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Epimedium is a genus of 21 species and is a member of the buttercup family. Epimedium is a woody, pungent ornamental herb found in western and eastern Asia and the Mediterranean. Various hybrids are grown elsewhere and most often are used as groundcover, particularly in shady areas. The herb also goes by the name horny goat weed and barrenwort. The Chinese call it Yin Yang Huo, which means "licentious goat plant."

The plant was named epimedium because it is akin to a plant found in the ancient southwest Asian kingdom of Media, now a part of Iran. Plants used for medicinal purposes include Epimedium sagittatum, Epimedium brevicornum, Epimedium wushanense, Epimedium koreanum, and Epimedium pubescens.

General use

The use of epimedium as a medicinal herb dates back thousands of years. Shen Nong's Canon of Medicinal Herbs, compiled around 400 a.d., mentions its use.

The odorless, bitter herb has been used as a:

  • Kidney tonic to help relieve problems of frequent urination and correct problems of lightheadedness and weakness associated with improper body fluid volumes.
  • Reproductive system tonic to treat impotence and premature ejaculation.
  • Rejuvenating tonic, as an aphrodisiac or to relieve fatigue.

The herb, which dilates blood vessels, has also been used to treat coronary heart disease, asthma, bronchitis , and sinusitis. An expectorant, it can be used to control coughing. It can also be used to lower blood pressure.

Studies have shown that epimedium raises adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine levels in animals. It is the dopamine that may be responsible for the herb's use as a reproductive tonic. The increased dopamine levels in the body set off a chain reaction that leads to a release of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Other evidence suggests the herb increases sensitivity in nerve endings, which may explain why it is prescribed as an aphrodisiac.


The herb is collected in summer or early autumn, then dried in the sun. Some use it unprepared, while others bake it with sheep fat.

The herb can be ingested as a tea infusion. To make the tea, one ounce of the cut leaves are added to a pint of hot water. The recommended dosage is one to three cups per day. The tea should be taken with food.

A powder form may be made by combining 100 kg of dried epimedium leaves with 20 kg of refined suet, then stir-frying the concoction.

Epimedium may also be combined with lycium fruit to make a tea concoction to stimulate the Kidneys and reproductive system. Combine one ounce of epimedium and wolfberries (lycium) with hot water and drink after the concoction has steeped for 10 to 15 minutes. Note that individuals with allergies to tomatoes and other vegetables in the nightshade family may also be allergic to lycium berries.


When buying epimedium, be sure to pick leaves with a dark color. Those that are yellow or blanched probably sat in the sun too long when drying and won't be as effective.

Also, purchase herbs from reputable companies to ensure their purity.

Side effects

Ingesting an excess amount of the herb can lead to vomiting, dizziness , thirst, and nosebleed.


Just like other drugs, herbs can be hazardous to health both by themselves and particularly in certain combinations. For this reason, consult a knowledgeable herbal therapist before taking epimedium to find out what it can and can't be used with. Also, be aware that herbs can interfere with prescription medication.



Bown, Deni. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.

Keys, John D. Chinese Herbs: Their Botany, Chemistry, and Pharmacodynamics. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1976.


"Epimedium." Herbwalk.com. http://herbwalk.com/remedy/herb_Epimedium_132.html.

"Epimedium grandiflorum." AdvancedHerbals.com. http://www.advancedherbals.com/herbs/div/epimedium_grandiflorum.html.

"Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbal Database." China-Med.net. http://www.china-med.net/unified_site/herb_library/materia_medica.html.

Lisa Frick