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The Herb with the Unfortunate Name

March 16th, 2009

Don't blame me!

Don't blame me!

Herba epimedii is an herb that’s been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which refers to it as yin yang huo, but not in the sense of the well-known yin/yang paradigm.  Loosely translated, yin yang huo used this way means “horny goat weed”. Horny goat weed is a very popular supplement both by itself and in various libido formulas where it’s combined with other herbs and nutrients. With a name like ‘horny goat weed’ it’s hardly surprising that it’s best-known and most widely-used as a libido and sexual tonic.  But the name also makes it hard for people to take the herb seriously. The name too easily lends itself to jokes and makes many otherwise interested customers uncomfortable talking about it or purchasing it. That’s a shame because it’s now clear that horny goat weed is useful for much more than boosting libido. Find out more about the herb with the unfortunate name in today’s AllStarHealth.com blog.

According to legend, horny goat weed was discovered and named centuries ago in China by a goatherd who noticed that the animals in his flock showed greatly increased mating behavior after eating the leaves of a certain shrub.  Putting two-and-two together, humans began to use the leaves of the shrub in tea form as a aphrodisiac tonic to improve libido and sexual function in both women and men. Herba epimedii was soon incorporated into Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Yang tonic. Yang tonics (and here we mean Yang as in Yin/Yang) are thought to increase and balance vital energy, warming the body and enhancing vital functions.

Here in the 21st century horny goat weed is used all over the world primarily for libido enhancement, but horny goat weed has been shown to be much more than a sexual tonic, making the name something of an albatross around its neck.

For example, animal studies suggest anti-osteoporosis benefits for postmenopausal women, possibly by altering calcium metabolism and the activity of osteoblast and osteoclast cells. Bone tissue grows via the action of two types of cells; osteoclasts which dissolve old, worn-out bone tissue and osteoblasts which fill in the resulting spaces with healthy new bone tissue.   Researchers in this Chinese study suggest that epimedii stimulates osteoblastic activity while decreasing the formation of new osteoclasts, with a net favorable impact on bone health. They conclude that horny goat weed “can be considered a complementary and alternative medicine for treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis.”

Another potential benefit of horny goat weed for post-menopausal women is a lowering of total cholesterol and triglycerides according to this human study. Not only did epimedii lower total cholesterol and triglycerides, it also increased serum estradiol levels, all three of which are desirable effects for most post-menopausal women.

Another benefit revealed by animal research pertains to both cardiovascular and sexual health. Horny goat weed was shown to induce vasorelaxant effects on coronary artery tissue by increasing the activity of the enzymes that produce nitric oxide (NO) the body’s primary vasodilator. In general, vasodilation is good for the cardiovascular system because it widens and relaxes blood vessels which increases blood circulation, decreases blood pressure and the workload on the heart. And as is well-known, vasodilation is involved in the primary sexual response of both men and women.

Less exciting, perhaps, but more important for long-term health is the potential horny goat weed has shown as an antioxidant. Specifically, herba epimedii’s primary active ingredient icariin has been shown to protect DNA from free-radical-induced damage. This may account for horny goat weed’s modern applications as treatment for atherosclerosis and neuropathy in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

So while a name like ‘horny goat weed’ is certainly easier for manufacturers to market, and easier for customers to remember than either herba epimedii or yin yang huo, it’s likely to limit awareness of these other benefits.

If you want to use a horny goat weed supplement, we recommend using an extract standardized for icariin. Some such products are pictured below.

Horny goat weed extracts.

Horny goat weed extracts.

2 Responses to “The Herb with the Unfortunate Name”

  1. November 20, 2009 at 12:01 am, Ashlynn said:

    thanks for the post, great to see more ppl joining the cause

  2. January 08, 2010 at 5:29 am, Watch Naruto said:

    Hey i found this blog while researching. Keep up the good work, I wish the best for your site.

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