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Chinese Herbal Aphrodisiacs
By: Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, ND, L.Ac.

For centuries the Chinese have associated vibrant health and longevity with both abundant kidney Qi and strong libido. In Chinese medicine your kidney Qi and Essence direct your sexual development and keep your libido healthy; improving the health of your kidneys often means increasing the health of your libido. Some of the most expensive and sought-after kidney-supportive Chinese herbal formulas have become known as aphrodisiacs; they enhance sex drive and performance because they build kidney yin, kidney yang, and kidney Essence.
Many also enhance immunity, energy, and stamina, giving them a profound impact on your overall healthand longevity. According to Anne Marie Colbin, author of Food and Healing, "An aphrodisiac is a substance that will expand and relax someone who is sexually too tight, or contract and strengthen someone who is too spacey and scattered." A number of Chinese herbal aphrodisiacs have both of these properties; they contain compounds that can stimulate as well as sedate your nervous system.
This may sound surprising, but because of their dual actions Chinese herbal aphrodisiacs are legendary. The Chinese have invested a few thousand years of research in perfecting herbal formulas for preserving sexual vitality. However, it is sometimes difficult for Westerners to understand that these formulas are meant to be used within the context of boosting every aspect of your health. In the age of Viagra, it cannot be emphasized enough that taking a single drug or herbal formula does not make you sexually potent. Great health and vitality are what give you sexual vigor.
The health of your libido is not measured by just how much and how often you want to engage in sexual activity; it is much more than that. A women's libido requires having energy and vitality, but also feeling relaxed and loving. Men tend to take herbal aphrodisiacs to build kidney yang energy for short bursts of sexual satisfaction, but women need to take them over a long period of time to build both kidney yin and kidney yang energy. Building only your kidney yang energy will ultimately exhaust your kidney yin and kidney Essence. By strengthening your kidney yin, kidney yang, and kidney Essence, herbal aphrodisiacs can fortify your sexual vitality by gently strengthening the health of your entire body.
The following are some of the best Chinese herbs with aphrodisiac properties. You can find them in many Chinese herbal formulas traditionally given to enhance libido and sexual performance, and in those prescribed for women who are infertile or menopausal. (Chinese herbal formulas are mixtures of herbs that have specific effects when combined together.) Here, these herbs are recommended primarily for their ability to enhance your kidney Qi and kidney Essence. Taking increased amounts of these herbs is not always beneficial; too much may have the opposite effect. For instance, if you take an excessive amount of an herb that strengthens your kidney yang when you are lacking kidney yin can create an imbalance in your Qi and result in a lack of libido. For best results, consult with your practitioner of Chinese medicine.

  • Chinese ginseng is a powerful herb for strengthening your Qi and helping your body adapt to stress. It is used as a sexual tonic because of its modulating effects on your nervous system. If you are lethargic it can give you sexual energy, and if you are tense it can help you relax. Chinese ginseng contains compounds that may have effects on your body resembling those of certain sex and adrenal hormones. It does not act as an immediate sexual stimulant, but when taken long-term it can enhance your sexual vitality. It is usually used in combination with other herbal aphrodisiacs to increase sexual potency, kidney yang, and kidney Essence. In postmenopausal women ginseng can prevent atrophy of the vulvar and vaginal tissues. As a single herb, the recommended dose of ginseng is 200 milligrams taken two to three times a day. Chinese ginseng should not be taken by women with a deficiency of kidney yin because it can be too warming. 
  • Rehmannia is superb for nourishing your kidney yin and kidney Essence. In Chinese medicine, this herb is said to be "food for your kidneys," very rejuvenating, and with the potential to increase your longevity. Rehmannia is usually used in combination with other herbs to build Blood, and strengthen yin and Qi. As a women's herb, it can enhance your sexuality and draw Qi and energy into your reproductive organs. You will benefit most from the prepared form of rehmannia that has been soaked in wine, steamed, and sun-dried (this form of rehmannia should not be used if you have diarrhea). Rehmannia is seldom prescribed as a single herb. One of the most popular Chinese herbal formulas containing rehmannia, along with other herbs for building kidney yin and kidney Essence, is Six Flavor Rehmannia Pills; the usual dose is eight pellets three times a day, depending on the type of product purchased.  
  • Epimedium is considered to be the most powerful vegetarian sexual tonic in Chinese medicine, although surprisingly little is known of it in the West. For women, it is best used in combination with herbs like rehmannia, which strengthen or tonify yin, because epimedium has strong kidney yang-building effects. It may possess male hormone-like actions and is believed to work by stimulating your nervous system, especially the nerves in your genitalia. This herb has also been found to decrease high blood pressure, but it will not affect blood pressure that is too low. In addition, epimedium has powerful immunity-boosting and immunity-regulating effects. In Chinese medicine, it is also used for promoting heath and longevity. Epimedium should not be used regularly by women who have an overactive sex drive, a high fever, or symptoms of kidney yin deficiency such as hot flashes, insomnia, or anxiety. It is best used in a Chinese herbal formula. 
  • Cordyceps is one of the shining stars among Chinese herbal aphrodisiacs. It builds your sexual energy over time by enhancing your kidney yang and replenishing your kidney yin. Because of its dual nature, expansive yet contractive, cordyceps is a perfect sexual tonic for women. It also has immunity-enhancing properties. In China, cordyceps is highly valued. Fortunately, it has become more readily available as a result of modern cultivation techniques. The recommended dose of cordyceps as a single herb is 500 milligrams two to three times a day. Refrain from using cordyceps if you have a fever.
About the Author
Chinese Herbal Aphrodisiacs is an excerpt from Dr. Laurie Steelsmith's book Natural Choices for Women's Health; How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine can Create a Lifetime of Wellness, published by Random House in 2005. Dr. Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu. You can reach her and learn more about her book at