Yohimbe (pausinystalia yohimbe)

Yohimbe is a 100-foot-tall evergreen tree native to the forests of western Africa, particularly in Cameroon, Zaire, and Gabon. A relative of the coffee plant, yohimbe has red to yellow wood; glossy, dark green leaves; and clusters of tubular white or pink flowers.

In its native region, yohimbe is valued as a stimulant, male aphrodisiac, and mild hallucinogen; the gray-brown bark is taken as a tea, smoked, or sniffed. This plant is highly toxic when taken in large doses, however, due to the presence of a group of psychoactive indole alkaloids. Because of increased demand for this herb, yohimbe trees have been overharvested in the wild, and there is concern that the tree soon will become endangered.


Plant profile

Common Names: Johimbe, Yohimbe

Description: Evergreen tree, up to 100 feet tall; glossy, dark green leaves; red to yellow wood; clusters of tubular white or pink flowers followed by winged, papery seedpods

Hardiness: To Zone 11

Family: Rubiaceae

Flowering: May to July in its native range

Parts Used: Bark

Range/Habitat: Native to the forests of western Africa

Medicinal use

A bitter, warming herb, the bark of the yohimbe tree has a reputation as an aphrodisiac in Africa, particularly among the Bantu people. One of the indole alkaloids in the bark is yohimbine, which has been made into the pharmaceutical drug yohimbine hydrochloride, used to treat impotence and erectile dysfunction. An extract of this plant also has been used to increase saliva flow in patients taking antidepressants who experience dry mouth as a side effect.

In herbal medicine, however, yohimbe is not widely used because of its potentially toxic effects, which include increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Other side effects associated with the use of this herb include dizziness, headache, shaking, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.

Caution: Yohimbe should not be used by those with high blood pressure or kidney or liver disease. Excess use can cause depression. Use this herb only under the supervision of an experienced medical professional.

How to grow it

Yohimbe grows in tropical conditions that include moist soil, high humidity, and minimum temperatures of 59° to 64°F. In North America, it will survive outdoors only in the warmest locations, such as Hawaii, southern Florida, or Puerto Rico. In colder areas, try growing this plant in a large, warm greenhouse. (Although it’s difficult to find propagating material of this species in the commercial trade, sources of seeds can sometimes be found on the Web.) In Africa, the bark is collected throughout the year and dried in strips.