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Yohimbe – Africa's Aphrodisiac

Yohimbe (Pausinystalia johimbe; Rubiaceae; See HC 051243-456) is a tropical evergreen tree that grows up to 90 feet and is native to western Africa, specifically the countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, and the Congo. The dried bark is used in folk and herbal remedies, primarily as an aphrodisiac for both men and women. Yohimbe has been smoked, rubbed on the body, ingested, and sniffed for its reputed effect on sexual interest and performance. Traditionally, it has also been used to treat fevers, leprosy, high blood pressure, and heart problems. The powder was sometimes smoked to induce hallucinations, and yohimbe poultices were placed on the skin as an antiseptic and treatment for pain. Warriors used yohimbe as a stimulant before battle. Yohimbe is a testosterone precursor and hormone stimulant and has found popularity as an athletic supplement for body building.

The tree bark yields yohimbine, which in the form of an alkaloid salt, yohimbine hydrochloride, has been used in prescription formulas to improve sexual performance. The drug yohimbine dilates the skin's blood vessels, bringing blood closer to the surface of the sex organs while also lowering blood pressure at certain doses. The drug has also been promoted to treat exhaustion and drug overdose (from clonidine) and has been used to enlarge the pupil of the eye.

Yohimbe has many contraindications, potential adverse effects, and guidelines for use. Those with low blood pressure, high blood pressure, or who have heart arrhythmias should avoid it. Yohimbe should not be taken with food or substances containing tyramine, an amino acid. Foods high in tyramine include liver, cheese, and red wine. Certain diet aids and decongestants may also contain tyramine. Yohimbine or yohimbe bark should not be used by children, elderly people, or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. People with kidney problems and people with psychiatric conditions should also not use yohimbe. It has been associated with headache, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremors, and sleeplessness. Yohimbe and yohimbine should not be combined with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) since effects may be additive.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor