Horny Goat Weed and ED: Here’s the Deal

Horny goat weed sure sounds like it’s going to help you in the bedroom, but putting something in your body based on the name alone is probably not the best move. 

Weeding through all of the information (and misinformation) online when it comes to health remedies is hard work. It’s hard to know what to trust. A good first step: Trust those who share the evidence and back claims with scientific research. 

We did our best to round up some facts on this largely mysterious supplement. Here’s the short version: 

TL;DR: What You Need to Know About Horny Goat Weed 

  • Horny goat weed is part of the genus of plants known as epimedium and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many years. 
  • Most of the research on this herb has been done in a lab, under a microscope, and not on humans. 
  • It’s believed icariin, a component in epimedium, can inhibit PDE-5, which can improve your ability to get an erection. 
  • Only one, very small study comparing the effects of horny goat weed to sildenafil found the plant to deliver sexual benefits. 
  • Much more research on epimedium is needed before it can be said that it’s a worthwhile treatment for erectile dysfunction

What Is Horny Goat Weed? 

Also referred to by its scientific name, Epimedium grandiflorum, horny goat weed is a plant native to China and Korea, but now found throughout the world. 

The name “horny goat weed” is a translation of the Chinese version, yin yang huo, as the herb has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). 

Allegedly, it was named as such when goats who grazed on the plant were noted to become more sexually active.

In TCM, horny goat weed is considered a yang tonic, which enhances kidney energy. Herbs used in TCM are rarely used alone. This is part of the reason much of the research originating from Asia looks at horny goat weed’s effects when used with other herbs.

Today, you can find a wide variety of horny goat weed supplements online, many marketed as aphrodisiacs and many of which have the herb listed prominently on the bottle, though they often contain other herbs like maca and ginseng. 

Supplements like this are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way prescription drugs are. This means they aren’t required to be as rigorously tested for safety or backed by solid proof of effectiveness. 

It also means you’re likely to get varying amounts of active ingredients from supplement to supplement.

Horny Goat Weed Medicinal Uses 

In TCM, epimedium has been used for circulation issues. Today, you can find it reportedly being used for everything from hardening of the arteries to osteoporosis treatment, and most popularly, sexual dysfunction.

Much of the research on horny goat weed has been done in a lab (under a microscope rather than on humans or animals). 

These in vitro studies have found components of the herb to possibly have anticancer, anti-HIV, immune-protective, neuroprotective and anti-osteoporosis qualities, but few of these benefits have been carried over to human studies. 

Many of the suspected benefits of horny goat weed are attributed to icariin, an active component within the herb that has some effects on certain hormones.

Very few high-quality studies on horny goat weed have been done on humans. 

However, here is a brief summary of some of the literature available: 

Circulation: One human study involving 120 elderly patients with diagnosed vascular disease affecting blood flow to the heart and brain found improved blood circulation in the heart and brain vessels for those patients who were given epimedium compared to those who were not. 

The researchers note they believe these results were due to epimedium’s ability to lower blood lipid levels and its effects on platelets and clotting. It was also noted to be rich in antioxidants.

Osteoporosis. A 2007 double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 100 post-menopausal women found compounds derived from epimedium to prevent bone loss over a 24 month period.

Horny Goat Weed for Erectile Dysfunction

In theory, icariin in epimedium may work by inhibiting PDE-5, which, in turn, can combat erectile dysfunction

Despite the popularity of horny goat weed in sexual health supplements, there is very limited high-quality human research on its use in this area. A few animal studies have supported this theory, but more research is obviously needed to confirm this hypothesis. 

One double-blind placebo-controlled study found sexual benefits in a supplement containing epimedium, but the supplement used in this study also contained maca and many other ingredients, making it impossible to know whether the benefits came from horny goat weed or another herb in the formulation. 

Another human study compared the effects of epimedium to the effects of Viagra/sildenafil and found daily use of the herb led to greater sexual satisfaction than the prescription drug. 

However, this study only involved 25 healthy men and 13 men who had used Viagra in the past. Further, participants took horny goat weed every single day for 45 days, whereas prescription Viagra is only taken as-needed.

As shown above, the hard evidence that this herb can definitely help men in the bedroom is insufficient. 

However, on blogs and online reviews of supplements containing horny goat weed, you’ll find anecdotal accounts of increased sexual health through the use of epimedium. 

Whether or not these accounts are fully accurate, completely a credit to horny goat weed (and not another supplement ingredient) or the placebo effect will remain a mystery until the research catches up. 

Is Horny Goat Weed Safe? 

There are no long-term studies on the toxicity/safety of epimedium. However, there is some indication it could cause an elevated heart rate and irritability. Sweating and feeling hot are two other possible side effects.

Because there are no long-term studies on epimedium, we simply don’t know how safe it is. 

As with any nutritional supplement, talk with a healthcare provider before beginning a regimen. 

If you suffer from heart disease, this conversation is doubly important because of the potential cardiovascular side effects of horny goat weed.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.