This low-growing herb, which is native to China, has been used to treat kidney, liver, and joint disorders and to increase sexual desire in both men and women. Legend has it that long ago, a Chinese herder noticed his goats becoming more sexually excited and active after grazing on this plant. The herb’s reputed aphrodisiac properties are thought to be due to the flavonoid compound icariin, which is closely related to compounds in at least two erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals and works in a similar way to these modern medicines.


Plant profile

Common Names: Epimedium, Horny Goat Weed, Yin Yang Huo

Description: Low-growing perennial up to 20 inches tall; arching stems of delicate rose or yellow blooms; heart-shaped leaves turn a copper color in fall

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Berberidaceae

Flowering: Spring

Parts Used: Leaves

Range/Habitat: Native to China; woodlands

Medicinal use

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), epimedium stems, leaves, and flowers are steeped in wine to make a treatment for impotence. The herb is said to increase sexual activity and the production of sperm and to stimulate sensory nerves. Epimedium appears to lower blood pressure (and could interact with drugs for hypertension). It also slows clotting and has been used in TCM to dissolve blood clots.

Caution: People who take medications that lower blood pressure or slow blood clotting should use this herb with caution.

How to grow it

Epimedium, an attractive groundcover, thrives in moist, well-drained, acidic loam and shade. Plant it outdoors in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Mulch your plants with leaf compost to retain moisture. For medicinal use, harvest the leaves in summer or fall, 2 to 3 months after the plants flower. To propagate, divide roots in fall or early spring.