Erectile dysfunction (ED) can make it difficult to get or maintain an erection. Herbs for ED that may improve symptoms for some people include ginseng, horny goatweed, and maritime pine.

However, researchers emphasize that herbal treatments for ED still need further investigation. Scientists are not yet sure whether these herbs are safe, and the evidence supporting some of them is only preliminary.

Herbal treatments can also have risks. They may cause side effects or drug interactions. Some “natural” herbal blends also contain unsafe ingredients in their products. In some cases, this includes unlisted prescription drugs, such as sildenafil, which is in Viagra.

Read on to learn more about the herbs that may help with ED, the evidence behind them, their risks, and other options for treating the condition.

Dry ginseng roots on red satin cloth.Share on Pinterest
WhiteJack/Getty Images

Red ginseng is an herb that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) promote for its ability to treat ED. Other names for this herb include Panax ginseng or Korean ginseng.

A 2021 review of previous research found “promising” evidence supporting the use of red ginseng for ED. The authors looked at four studies and found that three showed improved symptoms, while one did not.

Another study also used red ginseng in combination with vitamin E, which also produced positive results.

Researchers are not exactly sure how red ginseng reduces ED symptoms. There is some evidence it may increase testosterone, and animal studies have shown it increases nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels.

Risks and side effects

Researchers regard red ginseng as safe in doses of 0.5–3 grams per day. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also states it appears safe for short-term use.

However, the long-term safety of ginseng is unknown. It may also cause side effects, the most common being insomnia. Other potential adverse effects include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • nervousness
  • headaches
  • dry mouth
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • high or low blood pressure
  • changes in blood sugar
  • loss of appetite
  • drug interactions, including with statins and antidepressants

Some people should not take ginseng at all. Always check with a doctor before starting any alternative or complementary treatment.

Horny goat weed is another herb people use in TCM for ED. It is also known as Epimedium sagittatum.

Although this herb has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac, a 2020 article states that there have been no trials of horny goat weed as an ED treatment in humans.

According to a 2020 review, the animal studies to date suggest horny goat weed may increase levels of nitric oxide in rats. This could be due to a compound the plant contains, which is known as icariin.

However, more high quality research is necessary to prove that either horny goat weed or icariin is effective and safe for humans.

Risks and side effects

Some of the potential adverse effects of horny goat weed include:

  • sweating
  • feeling hot
  • mood changes
  • drug interactions

This herb can also cause a fast, irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, which could be dangerous in some cases. People with heart disease should not take horny goat weed.

Maritime pine, or Pinus pinaster, is an herbal extract from a tree native to southwest France. It contains procyanidins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Procyanidins may also increase nitric oxide and stimulate the production of catecholamines, which are hormones involved in erections. Examples include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

The 2021 review mentioned earlier found two studies in which a patented extract of maritime pine bark had a positive effect on ED alone. However, research on this herb is still in its early stages.

Risks and side effects

In previous research on maritime pine, people reported symptoms such as:

  • headaches
  • digestive symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea
  • hives
  • eczema
  • dizziness
  • mouth ulcers
  • nosebleeds
  • bruising

It is unclear if these symptoms were the direct result of the pine bark extract. More research on the risks is necessary.

It is also unknown if maritime pine interacts with medications. However, as this herb may potentially lower blood sugar, increase immune system activity, and reduce blood clotting, it is important that anyone taking medications or who has other medical conditions checks with a doctor before trying it.

While not an herb, l-arginine is a dietary supplement that may have the potential to reduce ED. It is an amino acid, or one of the building blocks of protein, and a precursor to nitric oxide. In high enough doses, l-arginine can stimulate the blood vessels to enlarge, allowing for better blood flow.

A 2019 review of previous research on l-arginine found evidence it may benefit people with ED, either on its own or in combination with other ingredients.

However, many of the studies to date have been small, with a low number of participants. Larger trials are necessary to confirm if it works reliably.

Risks and side effects

Side effects of taking l-arginine can include:

  • upset stomach
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • diarrhea

There are also concerns that amino acid supplementation may damage the kidneys over time. A 2020 animal study found that l-arginine accelerated the decline in kidney function in mice as they aged.

More research in humans is necessary, but the authors caution against long-term l-arginine supplementation in older adults.

Yohimbe is a tree native to western and central Africa. It contains a compound known as yohimbine, which has gained attention as a potential ED remedy.

However, studies on this compound have had mixed results. A 2021 review of five previous studies found that yohimbine alone did not produce a significant improvement in ED symptoms but may do so in combination with other ED treatments.

In the United States, people can get yohimbine hydrochloride as a prescription drug. Yohimbe bark is also available as a dietary supplement, but the amount of yohimbine in these supplements can vary widely.

Risks and side effects

One of the main risks of yohimbe is that the amount of yohimbine in over-the-counter products is often unclear. Some products may contain very little, while others may contain a lot. Due to this uncertainty, yohimbe is not available for sale in many countries.

There is also a lack of research on its potential risks, but according to the NIH, people have previously reported:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • high blood pressure
  • anxiety
  • digestive symptoms

Yohimbe also has associations with seizures and heart attacks and may interact with drugs — particularly a type of antidepressant known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

A person should not take yohimbine without consulting a doctor first.

Anyone considering taking herbs for ED or other sexual issues should speak with a qualified medical professional first. This is because many things can lead to ED. Some of these causes benefit from or require medical treatment.

Getting an erection requires several things to occur. These include sensory stimulation, increased blood flow, increased blood pressure in the penis, and the contraction of muscles in the penis. If something interrupts this process at any stage, ED can occur.

Some factors that can contribute to ED include:

Speaking with a health professional allows them to investigate the potential cause. It can also give people the opportunity to ask whether a particular herb or supplement is right for them.

If a health professional says it is OK to try a herbal remedy, be sure to purchase from a reputable brand that conducts third-party testing to ensure its products are pure and do not contain any unlisted ingredients.

If adverse effects occur, stop taking the product right away and notify a doctor. People can use the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) portal to report safety concerns about a product.

Learn more about erectile dysfunction.

Some herbs that show promise for erectile dysfunction include red ginseng, maritime pine bark, and horny goat weed. However, as with all medications, they come with risks. Some may cause side effects or interact with other drugs. Others, such as yohimbe, also have some more serious safety concerns.

Research into treatments for ED is ongoing. However, there are safe and effective ways to treat it. A doctor can advise on nondrug approaches, such as diet or lifestyle changes, that may help. Some people may also be able to take prescription medications to help treat ED.