The Importance of Libido for Mental Wellness
Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian doctor & psychoanalyst of the early 20th century, believed that at the root of neurosis (mental disease) was inhibited sexuality. Through his studies of hundred or patients he came to the discovery that a life giving energy called orgone, not only was closely associated with sexual function but also was crucial for mental wellness- and that if it was imbalanced it gave rise to a variety of mental disorders. What he noticed in his patients was that when healthy sexual function returned to people, they became remarkably filled with life and became as if new people.
Freud also made note that many neuroses arose from inhibitions of the psychic sexual force, which he termed libido. It is interesting to note that the libido is a psychic force that encompasses a wide variety of aspects of the human, not just the physiological functions of sexuality. In one of Reich’s groundbreaking works, the Function of the Human Orgasm, he argued that the ability to achieve full and uninhibited orgasm was one of the most healing abilities that we have, and that an inability to discharge pent up sexual energies was a key factor in all manner of mental unwellness. Therefore, he reasoned, that healthy sexual function was crucial to living a happy life-free from mental dis-ease.
Background Information on Damiana
This is where Damiana (Turnera Diffusa), a shrub native to Texas and Central/South America, comes into the picture of natural mental wellness; through its long history of use as an aphrodisiac, and natural libido enhancing herb. Interestingly, Damiana is in the Passifloraceae family along with the popular anti-anxiety and sleep support herb Passionflower. Damiana belongs to the nervine class of herbs, meaning that it supports nervous function, and we shall see that it not only has many traditional uses for sexual function, but that it is overall restorative to the nervous system and has benefit for those with anxiety/depression.
This plant is high in essential oils, giving it an amazingly fragrant spicy aroma that led to the use of Damiana in the making of liqueurs and other alcoholic beverages. I will attest to the fact that this plant not only makes for quite a delicious tincture (alcohol herbal extract) but that it makes for a delicious cup of tea as well. Later in this article I will share a recipe for making an herbal extract from this plant using brandy that is probably one of the most delicious tinctures I have stumbled upon. Now let’s get into the medicinal uses of this fragrant plant, and how it can help support your nervous system.
Traditional Uses of Damiana
Healthy Sexual Function
Damiana has a long history of use an aphrodisiac herb, or one that increases sexual desire and drive. It is thought to do this due to an ability to increase testosterone levels, as well as having an overall nervous system restoring effect. It has typically been used for both male impotence and female frigidity, indicating that it has benefits for both sexes in terms of desire and function. Some research makes the case that this may be due to its effects on nitric oxide, a key chemical in erectile function and increasing blood flow to the clitoris. Damiana is also believed to have an overall restorative effect on the reproductive system, bladder and prostate. (1)
Nervous System Restoration
Damiana is used for those who have a weakened nervous system from prolonged stress, illness or overexertion and may help with fatigue, depression and other symptoms of an essentially run-down nervous system. As with other herbs in the nervine class, it may have benefit for anxiety and has some research on rats indicating an anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effect. This effect on calming an overwhelmed nervous system and restoring its proper function is likely another key reason why it has aphrodisiac effects-when we are calm our parasympathetic nervous system can function healthily allowing for full and uninhibited expression of sexuality. (1)
Female Hormonal Support
Damiana is thought to have specific benefit from its effects on progesterone receptors, which validates the traditional use of damiana as an herbal remedy for PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), irregular menstruation and heavy/painful periods. Damiana is thought to be a gentle menstrual regulator particularly useful for women that suffer from PMS and sexual issues stemming from hormonal imbalance. Another key herb in this domain is the relatively well-known chaste berry-which has a long history of use for sexual & hormonal support for both sexes. (1)
Although not commonly known for this purpose, damiana can be helpful as a digestive stimulant with the bitters it contains and makes for a delicious after meal tea or infused alcoholic beverage. (1)
How to Use Damiana: Dosage & Preparation
The fragrant leaf of this plant is used, typically dry, to make a tea or a tincture (herbal extract). If making a tea it is recommended to use at least 5 grams (1 heaping Tbsp) and infuse for 10 minutes in hot water. The tincture is dosed at anywhere from 1-5ml (2+ dropper fulls) according to the herbalist Peter Holmes. (1)
Damiana Tea Recipe
I absolutely love this simple tea recipe that brings out the rich flavors of damiana.
Mix Equal Parts into boiled water and let sit for 10-15 min
-Red Rose Buds
-(Optional) Black Tea
-& Crushed vanilla beans or vanilla powder (just a pinch)
How to Make a Tincture from Damiana
I stumbled onto this wonderful recipe that allow for the simple extraction of damiana and makes for a delicious medicinal tincture, or flavoring that can be added to drinks
100g of finely ground damiana leaf
Large mason jar (64oz) or other glass container
Mix 100 grams of dry damiana leaf into either a blender or a coffee grinder to chop it up into small pieces. If using a blender you should add the full bottle of brandy before you begin blending then transfer the slurry to a container and close it, or if a grinder put the ground up herb into the mason jar and mix in brandy-then shake it up and seal it.
Let this concoction sit for at least 3 weeks, up to 5 for max potency-shaking every few days. Once the time has passed and you notice the delicious fragrance, pour the mixture through a cheese cloth into another container to strain out the herb and voila! you have a damiana herbal extract that you can add to drinks or transfer to tincture bottles for convenient use!
The brandy adds the perfect flavor to complement damiana, so I think you’ll be quite amazed at how delicious this herbal extract is! If you want to be super fancy, you can add maple syrup or honey to greatly improve the flavor and make an excellent addition to any drink.
Personal Experiences with Damiana
I hosted an herbal medicine making workshop where I taught about the uses of damiana and how to make a tincture from it, and ended up with A LOT of damiana extract left over. So needless to say, I was drinking the tincture every day, and what I noticed (besides that it’s just plain delicious) was that it was very calming and gave me a clear focus. It was kind of stimulating in a very gentle way without the jitters of coffee. I can see why it has been traditionally used for nervous system support as it is overall very relaxing without making one sleepy.