As you may have noticed anytime you’ve gone inside to pay for your gas, visited adult sites without an ad blocker or looked at your spam folder, there are countless herbal ED supplements out there today.
We all know making money is pretty great, and nothing says “trying to make money” like a packet of dietary supplements or herbal medicine branded with a tiger holding a boner. Unfortunately, this is one of the cases where capitalism and medical science don’t exactly see eye to eye.
It turns out that many products containing popular medicinal herbs that are supposed to get you hard may not live up to expectations — male libido treatments are a nice idea, but the herbs these products swear by aren’t exactly supported by the research that’s been conducted so far.
Does your herb of choice measure up? Below, we’ve walked through the double-blind, placebo-controlled studies and systematic review literature that support these claims. When we ran out of that, we also looked at anecdotal evidence. We’ve also shared our thoughts on their value and some alternatives for guys who want the reassuring support of proven treatments.
But before we get into the details about what plants propagate erections, let’s put the idea of ED herbs into context.
There are an increasing number of claims online about the efficacy of herbal supplements for ED. However, these supplements and herbs are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and also, for the most part, are lacking any strong scientific evidence to support their role in sexual health.
Part of the reason you can’t make ED go away with natural remedies — including herbal Viagra, erection tea, horny goat weed, natural Viagra or any of the weird home remedies for ED you read on the internet — is that ED doesn’t just have one potential cause.
Erectile dysfunction is one of the most common men’s health issues (at least when it comes to sexual health) and it also has a number of potential causes.
Sexual dysfunction can be caused by health conditions like hypertension or cardiovascular disease, by antidepressant use, by nervous system disorders and injuries that reduce sensation or by hormonal issues like low testosterone.
Sexual problems can even result from depression, which can cause a lack of sexual desire, or performance anxiety making your sex life scary instead of pleasurable.
So herbs for ED can’t be “miracle cures” unless they can address any and all of those issues — which they can’t.
Now, some of you might be thinking “hey, the other treatments I’ve read about can’t address all of these either!” And that’s a fair point. But unlike whatever Amazonian undergrowth some tech bro is trying to sell you, these other medications and treatments have been thoroughly vetted, tested — in some cases for decades — and are used to deal with ED symptoms in certain contexts, not presented as miracle cures.
So in order to be as good as the establishment, ED herbs would have to have a lengthy history of rigorously controlled study results to back their claims. And most of them don’t.
There are an incredible number of products on the market today that claim to treat ED. Amino acid types like L-arginine, antioxidant boosters and weeds that may or may not be associated with horny goats all claim to offer “natural male enhancement” in some way. But most of them only have a few anecdotal studies to point to in support of these claims.
ED herbs aren’t much different, even if they are more “natural.” Of the ones on the market today, the following seem to get the most airtime and attention:
With that list in mind, we’ve gathered what facts we could find for each entry. Let’s look at each of these erectile function herbal remedies in more detail together, shall we?
Cordyceps are mushrooms used in Chinese medicine that have been touted for countless benefits, from strengthening the immune system to increasing the male libido.
In spite of the mushrooms’ popularity, there has been limited research on cordyceps’ medical potential.One popular claim is that cordyceps increase circulation, making it easier to attain erections by boosting blood flow to the penis, but we can’t really find any evidence of that.
Another claim is that cordyceps can boost hormone levels, with one study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine finding that these fungi boosted testosterone levels and sperm count in a sample of rats.
So, while there has been some research into cordyceps, they are not necessarily an effective ED treatment. For example, men with perfectly normal hormone levels can suffer from ED. Therefore, claiming that increasing hormone levels can stop all cases of impotence is misleading.
In addition, there’s not enough evidence to support whether cordyceps can replace drugs like sildenafil that have been scientifically proven to help blood flow to the penis.
The verdict? Save the mushrooms for omelets.
Ashwagandha, a root that grows in dry climates in Yemen, India, Nepal and China,has gained prominence in Ayurveda medicine and is commonly referred to as “Indian ginseng” in the West.
In alternative medicine circles, the herb allegedly eases anxiety and stress, and both Infowars and Goop advertise ashwagandha with vague claims that it can help one’s overall wellness. You may have also read rumors online about ashwagandha and testosterone, and how it may be a natural testosterone booster.
Yet, when it comes to getting it up, there is limited research on this herb’s effect on psychogenic erectile dysfunction, which is ED from psychological causes — like those related to stress, anxiety and pressure surrounding sex — rather than biological symptoms.
So while ashwagandha has been touted to help you relax, neither ashwagandha nor a placebo have been shown to provide relief from psychogenic ED.
The verdict? These herbs can’t cure everything.
Maca is a plant root that comes from Peru, where it has a history dating all the way back to the Incan empire. According to Peruvian myths, it can restore sexual vitality and increase energy in all aspects of your life.
In our present day, maca root for men is one of many ingredients in Moon Juice’s notorious “Sex Dust” powder, which is marketed as an aphrodisiac for both men and women.
Despite its cult following, there hasn’t been proper, objective research into the effects of maca on ED, and there is nothing mentioned about Moon Juice’s “Sex Dust” in medical literature. The research we did find, including a systematic review from 2010, suggested that there’s limited proof maca can do much of anything for your libido or erection quality
Yohimbe is an alkaloid derived from the bark of the yohimbe trees of Central Africa, and like most herbal ED supplements on the market, the science supporting its efficacy as a treatment for ED is minimal.
In one review of eight studies, researchers found that there is some evidence that yohimbe can improve erectile function in men when used alone or with other supplements, vs. a placebo. But they concluded that to actually improve sexual functioning, yohimbe needs to be combined with other treatments.
While the study also said that Yohimbe was relatively well tolerated, there is concern about adverse side effects, as the herb is a popular ingredient in weight loss and muscle building supplements.
The verdict? Stay safe, and stick with the FDA-approved stuff.
While ginseng for ED may have one of the most compelling cases, it’s still not quite measuring up as far as we’re concerned. A 2021 review looked at nine studies of this Asian plant for ED representing hundreds of patients, but even after pouring over all of that data, they concluded that evidence of ginseng treating ED is “trivial” at best.
And no, they weren’t just looking at the wrong kind of ginseng.
A systematic review of red ginseng for ED from 2008, meanwhile, did conclude that the available studies were promising, but there were simply too few rigorous studies to make any conclusive statements about whether this Korean type of ginseng has any effect on ED.
The verdict? Let’s check back in a few years.
We were hard-pressed to find hard evidence that ginkgo biloba could help you get… umm… hard. Of all of the studies, the most relevant was actually just a study of ginkgo biloba extract and its effects on sexual dysfunction in women, which is admittedly not what you’re here to learn about.
Even in that study, however, authors concluded that while some small improvements in sexual function were noted in women using ginkgo extract, there were substantial improvements in women who sought sex therapy first — they did best even when using a placebo.
Our verdict: take a cue from the ladies and explore other treatments.
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While herbs may not present much of a time-tested, FDA-approved option for managing the symptoms of ED, there are luckily a number of other options that have decades of research to support their effectiveness.
Medication is typically the most well-known and simplest option. A healthcare provider might prescribe you PDE5 inhibitors like tadalafil (generic for Cialis), Stendra (or its generic, avanafil) or sildenafil (generic for Viagra). These medications increase blood flow to your penis, so when you get aroused it’s more likely that you will get and maintain an erection. They’re typically prescribed as tablets, but thanks to Hims’ chewable ED meds hard mints, you have other options (and fresher breath).
Besides medication, sexual function and sexual performance may benefit from two other natural treatment options — talking and taking care of yourself.
The NIH is pretty clear that both therapy and lifestyle changes are effective complementary treatments to prescription medication. They can help address existing risk factors for ED like a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, as well as depression and anxiety (especially the performance kind). If you’re seeking an alternative to medication, drinking less alcohol, eating healthier foods, staying away from sugar and doing erectile dysfunction exercises can all help with ED.
To treat erectile dysfunction, you may want and need to investigate the holistic options — but unlike a packet of dried herbs, therapy and lifestyle changes are the ones you should trust.
With erectile dysfunction, a lot of things can be frustrating. Not getting hard can be frustrating, and even if you find a medication or another of the proven erectile dysfunction treatments that works for you, the allure of magic pills and natural remedies can be tempting.
Don’t give in. While supplements for ED are good at the sales pitch, they’re not so great when it comes to evidence. And that’s assuming you’re getting what you wanted — there are examples of some ED supplements being laced with medications they weren’t supposed to contain, and that’s just one of the many reasons why over-the-counter ED drugs are risky.
If you’re stressed about not being able to maintain an erection, there are more reliable and scientifically tested methods available.
Here are some tips to avoiding ED herbal supplement scams:
Research and corroborate information. If something sounds too good to be true, chances are something’s off. Be wary of anything that isn’t backed by scientific consensus and strong research.
Consult with a healthcare provider. Healthcare professionals can give you honest advice about what you should put in your body and won’t try to sell you a lifestyle.
Know you’re not alone. As many as 30 million American men have ED.
Buying alternative medication online might seem tempting because it’s often touted as “natural,” but we trust medical experts to tell us what’s safe and what’s effective, not the forest floor.
If you’re ready to talk to a professional, you can start today — with us. We offer a number of sexual health treatments, therapies and resources just one click away.
Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.