Looking for a natural alternative to Viagra, Cialis or Levitra?
There are plenty of drugs available on the market designed to help promote and support healthy sexual function but many men (and women) don’t feel comfortable taking artificial compounds and chemicals. As a result, there is a booming market for herbal sex pills but do any of these natural cure-alls actually work?
In this feature we take a look at the claims of some of the most popular supplements marketed at both men and women to improve their sex lives. From promises to increase your libido and improve endurance, to statements that their remedies can cure ED or promote fertility.
Do herbal sex pills actually work?
Let’s find out!
Efficacy of Herbal Sex Pills
Before we cut to the chase and delve into the supposed benefits of these herbal sex pills, we need to understand what we mean by the question, do they ‘actually work’?
The sex pill market is aimed at supporting sexual wellness in a vast number of areas including (but not limited to):
- Increasing Libido
- Increasing Endurance
- Improving Erections (men)
- Improving Lubrication (women)
- Heightening Sensitivity
- Improving Fertility
Some herbal sex pill manufacturers even make claims that their products can increase the size (length and/or girth) of your penis!
So, do any of these magic remedies work?
Well, it all boils down to the active ingredients they contain. Most herbal sex pills include one of the compounds or substances we’ve listed below and many of these actually do have properties which can help with things like libido, erectile dysfunction (ED) and endurance.
See also: the best vitamins for sex drive and a look at performance enhancing sex pills.
Herbal Sex Pills: A Closer Look at the Claims
In this section we take a look at the most common components you can find in the ingredients of most herbal sex pills on the market.
Our advice? Carefully check what a product contains and weigh up the pros and cons along with any proven scientific studies before you part with your cash.
Most have no or very few side effects and even if there is a small chance that they can help boost your sexual health then they might be worth trying. There’s strong evidence to support the placebo effect of many of these remedies so
A small shrub native to southeast Asia, the roots of the Ashwagandhas plant have been extracted for traditional herbal remedies for centuries.
The herb is reported to offer a myriad of positive health benefits including:
- Balancing blood sugar levels
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving Mood
- Reducing Stress and Anxiety
- Helping with Memory Loss
- Boosting Muscle Strength
Also known as Indian Ginseng, the herb has also been included in traditional medicines to treat libido loss and erectile dysfunction.
The main active ingredient in the extract are withanolides, a kind of naturally occurring steroid.
It’s these compounds which are thought to give Ashwagandha its testosterone boosting properties.
And, scientific research seems to back this up with some studies showing up to a 15% increase in the male sex hormone with daily dosing over a period of 90 days.
A species of tree native to China, the Gingko (or maidenhair tree), the seeds, fruit and leaves have been used in traditional medicine preparations for thousands of years.
Among the many health benefits that this ingredient is reported to have, Gingko Biloba is used to treat:
- Respiratory Conditions
- Aches and Pains
- Cognitive Disorders
Modern medical researchers have found little evidence to support any of the claims that Gingko Biloba can treat these complaints. However, there is some weak evidence to suggest that it could help mild dementia.
Manufacturers of herbal sex pills market the herbs potential for improving circulation (by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood) which they claim can help with erectile dysfunction.
Although there is a lack of wider evidence to support these claims, there are some small-scale studies which do report limited positive effects on sexual function. Some trials found that participants reported an increase in sensitivity in their genitals whilst male volunteers reported more satisfaction with their erectile function.
The jury is definitely out on this one but with relatively few, and minor, side effects it’s not one we could put you off trying out.
Ginseng (Panax Korean)
Whilst Ashwagandha is known as Indian Ginseng, the actual Ginseng plant (or Panax) is a different species entirely.
And there are several varieties including Korean, South Asian, European and American. However, it is the Korean Panax which is the most common ingredient found in herbal sex pills.
Also known as KRG (or Korean Red Ginseng), it is the root extract that is used in natural medicines. And it’s used for a number of treatments including:
- Supporting a healthy immune system
- Improving cognitive function
- Reducing inflammation
- Lowering blood sugar
- Increasing energy levels
- Boosting mood
Of course, it’s KRG’s reported assistance for men suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) that we’re interested in.
And studies have shown that there may well be some truth behind the claims that ginseng can promote an increase in the production of nitric oxide.
A naturally occurring compound in the blood, nitric oxide is responsible for increasing circulation and relaxing muscles – both of which can help men who suffer from reduced blood flow to their Johnson.
So, ginseng could well be a good active ingredient in sex pills but DO look out for which variety is being used. The active compounds in American ginseng are more commonly associated with sedative effects whilst the Asian varieties (KRG in particular) have a much more invigorating end-result!
Horny Goat Weed
Also known as barrenwort, horny goat weed is an extract from the plant of the genus epimedium.
A medicinal herb that has been used to treat everything from osteoporosis and high blood pressure to hayfever and memory loss, it is also claimed to be able to help with ED and premature ejaculation.
Like many of the ingredients in herbal sex pills, scientific studies to back up the claims are limited and many are restricted to lab testing including rats, not humans.
And horny goat weed is another one of these herbs which has very limited evidence to support its use as an effective treatment for ED.
Yet there are some positive conclusions drawn from lab tests which could indicate that this aptly named plant could be useful.
As well as possible effectiveness in treatment for ED, participants in one small study conducted in February 2015 reported greater sexual satisfaction compared to Viagra and Sildenafil.
Again, as with all the herbs on our list, there may well be some mild side effects to taking horny goat weed but you should always check whether using this supplement is likely to interact adversely with any prescribed medication.
An amino acid that is one of the essential building blocks for helping the body build protein, there are claims that this compound can help boost testosterone and treat ED.
Found naturally in red meat, fish, whole grains, legumes and dairy products, regular dosing of L-Arginine has not been proven to boost testosterone but it has been shown to reduce the symptoms of low levels of the male sex hormone.
Human trials are lacking in this area and there have been very few studies looking at the benefits of L-Arginine in isolation.
However, there is some research published which shows that, in combination with other compounds including natural ingredients like pine park extract and pharmaceutical products like Pycnogenol, L-Arginine can improve ED symptoms.
A naturally occurring chemical produced by the brain, liver and kidneys, L-Carnitine helps process fat into energy.
It has numerous uses throughout the body including in testosterone production.
Whereas many of the herbs on our list have very little scientific evidence to support the claims of their active ingredients, L-Carnitine on the other hand has plenty.
There are numerous studies which conclude that this compound can be very effective at treating symptoms of ED and increasing testosterone production.
There is even some evidence to support the use of L-Carnitine alongside medical injections to improve the effects of Peyronie’s disease.
Some findings even suggest that L-Carnitine may be more effective for some men that taking Viagra.
As ever, there are mild side effects associated with administering this supplement and this includes reports of a fishy smell to your urine!
Always check the dosing recommendations as excessive use of L-Carnitine has been shown to have a negative effect on functions which include sperm motility.
Another amino acid, this one a non-essential compound that occurs naturally in the body.
It has a number of functions in the body including boosting the production of nitric oxide which, in turn, can help improve circulation.
L-Citrulline is also processed by the kidneys to produce L-Arginine (see above).
Like L-Arginine, this amino acid has some research to support its claims in treating ED and boosting testosterone levels.
Maca Root Extract
Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, this extract is taken from the South American plant, Lepidium meyeni.
Mainly used as a food for the Andean people, it has also been used for the preparation of some traditional medicines to treat various ailments.
However, claims made over the last few decades that maca root can also boost libido and help with fertility have boosted the popularity of this extract internationally.
There is limited hard evidence to support these claims but a couple of studies show positive effects of taking a maca root supplement.
One 2010 review covering 131 participants across four separate studies reported increased sexual desire after just six weeks of taking maca.
And a more recent 2020 trial covering 69 men who suffered from poor sperm motility showed an improvement in semen concentration over 12 weeks.
Though limited, there does seem to be some support for the claims that the inclusion of maca root extract in herbal sex pills could have a positive effect.
Also known as chlorophytum borivilianum, musli (or safed musli) is a leafy Indian plant native to tropical forests.
The leaves are eaten as a foodstuff across India but its roots are processed as an additive for health supplements.
Reported to be a powerful aphrodisiac, musli has long been used in traditional Ayurveda and Unani medicines.
There are multiple research studies (most on rats) which suggest that the effects of musli do have a positive increase in arousal and sexual vigor.
A herb that is native to the mountainous regions of Europe and North America, Rhodiola Rosea is also known as ‘golden root’ or ‘roseroot’
A dietary supplement that is commonly sold as a ‘herbal sex pill’, golden root has been used for centuries by the Europeans in the treatment of everything from fatigue and depression to anxiety and memory loss.
Marketed in the West as a cure-all for men with ED, Rhodiola Rosea’s benefits are often claimed to be overstated but there is some evidence to support its use as a sexual wellness supplement.
A couple of small studies show that the majority of participants experienced improvements in their sexual function and performance after taking an extract of golden root.
Effectiveness occurs at between one and three months but dosing details are pretty sketchy at best.
Though there are yet to be any conclusive and wise-scale trials to support the claims of this herb, the evidence looks encouraging.
Also known as Crocus sativus
Also known as Crocus sativus, saffron is a common spice added to plenty of dishes from curries to risottos.
With a reputation of the world’s most expensive spice, saffron may be best known for adding flavor and color our food but it could also boost your testosterone levels.
A study undertaken in 2013 (on mice) showed that dosing up with this golden spice increased the concentration of the male sex hormone. The resulting effect also improved the motility and concentration of sperm which could be good news for men looking to boost their fertility.
Whilst further studies are needed to demonstrate the same kind of effects in humans, the initial findings are positive and have led to this ingredient being included in plenty of herbal sex pills.
Saw Palmetto Extract
Also known as Serenoa repens, this small palm tree (2-3m) is native to the Gulf coast of the United States.
The extract from the fruit of this plant has been added to dietary supplements treating plenty of ailments from hair loss and inflammation to urinary infections.
In the sexual wellness market, saw palmetto is also reported to play a positive role in prostate health as well as in the regulation of testosterone levels.
There are a couple of scientific studies that support these claims, some in humans but most in rats or mice.
The evidence points to saw palmetto’s ability to block those enzymes which convert testosterone to DHT. One study reported a 50% reduction in this process leading to more stable levels of the male sex hormone.
So, whilst this extract won’t help you produce more testosterone, it could help you preserve the levels you have.
A flowering plant native to Indonesia and some other parts of southeast Asia, Tongkat Ali is also known as Eurycoma longifolia.
An additive in traditional eastern medicines, the roots, bark and fruits are all used to treat a variety of conditions including:
- High Blood Pressure
The list of applications for this cure-all is endless and covers itching and intestinal worms to leukaemia and lumbago!
More commonly used by locals as a simple aphrodisiac, the West took an interest in the potential benefits for boosting sexual wellness.
And, according to a 2016 study, there is some evidence to support the claims that Tongkat Ali can increase the production of testosterone, improve semen quality and sperm motility as well and enhance erectile function.
Native to southern Eurasia and Africa but grown around the world commercially for its sexual health benefits, Tribulus Terrestris is also known as puncturevine or goat’s head.
A common ingredient in many dietary supplements and herbal pills, the plant has had a reputation since the 1980s as a safe alternative to steroids.
Its reported benefits include being able to increase testosterone.
It has therefore been well used in many sports circles with athletes keen to build lean muscle mass legally.
There are no high-level human studies associated with this herb that conclude that the claims are true. However, there are a handful of lab trials which do show some positive effects in mice and rats.
Ingested at high levels, this extract can be harmful so always follow the recommended guidance and speak to a clinician before use.
Wild Yam Root
Native to North America and also known as Dioscorea villosa, the extract of the wild yam root is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Traditionally used in folk medicine to treat aches and pains, the plant is also said to have positive effects on PMS and menopausal symptoms in women.
With diosgenin being found as an active ingredient in the root, manufacturers of herbal sex pills are keen to claim that the extract can work in the same way as steroids.
Yet scientific studies have proved that the body cannot convert diosgenin into DHEA, cortisone, estrogen and progesterone.
As a result, there is a lack of high level support for the claims that wild yam root extract can help with fertility or low libido.
Also known as Corynanthe johimbe, the Yohimbe tree is native to central and western Africa.
Another traditional ingredient used by locals as an aphrodisiac, the bark extract of this tree is now well marketed in the West.
It is also available as an artificial compound known as yohimbine.
As a natural extract from the tress itself, yohimbe is reported to help with weight loss and in alleviating symptoms of ED.
A couple of studies undertaken by high-level institutes do support the claim that yohimbe is at least partially more effective than a placebo in treating ED.