Mayo Clinic Health Library

Erectile dysfunction herbs: A natural treatment for ED?

Updated: 01-19-2013

Erectile dysfunction — difficulty maintaining an erection sufficient for sex — is a common problem. You've likely seen advertisements for erectile dysfunction herbs or supplements to "increase your sexual performance." Could they work for you?

Erectile dysfunction herbs and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.

Here's a quick guide to erectile dysfunction herbs:

Herbal remedyDoes it work?Safety
Studied in people, positive results, generally safe
DHEA Some evidence shows that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) increases libido in women and helps erectile dysfunction in men. DHEA appears to be safe at low doses. It can cause acne.
L-arginine Some evidence shows that taking high doses improves erectile dysfunction by stimulating blood vessels to open wider for improved blood flow. Side effects may include nausea, cramps and diarrhea. Don't take L-arginine with Viagra.
Ginseng One study of Panax ginseng showed it improved sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction. A cream preparation is used for premature ejaculation. Panax ginseng contains many active ingredients. It appears to be safe used on a short-term basis. Insomnia is a common side effect.
Studied in people, positive results, risky
Yohimbe A number of clinical trials have shown that the primary component of this bark from an African tree can improve sexual dysfunction associated with a drug used to treat depression. This herb has been linked to a number of side effects, including increased blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeat, and anxiety. Yohimbe shouldn't be used without a doctor's supervision.
Not studied in people or negative results
Ginkgo Ginkgo has potential to increase blood flow to the penis. But there's no evidence of benefit for erectile dysfunction. Ginkgo may increase the risk of bleeding.
Horny goat weed (epimedium) Substances in the leaves of this herb have been used to improve sexual performance, but the herb has not been studied in people. This herb might lower blood pressure.

Be wary of 'herbal Viagra'

A number of nonprescription products claim to be herbal forms of Viagra. Some of these products contain unknown quantities of potent ingredients similar to those in prescription medications, which can cause dangerous side effects. Some actually contain the real drug that should be given by prescription only. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned many of these products, some potentially dangerous erectile dysfunction remedies remain on the market.

Be cautious and talk to your doctor

Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an herbal treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.