Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Plant seen as sexual stimulant for centuries piqued interest of drug companies

Name Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe)

Otherwise known as: Yohimbinean, Herbal Viagra

Habitat: An evergreen rainforest tree of the Rubiaceae family growing to 10m in rich, moist soil in West Africa. The tree has light green, spear-shaped leaves and bears small white flowers that transform into clusters of white berries. The plant is harvested for its inner bark which can prove to be very dangerous.

What does it do: Yohimbe has been recognised as a sexual stimulant for centuries; it contains a number of indole alkaloids such as ajmaline, corynanthene and yohimbine; it is the latter chemical that has attracted the attention of the American and European drug companies. It is estimated that penile dysfunction affects over 20 million men a year and the standard treatments are ineffective, so it is not surprising they turn to herbal remedies. If the anecdotal evidence is to be believed, then Yohimbe meets all requirements. The chemicals in the tree bark stimulate and dilate the blood vessels in the lower abdomen in men and women and create a heightened sensitivity in the sexual organs. Yohimbe is the only herbal aphrodisiac to be approved by the Food and Drug Agency of the United States.

Recently the herb has been making an appearance on the ‘party drug’ circuit where it has caused concern particularly when mixed with ephedrine; ingestion of large doses have resulted in hallucinations, vomiting, anxiety, muscular dysfunction, abortion, arrhythmia, dizziness, insomnia and psychological problems, kidney failure and blood vessel collapse.

Much of the function of this plant is passed on by word of mouth without there being much scientific justification for its action: the sales of Yohimbe have increased dramatically recently due to claims among body-builders that preparations made from the bark and applied topically will seriously reduce body fat.

Every year hundreds of tons of the bark are harvested and sold to the major drug companies without any form of government control, which will eventually lead to the plant’s extinction.

There have been recent claims that Yohimbe may be effective against type 2 diabetes and relieve fatigue symptoms in HIV patients.

Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants

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