What is Natural Viagra and Does Korean Red Ginseng Work? A Guide.

Medically reviewed by Dr Bruce Oran
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last reviewed August 13, 2021
2 minute read
Medically reviewed by Mr Craig Marsh
Written by Sonya Neville
Last reviewed August 13, 2021
4 minute read

Natural Viagra and Herbal ED Remedies: Do They Work?

One common question men experiencing erectile dysfunction may ask themselves: 

Is there a simple trick to cure ED?

Some holistic practitioners claim that certain natural methods may help with ED. They may offer “natural Viagra” or “herbal Viagra,” a broad category of health supplements and solutions containing things like Korean red ginseng, horny goat weed, maca and even watermelon.

Herbal Viagra and herbal remedies to keep a man hard

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to get or maintain an erection hard enough for sex. Erection problems like ED are said to impact nearly 1 in 5 men in the US, but the condition is often treatable. Sometimes just adopting healthier lifestyle choices or seeking help with issues like depression and anxiety can help. 

The next step is usually prescription medication like the well-known Pfizer drug Viagra. This type of medication is called a PDE5 inhibitor and includes other pills like Cialis. But ED treatment doesn’t just mean prescription medication — a doctor can also recommend things like vacuum pumps or even implants. And then, of course, there are herbal remedies.

For years, people have claimed that certain plants and foods can keep you hard in the bedroom and increase sex drive. These include Korean ginseng, horny goat weed and maca and are often called herbal Viagra (or “natural Viagra”). Keep in mind that “herbal” and “natural” doesn’t always mean safe or free from side effects.

Below, we’ll break down how well these types of remedies work in treating ED — and whether there’s scientific evidence to support them.

Korean ginseng

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.)
Fresh ginseng
White ginseng
Red ginseng
0-4 years grow time 4-6 years grow time 6+ years grow time
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The two most popular ginseng are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng). Ginseng is a leafy plant that will sometimes bloom red flowers, but it’s 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 reduce ED. Ginseng may also promote the release of nitric oxide, which could relax the muscles in the penis and 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[1] found that red ginseng was more favorable at treating ED than a placebo. However, the authors pointed to low sample size as a caveat of the study. Another broader study[2] 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 erectile dysfunction may not treat another. So while red ginseng supplements can be bought over the counter, it’s still advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using them.

Horny goat weed

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. Its formal name is epimedium and it’s 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 beneficial because one of the main physical causes surrounds poor blood flow or constricted blood vessels in and around the penis. It’s also said to have other benefits, such as helping with bone density problems.

Horny goat weed is available for purchase as a supplement but it’s not licensed for 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 (the active ingredient in Viagra).

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.[3] However, no studies surrounding erectile dysfunction 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: uses and benefits for erectile dysfunction

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.[4]

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, maca became increasingly popular throughout the 2000s, helped in part by the rise of the internet.

Maca Exports 2001-2010

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.”[5]

Other studies on maca and sexual dysfunction give conflicting results. A series of randomized 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.[6]

Yohimbe for erectile dysfunction

Yohimbe comes from an evergreen tree native to the south and west of Africa, 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 the US, yohimbine hydrochloride is a form of yohimbe that is a licensed prescription drug for erectile dysfunction.[7] 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.

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 as many as 78% of them did not label the correct quantity of Yohimbe.[8]

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.”[9]

Is watermelon a natural Viagra?

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 which, in theory, could relieve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. L-citrulline supplements are also available to purchase online. 

But what is the medical consensus on watermelon as a treatment for erectile dysfunction? A study by researchers at Texas A&M University claimed that “watermelon has ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body’s blood vessels and may even increase libido.”[10]

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.”[11]

An Italian study[12] conducted in 2011 found that citrulline supplements slightly helped with ED symptoms in just over half of the participants. 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 are currently next to zero clinical studies focusing on watermelon as an erectile dysfunction treatment.

Are there any sexual benefits to using zinc?

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.”[13]

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 erectile dysfunction. As will 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 a result of poor lifestyle choices. 

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

Because ED is so complex, 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?

Exercise helps with erections

Experts recommend that we are physically active every day, and that we exercise regularly each week. According to the CDC, we should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week — or 75 minutes of more rigorous physical activity.[14]

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

Foods that help with 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 limits, and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. This will help maintain good heart and respiratory health, which in turn helps blood pressure and circulation, which in turn reduces the chances of developing erectile dysfunction.

Not drinking alcohol and smoking for 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? Stub it out. 

Sticking to the low-risk alcohol consumption guidelines will also benefit overall health as well as ED. This means fewer than 14 units or less per week, and it’s best to split these units up across the week with non-drinking days in between.

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?

You’re right to be. Herbal remedies for ED like “natural Viagra” are often sold as health supplements, but evidence on how effective they are is slim, and they’re not always safe to take.

If you’re experiencing 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 unable 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 PDE5 inhibitors.

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

References

[1] Jang, D.-J., Lee, M.S., Shin, B.-C., Lee, Y.-C. and Ernst, E. (2008). Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction: a systematic review. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, [online] 66(4), pp.444–450. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18754850/ [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].

[2] Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D.V., Iriti, M. and Izzo, A.A. (2018). Herbal Dietary Supplements for Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Drugs, 78(6), pp.643–673.

[3] Liu, T., Xin, H., Li, W.-R., Zhou, F., Li, G.-Y., Gong, Y.-Q., Gao, Z.-Z., Qin, X.-C., Cui, W.-S., Shindel, A.W. and Xin, Z.-C. (2011). Effects of icariin on improving erectile function in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, [online] 8(10), pp.2761–2772. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21967314/ [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].

[4] Gonzales, G.F. (2012). Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, [online] 2012, pp.1–10. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/.

[5] Shin, B.-C., Lee, M.S., Yang, E.J., Lim, H.-S. and Ernst, E. (2010). Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 10(1).

[6] Gonzales, G.F. (2012). Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, [online] 2012, pp.1–10. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/.

[7] ntp.niehs.nih.gov. (n.d.). Yohimbe bark extract M000062. [online] Available at: https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/testpgm/status/ts-m000062.html [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].

[8] Cohen, P.A., Wang, Y., Maller, G., DeSouza, R. and Khan, I.A. (2015). Pharmaceutical quantities of yohimbine found in dietary supplements in the USA. Drug Testing and Analysis, 8(3-4), pp.357–369.

[9] NCCIH. (n.d.). Yohimbe. [online] Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yohimbe.

[10] ScienceDaily. (n.d.). Watermelon May Have Viagra-effect. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080630165707.htm [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].

[11] Office for Science and Society. (n.d.). Watermelon and Sex. [online] Available at: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/food-health-news/watermelon-and-sex [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].

[12] Cormio, L., De Siati, M., Lorusso, F., Selvaggio, O., Mirabella, L., Sanguedolce, F. and Carrieri, G. (2011). Oral L-Citrulline Supplementation Improves Erection Hardness in Men With Mild Erectile Dysfunction. Urology, 77(1), pp.119–122.

[13] Dissanayake, D., Wijesinghe, P., Ratnasooriya, W. and Wimalasena, S. (2009). Effects of zinc supplementation on sexual behavior of male rats. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, 2(2), p.57.

[14] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm.

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