Turnera diffusa (damiana) is a psychoactive shrub classified as a Turneraceae (Turnera Family) or Passifloraceae. It is native to southern California (Baja), southern Texas, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, but its main region is in northern Mexico and Baja California.
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Damiana is the means for loving thy neighbor!
Max Amann (1997)
The name damiana may have been in tribute to:
- Saint Damian – the patron of pharmacists.
- Peter Damiani – a reforming Benedictine monk and cardinal who protested against the immorality of the clergy in the 11th century.
There’s also a suggestion that the origin of the name damiana is from the Greek daman or damia meaning “to tame.”
Turnera diffusa is also known as:
- Turnera aphrodisiaca
- Turnera humifusa
- Turnera pringlei
The Turnera species (the name is in honor of the English naturalist William Turner) contains some 130 species native to tropical and subtropical America, including:
- Turnera ulmifolia (clave de oro / ramgoat dashalong / yellow alder) – this yellow-blooming damiana occurs throughout the American tropics and has spread to Asia as well as various islands in the Indian Ocean is native to Mexico and the West Indies. It exhibits antibiotic activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
- Turnera chamaedrifolia – Bahia and Mina Gerias, Brazil.
- Turnera subulata (white buttercup / sulphur alder / politician’s flower / dark-eyed turnera / white alder) – native to Central and South America, from Panama south to Brazil, but currently can also be found in Malaysia, Indonesia, several other Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Florida in the United States.
- Turnera scabra – Central and South America.
- Turnera pumilea (bruja) – Jamaica.
- Turnera opifera – Minas Gerais, Brazil.
- Turnera oculata – the Kaokoveld in the Namib Desert in northern Namibia and in southern Angola.
- Turnera hindsiana – Ecuador.
- Turnera hermannioides – Brazil.
There are also false damiana plants, which are not Turnera, but are sometimes sold as damiana:
- Chrysactinia mexicana (Damianita daisy)
- Isocoma veneta
- Ericameria laricifolia (turpentine bush)
As a psychoactive herb, damiana is classified as a depressant; it’s not an hallucinogen. But it may also have stimulant properties. (More on that below…)
While damiana was likely used as medicine and in love potions in northern Mexico since prehistoric times, its use as an aphrodisiac among American Indians was first described used in 1699.
As far as we know, damiana was not traditionally used as a psychoactive substance.
It is an ingredient in a traditional Mexican liqueur, sometimes used for making margaritas, damiana margaritas. Some even claim it was an ingredient of the “original” margarita.
In the 19th century, damiana was introduced into Europe as well as included in the US and Mexican pharmacopoeias as a tonic herb and aphrodisiac.
During the 1860s, before the beginning of Prohibition, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, developed a tonic beverage inspired by Vin Tonique Mariani, a coca wine and patent medicine created by a French chemist, Angelo Mariani, from Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. Basically a coca leaf tincture.
Pemberton’s 1885 coca wine drink, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca was very similar to Mariani’s with Mediterranean sweet wine and extracts of Trujillo coca, but it included cola (the West African cola nut) which has caffeine as well as damiana extract, and thus was a rather potent, psychoactive, and probably also aphrodisiac drink. It was marketed as a tonic that can help conditions such as nerve trouble, dyspepsia, gastroparesis, mental and physical exhaustion, gastric irritability, wasting diseases, constipation, headache, neurasthenia, impotence, morphine addiction, and would be especially beneficial for women.
When alcohol became illegal, he created Coca-Cola by omitting the wine and damiana, leaving just the caffeine-containing coca (kola nut) and the cocaine-containing cola leaves.
(Today, if it’s not obvious, Coca-Cola contains no alcohol and no damiana, but also no coca and no cola. Just caffeine and a sweetener.)
The psychoactive material of Turnera diffusa is in the herbage, which also contains:
- starch (6%)
- phenolic glycosides (arbutin)
- maltol glucoside
- 7 cyanogenic glycosides
- fatty acids
- mono- and sesquiterpenes – 0.2-0.9% essential oil, consisting of some 20 substances, including pinene, p-cymene, α-pinene, β-pinene, eucalyptol (expectorant as well as possibly an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, in other words, an acetylcholine agonist much like galantamine), and thymol
- diterpenes – 14% resin (analgesic)
- triterpenoids – β-sitosterol (a phytosterol)
- tetraterpenoids – β-carotene (yellow pigment metabolized in the body into vitamin A)
- the polyterpene ficaprenol-11
- arbutin – diuretic
- 22 flavonoids including pinocembrin, acacetin, apigenin, tetraphylline B, and gonzalitosin I. Damiana’s anxiolytic properties may be due to apigenin and its effect on GABA receptors. Pinocembrin and acacetin can suppress aromatase activity, leading to less androgens converting to estrogens, which can be important for breast cancer sufferers. Substances, such as acacetin, acacetin 7-methyl ether, and vetulin, were found to be potent selective inhibitors of MAO (MAOIs).
- tannins (3.5%)
The psychoactivity of damiana is at least in part caused by apigenin (which can also be found in chamomile). This flavonoid may cause a depressant and anxiolytic effect by affecting GABA receptors in the brain.
- the bitter substance damianin
- caffeine (in the stems of Turnera diffusa and Turnera ulmifolia)
Turnera ulmifolia leaves contain procyanidin and the seeds and leaves have higher concentrations of caffeine.
The following medicinal actions are exhibited by damiana:
- Moderate-strength nervine relaxant – alleviating stress, confusion, and anxiety.
- Moderate-strength antispasmodic – reduces muscle spasms.
Secondary actions of Turnera diffusa include:
- Mild diuretic
Other possible actions include:
- Mild anti-depressant
- Dries secretions
- Stimulates digestion
- Mild laxative
- Reduces blood sugar
- Adaptogen – helps the body cope with stress
- Abortive – triggering abortions
Turnera diffusa alcoholic extracts also exhibit antibiotic effects upon the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtili.
Is Damiana a Stimulant?
Damiana is also claimed by some to be a stimulant, presumably because of the caffeine content and the bitterness which stimulates the digestion.
It is also a circulatory stimulant with an affinity to the reproductive systems, and a stimulant in the sexual sense, an aphrodisiac (a substance which increases the libido).
Damiana is used as a general tonic for the nervous, hormonal, and reproductive systems.
It also has the following specific uses:
Asthma and Smoker’s Cough
In Indian medicine, damiana is used primarily in the treatment of asthma. This use is reflected in the Mayan name for the plant mis kok, “asthma broom” and misibkok, “asthma sweeper.” When used for this purpose, the herbage can be drunk as a tea, burned as a fumigant, or even smoked.
In Mexico, “smoker’s cough” (bronchial catarrh) is treated with damiana tea and a variety of preparations.
In Mexico, damiana’s good reputation as an aphrodisiac has led to the nickname “shirt remover.”
Moreover, a commercial damiana liqueur is available in the shape of a female torso, representing the aphrodisiac effects of the drink.
Damiana can be useful for men who suffer from impotence, premature ejaculation, and prostate problems.
Among different plants and natural drugs said to have aphrodisiac properties, damiana has received the highest marks.
How does it work? Does it really work?
Many believe that any libido-promoting effects are no more than placebo. It works because the partakers expect it to work. Others believe that substances in damiana is a circulatory stimulant, which can stimulate blood flow to the genital area, increasing sensitivity in the region.
Damiana has mild diuretic and aphrodisiac effects and can be used to treat low libido, especially among women. It can also help with PMS and with urinary and vaginal infections.
In Mexican folk medicine, damiana tea is drunk twice a day for 15 days as a diuretic and to regulate the menstrual cycle.
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 and alleviates depression and anxiety. (It’s because of these properties that I classify damiana as a sleep herb, and not because it is sedating; on the contrary, it has a stimulating quality.)
Damiana as a Sleep Herb
Damiana can induce a state of consciousness that is relaxed, anxiety-free, and calm.
That makes it a great smoke or tea when getting ready for winding down to sleep, and for some people who suffer from insomnia, damiana could be used as part of the treatment plan.
Damiana as a Dream Herb
Taking or smoking damiana before bedtime may induce vivid dreams, sometimes of an erotic nature, and even lucid dreams.
The proposed active ingredient responsible for the vivification of dreams is eucalyptol which is said to be an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (like galantamine).
An interesting account of using damiana as a dream herb is quoted next:
During the first remembered dream I soon became distinctly lucid, and tested to see if I was dreaming by attempting to stick an object thru my hand, which worked flawlessly. For a few moments I floated entranced, marveling at the detail and intricacy of the dreamscape. The dream content then swept me up again, and although I was still aware that I was dreaming, I did not seem to have much control over events. It was as if the dream, once begun, had to see itself through, and I had simply become aware enough to observe it as it happened. (This type of lucid dream is called a Witnessing dream.) The dream was decidedly erotic, which isn’t otherwise common; in fact the entire focus of the dream was sexual. I then experienced a false awake: I thought I had awoken, and attempted to turn on my bedside lamp. I flicked the switch, but it didn’t work. Then I awoke for real, and realized I didn’t even have a bedside lamp where I was staying. After waking I fell back asleep and experienced another lucid dream! Again, this second dream was also very erotic. After again waking and falling asleep, I had a third dream, very vivid and mildly erotic, but not lucid. This dream ended with another false awake. I have never before experienced a single night of such intense and lucid dreaming…
Astral Projection & Magick
In addition for its use in sex and love magick, some people use damiana for its alleged ability to increase psychic abilities.
Some people claim that damiana tea has a relaxing effect similar to cannabis which can relieve marijuana withdrawal symptoms, while others argue that damiana has no active ingredients.
But damiana smokes well and at the minimum can help with gradual tapering from cannabis by smoking a blend of cannabis and damiana that becomes more and more dominated by the latter. It helps that damiana even looks like cannabis.
Damiana can also serve as a tobacco replacement for people who love to smoke, but don’t like to be addicted to smoking.
The Indians of northern Mexico use the plant primarily to treat muscle weakness, stomach problems, rheumatism, headaches, scorpion stings, nervousness and, of course, as an aphrodisiac.
In the Bahamas, bedwetters drink a damiana tea in the morning for 3 or 4 consecutive days.
Damiana can affect blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar carefully. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), such as headache, hunger, sweating, confusion, irritability, dizziness, or feeling shaky.
Avoid using damiana together with other blood sugar-lowering medications, such as lipoic acid, chromium, Harpagophytum (devil’s claw), fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut), Panax ginseng, psyllium, and Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng).
A tincture (mother tincture) of the dried leaves, known as Damiana, is used in homeopathy as an aphrodisiac and for other purposes, such as:
- sexual neurasthenia
- sexual weakness as a result of nervous prostration
- incontinence in older persons
- chronic prostatorrhea
- kidney and bladder catarrh
- frigidity in women
- producing a normal menstrual flow in young girls
How to use Damiana
The dried herbage of Turnera diffusa can be prepared as a tea or an alcohol extract, smoked, burned as incense, or vaporized.
For aphrodisiac purposes, one can smoke a cigarette made from the leaves or drink a tea prepared from the herbage.
Various ready-made aphrodisiacs and medicines to treat impotence are also available which are based on Turnera diffusa extracts. However, keep in mind that many herbal supplements have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. It’s always safer to use plant material or buy from a trusted source.
Water Extract / Damiana Tea
Damiana tea can be prepared as an infusion, a decoction, or a cold-water extract.
Drinking the tea or other preparations produces only very mild psychoactive effects.
The dosage for teas is 4 g dried herb per cup of water. This dosage can be increased as desired or needed, however convulsions and other symptoms similar to rabies or strychnine poisoning have been reported after taking 200 grams of damiana extract.
An infusion of damiana herbage should be allowed to steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered container (to avoid evaporation of volatile oils).
Boil the herbage for up to an hour to produce a decoction that is more potent. The problem with this method would be loss of essential oils due to evaporation. To minimize this, cover your pot or add some fat (e.g., milk).
Steep the herb in cold water for 24 hours.
For aphrodisiac purposes, damiana is often combined with equal parts of saw palmetto fruits (also used by Native Americans as an aphrodisiac) and occasionally also with kola nuts (Cola spp.), which contain caffeine.
But it can be combined with any aphrodisiac you like.
Recipe – Euphoriant Tea
A tea made from equal parts of Nepeta cataria (catnip) and damiana is said to have mild euphoriant effects.
Add 2 tablespoons of each to a quarter liter of water and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
Alcoholic Extract (Tincture)
Damiana is a good tequila additive, but a tincture can also be made.
The benefit of this preparation method is that non-water soluble ingredients such as resins will be present only in an alcoholic extract.
To make an aphrodisiac damiana-infused red wine, steep damiana in red wine, possibly adding cacao and cayenne.
The herbage is well suited for making liqueurs. In Mexico, it is used to make an aphrodisiac liqueur.
The smoke is very enjoyable. It is tasty and fairly smooth.
Even without cannabis though, some people claim that smoking the herbage alone produces a pleasant state of well-being, euphoria, and relaxation, which lasts about an hour. Indeed, the herbage is sometimes smoked in place of Cannabis to induce a similar effect.
Damiana is often used as a smokable base to which other substances can be added, such as the yellowish crystalline mass containing 5-MeO-DMT secreted by the Bufo alvarius toad or a DMT-containing extract made from Phalaris arundinacea.
Damiana is an excellent herb to include in smoking mixtures. Here are a few examples:
- 4 parts damiana leaf
- 4 parts skullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora)
- 1/4 part Lobelia inflata herb
- 4 parts passionflower herb (Passiflora incarnata)
- 1 part spearmint leaf (Mentha spicata)
Legal Grass (marijuana substitute)
- Panax ginseng leaves
- Lobelia inflata herb
- Pausinystalia yohimba bark
- hops (Humulus lupulus)
- fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria)
- Salvia divinorum
- Pausinystalia yohimba bark
A Native American ritual smoking blend which consists of equal parts of:
- damiana herbage
- Lobelia inflata herbage
- Passiflora incarnata herbage
- Mentha aquatica
Damiana herbage is used as a strong psychoactive incense by members of the modern esoteric movement. It is often added to so-called Pan, Venus, or love incenses.
In the voodoo cult of southern US, damiana is consecrated to the love goddess Erzulie Freda (Lady Erzulie), the Haitian African spirit of love and flowers, and is used in love magic and sexual magic rituals.
When used as a fumigant, damiana produces a pleasantly herbal, sweet scent.
It combines very well with copal (resin of Protium copal or Bursera spp.).
The steam produced when damiana herbage is boiled in water can be inhaled.
In the Bahamas this is used to treat headaches.
There’s no reason why a vaporizer cannot be used as well for the same purpose and to induce a relaxed state.
Damiana is available without restriction (except perhaps in Louisiana, USA).
Do check with your doctor before taking damiana, especially if you suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia or are taking medications such as aromatase inhibitors. Do not take during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Damiana may interfere with absorption of iron.
Stop using at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Possible side effects may include insomnia and headaches.
A “damiana essence” is occasionally offered for sale. However, this is actually davana oil, which is obtained from different stock plants, such as Artemisia.
Raw plant material from Turnerna ulmifolia, Haplopappus spp., and Chrysactinia mexicana is also sold under the name damiana.
Turnera ulmifolia has different chemical constituents and ethnobotanical uses than Turnera diffusa.
One person reports about trying damiana tea and smoking it in a water pipe:
Within the hour I had begun to feel a very subtle but wonderful euphoria, a general sense of contentment and some sensory enhancement not unlike the first few moments when magic mushrooms start to kick in. Colours, sounds, awareness, and physical sensations were heightened noticeably but not to a great extent. People and objects had a faint glow/haze/fuzz around them. I couldn’t stop smiling because I felt so absolutely relaxed and comfortable. It lasted about an hour or two (hard to remember now). It didn’t increase my sex drive, but it promoted a sense of well-being and intimacy that would likely lead one to a loving (not lusty) encounter.
Another report about smoking a heavy dose of damiana:
I walked inside realizing my motor control was wavering, and sat down on the couch. The effects were tingling and warming throughout my body, and my perception was altered. It felt like I was standing about a foot back in my head and looking out through my eyes. The effects became heavier about a few minutes later, and I was immediately floored, so I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes. The intensity of the euphoria made me feel like I was on a rollercoaster moving in all different directions. My perception in my head was about movement, where my direct thoughts were streaming on the right and left side of my view, only in what I could recognize as 8-bit animations. Everything I was thinking or worrying about was played back in view incredibly vividly.