EPIMEDIUM
Common Names

Horny goat weed, Rowdy lamb herb, Randy beef grass,
Fairy wings, Bishop's hat, Yin Yang Huo
Botanical Name
Epimedium grandiflorum
Family
BERBERIDACEAE

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What is it?

In herbal medicine, it is the leaves of Epimedium that are either powdered and placed into capsules or extracted into strong teas or tinctures. The various colourful common names of Epimedium as mentioned above show how its effects on the sexuality on domesticated animals that have grazed on it have long been observed by farmers.


FLOWER


FRESH PLANT


DRIED HERB

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How has it been used?

Epimedium has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for erectile dysfunction and to enhance sexual energy. It has historically been seen as a herb for men though in modern times women have also begun to use it for restoring a low libido.

Whilst a traditional use of any herb going back thousands of years should be met with an attitude of respect the area of sexual health, like weight loss or baldness, has no doubt always been rife with charlatans with no qualms about exploiting people's vulnerabilities. It is therefore encouraging to see that there has been a reasonable level of scientific research to support Epimedium's traditional usage.

Science on Epimedium

~ Epimedium is traditionally used to increase fertility. A controlled trial suggests that Epimedium might improve sexual performance and quality of life in patients with renal failure on chronic hemodialysis (Liao, H. J., Chen, X. M., and Li, W. G. [Effect of Epimedium sagittatum on quality of life and cellular immunity in patients of hemodialysis maintenance]. Zhongguo Zhong.Xi.Yi.Jie.He.Za Zhi. 1995;15(4):202-204)

~ A randomized, double-blind control trial suggests that Epimedium-derived phytoestrogen flavonoids (EPFs) can significantly improve bone density (Zhang G, Qin L, Shi Y. Epimedium-derived phytoestrogen flavonoids exert beneficial effect on preventing bone loss in late postmenopausal women: a 24-month randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res 2007;22:1072-9)

~ A randomized control trial suggested that Epimedium combined with Chinese yam may improve symptoms and quality of life in patients with moderate-to-severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Zhao YL, Song HR Fei JX Liang Y Zhang BH Liu QP Wang J Hu P. The effects of Chinese yam-epimedium mixture on respiratory function and quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. J Tradit Chin Med. 2012;32(2):203-207)

~ A randomized control trial suggests that horny goat weed extract may have beneficial effects on sex hormone and lipid levels in postmenopausal women (Yan, F. F., Liu, Y., Liu, Y. F., and Zhao, Y. X. Herba Epimedii water extract elevates estrogen level and improves lipid metabolism in postmenopausal women. Phytother.Res. 2008;22(9):1224-1228)

Similar to the drug viagra, there is an active compound in Epimedium that inhibits a substance (phosphodiesterase) which then, through a series of complex steps that would only interest a chemist, thereby relaxes and increase blood flow to where it is needed! The active ingredient icarin has been identified as the element within Epimedium that achieves this action but, as with nearly all herbal medicines that are similarly picked apart for the 'bit that works' the whole herb always works much more safely than when we try to take out what we want in order to patent it and make a drug out of it.

~ There are some further science notes below and the authors, titles and where-and-when published of nearly 80 further studies and articles on Epimedium are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Epimedium

Epimedium has been extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine and has not been associated with the risk of adverse effects in their literature. There is one report of a 66-year old man developing a rapid heart-beat and developing symptoms akin to a manic episode but it is not clear how much he was taking or for how long (Partin JF, Pushkin YP. Tachyarrhythmia and hypomania with horny goat weed. Psychosomatics . 2004;45:536-537).

Epimedium may lower blood pressure if used consistently over time and if a person using it starts to feel dizzy or faint-headed after a while then they should get their blood pressure checked.

Epimedium is not a herb one could ever imagine giving to pregnant or breast-feeding women let alone the young but from my reading of the literature as well as clinical experience I do not think this is a herb that should have any particular worry to accompany its normal use.

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Personal experiences

I must confess I always looked at the herbal products marketed for men's libido with 99% cynicism and 1% scientific curiosity. Aside from anything else it is hard to know how much you can trust the quality of the herbs from a manufacturer who will stop at no amount of extravagant claims to sell their wares. It wasn't until I was able to obtain some certified Epimedium raw material for our clinic that I felt confident enough to explore the action and validity of the herb and of course I was pleasantly surprised to find that a) there is a long tradition of genuine respect for this remedy in Eastern medicine and b) there is a rich folklore for its positive effects on male fertility in diverse farming communities around the world where it grows and c) what scientific research these is on it is rather promising.

I have had the opportunity to test Epimedium out with quite a few (all male thus far) patients in my clinic. The feedback has been, for the most part, very good. Men who have had problems achieving or maintaining an erection have told me that it began to help them quite rapidly and those men who reported that they had felt their libido had noticeably diminished have equally been pleased with its results.

There is a popular use of Epimedium to take it as a kind of natural Viagra i.e. as a performance enhancing herb to use when needed. I have not personally trialled this approach with my own patients but have rather the good results I have thus far achieved have been through a moderate daily dose of the herb (approx 3-4 mls a day of the tincture, usually used with other tonic herbs)

As with nearly all herbal medicines that are to be taken for a course of time I think that Epimedium works better in a synergistic manner alongside other such great tonics as Withania, Panax Ginseng and Damiana. Given I have nearly always used it in the context of such formulas one could legitimately question whether I am observing the effects of the Epimedium or rather it is one of the other herbs that is making the difference.

For those of you reading this for whom this is an academic subject I can only respond with the mildest of defences - I think these formulas work better than they used to when I didn't have the Epimedium tincture to add. For those for whom this subject is one that they actually have to deal with in their own lives I can assure you that all that matters to me as a clinician is getting a good result, in which case forget the scientific approach of trying one thing at a time to see what happens! Rather do whatever may legitimately help, within reason and financial reach, so long as it works!

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Epimedium is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B.

There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Epimedium can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Further science notes On Epimedium

More than 130 different compounds have been identified from over 16 species of the Epimediumgenus of the Berberidaceae family.

Eight of these species have been used in the Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) over centuries to treat a wide range of diseases.

From in vitro and in vivo experimental data, and preliminary structure-activity relationship (SAR) analysis of the androgenic/anti-estrogenic and anti-oxidant activities of the icariin series of flavonoids and glycosides, the results appear to be consistent with those of known anti-estrogenic flavonoids, such as luteolin.

Epimedium is known for being an aphrodisiac and it derives its layman names from the behaviour of goats and sheep after consuming Epimedium that grew near their fields.


It is also sometimes referred to by its active ingredient, Icariin. Icariin is known as a prenylated flavonoid compound and has been shown to exert much of the aphrodisiac effects of Horny Goat Weed. It has also been shown in one rat study to increase testestorene  levels at high doses and moderate dosages are shown to be beneficial for bone health.

Icariin has not been shown to increase testosterone in females, yet two other compounds in Horny Goat Weed (Icaritin, Desmethylicaritin) have actually increased estrogen  in post-menopausal females. The herb acts as an aphrodisiac in both genders, and the gender-specific hormone increasing could be beneficial for both genders.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd