):


1 tablespoon yohimbe bark (cortex yohimbe)

1 teaspoon dita seeds (Alstonia scholaris), crushed

1 tablespoon cola nuts (Cola spp.), broken

1 tablespoon sarsaparilla bark (Smilax spp.)


The ingredients should be boiled in water for ten minutes and then sipped slowly.

The pharmaceutical industry uses yohimbé extracts to manufacture aphrodisiacs and medicines to treat impotence. These extracts are usually combined with atropineTurnera diffusaStrychnos nux-vomicaStrychnos spp., Liriosma ovata, or other substances.

The bark is also used in aphrodisiac smoking blends (Brown and Malone 1978, 20*). In western Africa, it was or is still used as an additive to iboga (see Tabernanthe iboga).

A “stimulant for the sexual organs” consists of ten drops of a 1% solution (Boericke 1992, 803*). For more on dosages, see yohimbine.

Ritual Use


It is likely that yohimbé was once used in western Africa as an initiatory drink in fetish and ancestor cults and in initiations into secret societies. It has been conjectured that yohimbé was used together with Tabernanthe iboga in the bieri cults of the Fang. Unfortunately, no detailed evidence has come down to us (cf. Alchornea spp.).

Today, yohimbé is used chiefly in North America but also in Europe for sexual magical rituals that borrow from Indian Tantra and the techniques of various occultists (Aleister Crowley). Miller (1985, 117 ff.*) has recommended using yohimbé as a sacrament for pagan wedding ceremonies.


The coarsely chopped bark (cortex yohimbe) of the West African yohimbé tree (Pausinystalia yohimba) contains the potent aphrodisiac yohimbine as well as numerous other indole alkaloids.




See Tabernanthe iboga.

Medicinal Use


In Cameroon, yohimbé is used in folk medicine to treat impotence resulting from witchcraft (cf. Amrain 1907).

Preparations containing yohimbé are used in modern phytotherapy and in Western medicine to treat frigidity and impotence and are also used in veterinary medicine (Pahlow 1993, 484*). In homeopathy, Yohimbinum is regarded as an alternative for Nuphar lutea. It


arouses the sexual organs, affects the central nervous system and the respiratory center. Is an aphrodisiac in physiological dosages, but is contraindicated for all acute and chronic inflammations of the abdominal organs. Homeopathically, it is said to be able to help with congestive conditions of the sexual organs. Causes hyperemia of the mammary glands and stimulates milk production. (Boericke 1992, 802*)




The bark of the trunk of trees that are older than fifteen to twenty years contains 2 to 15% indole alkaloids: yohimbine (= corynine, quebrachine), β-yohimbine (= corynanthidine, isoyohimbine, mesoyohimbine, rauwolscine), β-yohimbine (= amsonine), yohimbinine, corynanthine (= rauhimbine), corynanthein, dihydrocorynanthein, alloyohimbine (= dihydroyohimbine), pseudoyohimbine, tetrahydromethylcorynanthein, and ajmalicine (Oliver-Bever 1982, 39; Paris and Letouzey 1960; Poisson 1964; Roth et al. 1994, 544*). The average yohimbine content in commercial material (cortex yohimbe) ranges from 1.67 to 3.4% (Roth et al. 1994, 545*). Apart from the alkaloids, the bark also contains tannic acid and a coloring agent (Pahlow 1993, 484*).




“The warlike Masai of East Africa call their ultra-hard ritual drug ‘motoriki’ or simply ‘ol motori,’ the soup. It is cooked from the bark of the yohimbé tree together with the roots of Acokanthera [sp.; an Apocynaceae]—which also provide an arrow poison.


“Archaic drug rituals almost always include an animal sacrifice. Among the Masai, a bull is killed on such occasions; they catch its blood in the opened dewlap and mix it into the finished brew of bark and root pieces. The motoriki drink produces an epilepsy-like tetanus in which the Morani—the young Masai warriors—are visited by terrible sights in which they fight with demons and wild animals. The horror visions are so strong that the inebriated men must be watched over and held on to so that they will not injure themselves or others. And yet there are repeatedly deaths from people running amok or respiratory paralysis of the intoxicated. Whoever survives this inebriation will no longer fear anything.”





(1997, 21 f.*)


“In Africa, the black sorcerers have their disciples drink johimbe and iboga to produce the inebriation required to prepare them for the great fetishistic initiations. The candidate ingests a great quantity of iboga, whether in the natural state or as a decoction. Shortly thereafter, all of his nerves tense up in an extraordinary manner; an epileptic fit comes over him, while he unconsciously utters words that, when they are picked up by the initiated, have a prophetic meaning and demonstrate that the fetish dwells within them.”






(1927 = 1986*)



Botanical illustration of the kinkele tree (Pausinystalia macroceras). In the Congo and Gabon, its bark is also called yohimbé, and it is used for aphrodisiac purposes.




Yohimbé bark is reputed to be hallucinogenic (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 189*). The psychoactive effects are due primarily to the main active constituent, yohimbine (Roth et al. 1994, 545*). Yohimbine has sympatholytic effects and local anesthetic effects like those of cocaine; it also has vasodilating effects, particularly upon the sex organs (Oliver-Bever 1982, 40). Yohimbine interacts with other psychopharmacological agents (Roth et al. 1994, 544*). Overdoses can be very unpleasant (Sacha Runa and Lady Sanna 1995). For information about psychoactivity, see yohimbine.

Preparations of the bark usually produce only mild or subtle effects.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The bark (cortex yohimbe) is available without restriction, while the pure alkaloid requires a prescription. In the United States, pharmaceutical extracts of yohimbé bark, often in a tincture together with saw palmetto fruits (Serenoa repens; cf. Turnera diffusapalm winewine), are offered in health food stores and are not subject to any restrictions.



See also the entries for Corynanthe spp., Alchornea spp., and yohimbine.


Amrain, Karl. 1907. Die Stärkung männlicher Kraft. Anthropophyteia 4:291–93.


Chaurasia, Neera. 1992. Corynanthe. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:1029–32. Berlin: Springer.


Dalziel, J. M. 1937. The useful plants of west tropical Africa. London: Crown Agents.


Gilg, E., and K. Schumann. 1901. Über die Stammpflanze der Johimberinde. Notizblatt des Königl. botanischen Gartens und Museums zu Berlin 3 (25): 92–97.


Hutchinson, J., and J. M. Dalziel. 1963. Flora of west tropical Africa. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. London: Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations.


Oliver-Bever, B. 1982. Medicinal plants in tropical West Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 5 (1): 1–71.


Paris, R., and R. Letouzey. 1960. Répartition des alcaloïdes chez le JohimbeJournal d’ Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 7:256.


Poisson, J. 1964. Recherches récentes sur les alcaloïdes de Pseudocinchona et du YohimbeAnnales de Chimie (Paris) 9:99–121.


Sacha Runa and Lady Sanna. 1995. Yohimbe-Rinde—Überdosis. Entheogene 5:12–13.