It is all in the name here. According to new research from the University of Milan, Italy, it appears that the heart-shaped leaves of horny goat weed could be the most potent natural alternative to Viagra available.
The weed, also known as Bishop's Hat, Epimedium, Fairy Wings, and Yin Yan Huo, has long been known as a natural aphrodisiac, and it is a phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitor. PDE5 inhibition is what the active ingredient in Viagra so famously does to combat erectile dysfunction (ED). Researchers are now looking to natural products for the same end result without the side effects of Viagra (may cause headache, facial flushing, upset stomach, bluish vision or blurred vision, etcetera, etcetera).
Besides avoiding these manifold unpleasant sensations, the really grand thing about this particular aphrodisiac is that its properties work for both men and women. Not to mention that it has been used for two thousand years... You don't use something for that long if doesn't produce the desired results, especially when those results are as easily identifiable as the ones this weed brings on.
Researchers are just hoping to bring what has been long known up to speed. They have extracted icariin, the active ingredient in the weed, and are working to optimize its effects by concentrating the compound. Icariin does not effect the other phosphodiesterases which Viagra does (eyes, heart), so even in a concentrated form, it should not produce similar side effects. The concentrated form of the weed is now going through intensive clinical trials. Less concentrated, more traditional forms of the supplement are available now, as they have been for two millennia.
Bonus: How do you get a name like that? The story goes that the weed's special powers were discovered by a Chinese goat herder. When his goats ate the little heart-shaped leaves their sexual activity increased greatly, to the point where he noted what was different. Just some little leaves.
For further enlightenment on the subject, check out this lovely Discovery Health article in which the author, Chris Kilham, travels to China to research the weed, or this Journal of Natural Products abstract.