Damiana is a small shrub which is native to Central and Southern America. It has been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries, and some people tout its effects for a range of conditions. Damiana supplements and extracts are available in many health food stores, and in some regions it is also possible to find Damiana liqueur, a traditional Mexican liqueur which is added to mixed drinks like margaritas.
In the wild, Damiana can be identified by simple pale green leaves with distinctive hairy ribs and small yellow flowers. The plant has a distinctive odor which reminds some people of chamomile and others of skunks. The plant has highly branched, woody stems. Both the leaves and flowers are harvested to make various Damiana products for commercial sale; traditionally, the plant has been dried for the purpose of making tea.
The plant is also known as miziboc or herba de la pastora. In folk medicine, Damiana is often used as an aphrodisiac, or to treat various complaints related to the reproductive organs. It is also supposedly good for coughs, depression, low energy, and constipation. Some people also claim that Damiana has a mildly relaxing effect, and they may include it in teas and tisanes which are designed to promote healthy sleep.
Scientific studies on Damiana have suggested that the herb is largely useless for all of its supposed applications, although it is probably not harmful. Tests on the herb suggest that it may help to dilate blood vessels, and it also has weak laxative effects, so it could be somewhat useful for erectile dysfunction and mild constipation. Controlled studies using Damiana for respiratory complaints and depression have had mixed results. It has also been known to cause extreme swings in blood sugar, which could make it dangerous for diabetics.
Like many natural products, the concentration and subsequent effectiveness of Damiana can be influenced by a wide range of factors, making it difficult to create a controlled dose for the purpose of study. No studies on the herb have been carried out with pregnant women, who may want to avoid the herb as its effects on the fetus are unknown. Ultimately, there are other herbal remedies which are far more effective than Damiana, and these herbs are readily available at health food stores for people who want to pursue alternative medicine. As always, it is a good idea to consult a doctor before taking any herbal medication or supplement, in case a dangerous conflict arises.