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Natural Viagra and Herbal ED Remedies: Do They Work?

Natural Viagra and Herbal ED Remedies: Do They Work?

There are a few herbal remedies or natural supplements being talked about as ‘natural Viagra’.

These solutions, sometimes referred to as ‘herbal Viagra’, can include things like Korean red ginseng, horny goat weed, yohimbe and maca. For years, some have claimed that herbal remedies can help to keep men hard in the bedroom, and increase sex drive.

But if you’re looking for a simple trick to cure ED, will they actually help you? Let’s take a closer look.

Navkaran Singh Sandhu
Medically reviewed by
Navkaran Singh Sandhu, Clinical Lead

“If you’re struggling with ED, you should try and adopt healthier lifestyle choices and see if you notice a difference.

Still nothing? Then it’s time to see the doc.”

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Medically reviewed by
Dr Navkaran Singh Sandhu
Clinical Lead
on November 18, 2022.
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Herbal Viagra and herbal remedies to keep a man hard

Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, is defined as the inability to get or maintain an erection hard enough for sex. Erection problems like ED are more common than some might think.

ED is not necessarily a forever problem. It can sometimes be treated. For example, if the problem surrounds poor blood flow, prescription medication may be offered – like the well known drug Viagra. Side effects of these drugs can include things like headache, flushing, upset stomach and abnormal vision. This can be off putting to some.

But ED treatment doesn’t just mean medication, it can include things like vacuum pumps or even implants.

Getting harder erections can also be helped simply by adopting healthier lifestyle choices.

Some men also look towards specific plants and foods for erectile dysfunction, such as Korean ginseng, horny goat weed and maca – and collectively, these solutions are often called herbal Viagra (or ‘natural Viagra’).

But how well do these types of remedies work, and is there any evidence to support them?

Korean ginseng, also known as red ginseng or panax ginseng, is a plant which has been used in Asian medicine for centuries. There are three varieties of ginseng: fresh, white or red. (The variety changes depending on how long it is grown for).

Ginseng is a leafy plant that will sometimes bloom red flowers, but it is the root that is claimed to be medicinally beneficial.

Anecdotally, the root is said to resemble the human body, with shoots for arms and legs. This is partly why it was adopted into Asian medicinal practices.

Korean red ginseng, or Asian ginseng, is the variety said to help with male impotence.

Ginseng is made up of ginsenosides, which may have potential cardiovascular benefits, that could in theory help to reduce ED.

Ginseng may also promote the release of nitric oxide, which could relax the muscles in the penis to promote erections.

The root could also impact hormone levels which, in turn, could theoretically enhance sexual stimulation and arousal.

So, what does the evidence say about red ginseng, can it help with erections? One study found that red ginseng was more favourable at treating ED than a placebo. However, the authors pointed to low sample size as a caveat of the study.

Another broader study and meta-analysis involving 2080 men found that ‘encouraging evidence suggests that ginseng may be an effective herbal treatment for ED.’

However, more research is needed on the relationship between ginseng and ED. Furthermore, what treats one case of impotence may not treat another. So, while red ginseng supplements can be bought over-the-counter at high street stores, it’s still advisable to consult with a healthcare professional first before using it.

Horny Goat Weed is a natural supplement made from a traditional Chinese herb. It is said to be beneficial for erectile dysfunction, and also low libido.

According to legend, a goat herder witnessed their flock grow sexually stimulated after eating the herb. This is where the term horny goat weed comes from. It’s full name is Epimedium and it is endemic to China – but is also found in smaller numbers across the whole of Asia.

Horny goat weed may contain chemicals that are good for blood flow and vascular health. In relation to erectile dysfunction, this is of benefit because one of the main physical causes surrounds poor blood flow or constricted blood vessels in and around the penis. It is said to have other benefits, such as helping with bone density problems.

Horny goat weed is available to purchase as a supplement, but it is not licensed in medicinal use whether prescription or over-the-counter.

Because regulatory processes that apply to prescription drugs do not apply as strictly to some dietary supplements, this raises questions about their safety – specifically in relation to the listing of full ingredients and the reporting of side effects.

Example: in 2011, one branded version of horny goat weed, called Via Xtreme, had to be recalled after it was found to illegally contain sildenafil.

But does horny goat weed work? The evidence is slim. In controlled animal studies on rats , icariin, the active ingredient found in horny goat weed, was found to have positive results. However, no studies surrounding impotence in humans have been conducted.

What’s more, horny goat weed can cause a number of side effects (which people sometimes assume herbal supplements do not). For example, side effects of horny goat weed can include dry mouth, dizziness, vomiting, thirst, nose bleeds or even breathing problems.

Maca is a Peruvian herb said to help with low libido and sexual stimulation problems. It is an ancient herb, the benefits of which have been passed anecdotally from generation to generation. The root was first described in writing as early as 1553.

It grows mostly in Peru, but also in the Andes. It typically grows in testing conditions, often above 13,000 feet. It’s actually a type of cruciferous vegetable like broccoli. Much like Korean red ginseng, it is the maca root that supposedly carries the medicinal benefits.

The root is often dried and consumed as ‘maca powder.’ It is also available in liquid and tablet forms.

The so called sex herb maca is also said to have other health benefits. It is proposed that maca may help with the symptoms of menopause, improve mood, provide more energy, improve learning and give skin protection from the sun.

Like a number of natural health supplements, helped in part by the rise of the internet, maca became increasingly popular throughout the 2000s.


The big question surrounds what the evidence says about maca. Will maca root increase sex drive?

In one study on maca, researchers found ‘limited evidence for the effectiveness of maca in improving sexual function. However, the total number of trials, the total sample size, and the average methodological quality of the primary studies were too limited to draw firm conclusions. More rigorous studies are warranted.’

Other studies on maca and sexual dysfunction give conflicting results. A series of randomised clinical trials were conducted in relation to maca. Two of the trials showed a significant positive effect of maca on sexual dysfunction, or desire, in healthy adult men. However, another RCT, as part of the same review, failed to show any results in healthy cyclists.

Yohimbe comes from an African evergreen tree native to the south and west, which can be used in health supplements. Specifically, yohimbe bark, called yohimbine, is the main ingredient used in medicine. It has been used in West African traditional medicine for generations.

In India, yohimbine hydrochloride is a form of yohimbe that is used as a supplement to boost your testosterone levels.

Yohimbe can be also used as a natural treatment for erectile dysfunction and to increase sexual performance, but is said to have other health benefits too.

These are reported to include anxiety and depression relief, increased athletic performance, helping with dry mouth and with blood pressure problems, and even weight loss.

But Yohimbe is not approved for use by the MHRA UK, and it is also not legal to buy it over-the-counter in registered pharmacies.

Buying supplements like Yohimbe online can come with risks. As with many herbal remedy supplements, some manufacturers label their products inaccurately.

For example, a study conducted at Harvard Medical School looked at 49 different yohimbe supplements. They found that as many as 78% of them did not label the correct quantity of Yohimbe.

For clear reasons, this is extremely dangerous. According to the NIH, “Yohimbe has been associated with heart attacks and seizures. Because of inaccurate labeling and potential for serious side effects, yohimbe supplements have been restricted or banned in many countries.

There is not enough research to say whether yohimbe as a dietary supplement is helpful for any condition, including erectile dysfunction, athletic performance, or weight loss.”

Some suggest that watermelon may help with impotence – specifically that watermelon juice may be a natural treatment for ED.

This is because watermelon contains L-citrulline, an amino acid which helps with blood vessel dilation and constriction issues. This helps with blood flow which, in theory, could relieve the symptoms of impotence. L-citrulline supplements are also available to purchase online.

But what is the medical consensus on watermelon as a treatment for impotence? Well – a study by researchers at Texas A&M University claimed:

“Watermelon has ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body’s blood vessels and may even increase libido.”

This was a bold claim that was widely reported on in mainstream media at the time.

Others strongly refute the claim. One University paper wrote: “The only activity that will be stimulated by drinking huge amounts of watermelon juice is urination.

A ripe, sweet watermelon can certainly give a boost to the taste buds, but don’t expect anything else to be boosted. Except sales.”

An Italian study, conducted in 2011 , found that citrulline supplements slightly helped with ED symptoms in just over half of the men who participated in the study. When citrulline is absorbed into the body, it is converted into arginine which helps with blood vessel constriction problems.

It should also be noted that the study looked at citrulline supplements, not watermelon itself. There is currently next to zero clinical studies focusing on watermelon as an erectile dysfunction treatment.

Zinc is one of the essential minerals that help our bodies to fulfill a number of important functions. For example, zinc is vital for immune system health and it is also present in DNA proteins, which make up cells.

Zinc is present in many foods including meat, particularly red meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products, eggs and oysters.

However, some claim that zinc may also be beneficial in terms of sexual function and ED. One study found that zinc therapy (5mg per day) ‘improves sexual competence by increasing penile thrusting and prolonging ejaculatory latency without disturbing arousability and motivation of male rats.’

However, trials on humans have not been conducted. What is true is that seeking a balanced and varied diet is one lifestyle choice that may help with impotence. As will seeking regular exercise, not smoking and not drinking too much.

Is there a simple trick to cure ED?

Erectile dysfunction can be a complicated problem. It can surround physical problems, like cardiovascular and artery health, and psychological issues too such as depression or anxiety. It can also be the symptom of poor lifestyle choices.

What’s more, ED can also point to broader health in general as it may just be a symptom of a broader problem.

Because impotence is complicated, there isn’t one simple trick to cure it forever. However, it can be treated. And it may be cured in the long-term by adopting a number of simple lifestyle changes.

So, what are they?

Experts recommend that we are physically active every day, and that we exercise regularly each week. According to the NHS website, we should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week – or 75 minutes of more rigorous physical activity.

Exercising is good for our overall health, but is also good for blood flow and vascular health. These, in turn, may benefit erectile dysfunction.

If you’re looking to eat your way to better erections, the best thing to do is follow a generally healthy and balanced diet. That means keeping saturated fat, sugar and salt intake within reference intake (RI) limits, and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. This will help to maintain good heart and respiratory health, which in turn helps blood pressure and circulation, which in turn reduces the chances of developing erectile dysfunction.

For clear reasons, smoking is dangerous and is something we should refrain from doing. But it can also cause erectile dysfunction, as well as a plethora of other health issues and conditions. Our advice? Quit it.

Sticking to the low alcohol consumption will also benefit overall health as well as ED.

What is an aphrodisiac and how can I increase my libido?

An aphrodisiac is defined as a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire. Chocolate, oysters, strawberries and watermelon are often claimed to have aphrodisiac properties.

So called ‘natural’ and ‘herbal’ Viagra products such as Korean red ginseng, maca, Yohimbe and horny goat weed are also often claimed to help increase libido.

But are aphrodisiacs real and do they work? For the most part, the consensus is that they don’t.

Again, if you think you may experiencing low sex drive, it’s best to speak to a doctor. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle – getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy diet – can all contribute to a healthy body, and a steady libido. But in some cases, loss of sexual desire can be caused by a specific physical or psychological issue that needs to be addressed by a healthcare professional.

Unsure about natural Viagra?

promise1-1.svgYou’re right to be. Herbal remedies for ED and ‘natural Viagra’ are often sold as health supplements - but the evidence on how effective they are is slim, and they’re not always safe.

If you’re struggling with ED, you should try and adopt healthier lifestyle choices and see if you notice a difference.

Still nothing? Then it’s time to see the doc.

If you’re struggling to get or maintain an erection hard enough for sex, it’s not something you should learn to live with. There are a number of things a doctor can do, including prescribing medication like Viagra and other PDE5is.

What’s more, you can now do a lot of this online from the comfort of your own home. You can talk to us about ED medication and natural ways you can improve your chances of getting, and keeping, an erection.

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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

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