Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium)

Horny goat weed is an herb that has been a traditional remedy in China for centuries. It’s used for low libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, pain, and other conditions.

Why do people take horny goat weed?

Some men take horny goat weed in the belief that it’s a natural alternative to drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED). Although still preliminary, there’s new evidence to support the idea. A 2008 lab study found that a compound in the herb blocks the effects of an enzyme that restricts blood flow to the penis. Epimedium, the suspected active component of horny goat weed, appears to act as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor, similar to some drugs used for ED. What’s more, the study indicated that horny goat weed could theoretically work better -- and cause fewer side effects -- than current drugs for erectile dysfunction.

Horny goat weed has also been studied as a treatment for other conditions, like osteoporosis and hardening of the arteries. The results from studies conducted abroad show promise, however better clinical studies are still needed.

How much horny goat weed should you take?

Horny goat weed is an unproven treatment. There is no established dose. Some studies have used between 6 grams and 15 grams a day.

Can you get horny goat weed naturally from foods?

There are no natural food sources of horny goat weed.

What are the risks of taking horny goat weed?

  • Side effects. Most people seem to tolerate short-term use of horny goat weed fairly well, at least at the doses studied. It may cause upset stomach and dry mouth. In some, horny goat weed may result in irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, nosebleeds, and mood changes. High doses have been linked to spasms and respiratory failure.
  • Risks. Always speak to your doctor before taking herbal supplements like horny goat weed. People with certain health conditions may be at higher risk for adverse side effects.
  • Interactions. If you take any medicines or supplements regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using horny goat weed. It could interact with drugs like blood thinners, aspirin, birth control pills, antidepressants, treatments for immune disorders and thyroid problems, and medicines that lower blood pressure or cholesterol. Using horny goat weed with nitroglycerin can be extremely dangerous. Similar to its use with pharmaceutical erectile dysfunction medicines, mixing nitroglycerin with horny goat weed can even be fatal due to the potential for severe drops in blood pressure.

Given the possible risks, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children should not take horny goat weed.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carmen Patrick Mohan on May 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Agli, M. Journal of Natural Products, 2008.

Longe, J., ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition, 2004.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center web site: “About Herbs: Epimedium.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database web site: “Epimedium.” 

Natural Standard Patient Monograph: “Horny Goat Weed.”

News release, Journal of Natural Products.

U.S.Library of Medicine: "Honey Goat Weed."

Cho, J.-H., Jung, J.-Y., Lee, B.-J., Lee, K., Park, J.-W., and Bu, Y.  Epimedii Herba: A Promising Herbal Medicine for Neuroplasticity. 2017

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