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Turnera diffusa is a woody shrub with small green leaves and aromatic, yellow flowers. Its range extends from Southern Texas to South America and east to the Caribbean. Damiana is known for its healthful properties and amorous spirit. The leaves can be used in tea blends, herbal smoking mixtures, infused into a sweet liquor, or macerated as damiana extract.
Damiana is a small, subtropical shrub that grows to heights between about 3 and 6 feet. It bears pale green, serrated, aromatic leaves about 4-10 inches long and 5-petaled, bright yellow flowers that grow in the leaf axils. The flowers give way to small, edible fruits, said to taste like fig. You can use the leaves medicinally, they should be gathered while the plant is in flower.2
There are two species of Damiana used and considered interchangeably — Turnera aphrodisiaca and Turnera diffusa — both have almost indistinguishable appearances and aromatics. The Turneraceae family is mostly comprised of tropical or subtropical shrubs and small trees and encompasses about 10 genera and 120 species.4
Damiana has been somewhat over-harvested in its native range, where it once grew very abundantly; most of the Damiana on the market today comes from Mexican and Latin American cultivation projects. Growing it out of its native range is possible, and it can be grown from seed; it will thrive in plant hardiness zones 9 through 11.
Damiana has been used in Mexico, Central America, and South America since the times of the ancient Aztec and remains quite popular today.
The origin of the common name damiana is from the Greek daman or damia meaning “to tame or subdue.” It is the feminine version of Damian and infers that damiana is the wild one “who tames.” It is believed that the indigenous Guaycura in the Baja region of Mexico were the first to use damiana. According to legend, the herb became wore widely distributed when the Guaycura began trading with the Aztecs. Damiana was also highly valued in ancient times by the Mayans, who used the plant in a similar manner to the Aztecs and the Guaycura. The leaves have traditionally been made into a tea and incense, which was used by native people of Central and South America for its relaxing effects. Spanish missionaries first recorded that the Mexican Indians drank Damiana tea mixed with sugar for use as an aphrodisiac.
Although its noted effect on sexual desire has been its primary traditional use across cultures, it has also been valued as a relaxant, digestive stimulant, mood enhancer, or just an enjoyable beverage that was often given to children. In modern times it has also been used as an herbal smoke and a liqueur. It is also an ingredient in a traditional Mexican Liqueur, which is sometimes used as a substitute for Triple Sec in Margaritas.
Damiana acts as a tonic on the central nervous system and hormonal system. The lack of scientific evidence for the plants use to enhance sexual performance is eclipsed by its use in the traditional cultures where it has a very strong reputation of efficacy in this arena for men and women. It has also been used traditionally to help support a healthy mood and healthy urinary tract function