Before departing on a recent trip to La Paz, Mexico, I heard about a mythical spirit called damiana liqueur.
Always interested in herbal remedies and tinctures, I was eager to taste and learn more about this liqueur made from the damiana plant that grows well in Baja California Sur’s desert climate. It’s said that the damiana plant has certain medicinal properties. Locals sip the liqueur either neat or mixed in cocktails to cure ailments such as stress, insomnia, and aches and pains. But its most sensational claim is that this sweet, herbal liqueur is an aphrodisiac. I knew I wanted to taste it for myself.
What is Damiana?
Damiana is a small shrub that can be found in the rocky hillsides of Mexico and other desert regions. In addition to its amour-enhancing benefits, the herb is said to improve digestion, treat constipation, and create an overall sense of well-being. The aphrodisiac aspects of the remedy are believed to come into play because the herb stimulates the intestinal tract, bringing oxygen to the genital area for both men and women. As there isn’t any scientific data behind these benefits, mainly what you’ll hear when you ask about the plant are tall tales of love found after ingesting the liqueur.
According to Healthline, damiana (Turnera diffusa) is a low-growing plant with yellow flowers and fragrant leaves. In addition to Mexico, it’s native to subtropical climates like southern Texas, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Its medicinal uses predate written history. Healthline says that “by the time the Spanish crossed the Atlantic, indigenous cultures had been using it for centuries as an aphrodisiac and bladder tonic.”
Spanish missionaries noticed that native tribes would brew a damiana tea with sugar to stimulate sexual performance. Although there aren’t human studies, laboratory tests performed on rats showed increased sexual performance in both males and females, but in particular those with sexual dysfunction. Still, both sexes exhibited increased sexual activity. Although the damiana plant is generally safe and nontoxic, like any herbal remedy, it shouldn’t be consumed during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or by anyone with diabetes.
Damiana’s Uses in Drinks
The damiana plant creates a sweet, minty, woody liqueur. Locals like to sip it on the rocks, take it as a shot, or in place of triple sec or simple syrup in Margaritas. Many consider it the perfect “secret ingredient” to the drink, and others profess that the original Margarita was created using damiana liqueur. You can purchase the liqueur straight, or some distillers are mixing the essence of damiana with a tequila base for a more potent drink.
As I have an interest in tinctures, I was excited to learn how to extract the essences from damiana to create a homemade tincture. Simply fill a jar with the leaves of the herb, cover with a liter of vodka, and let sit for at least 10 days. I like to give the jar a good shake each day and keep it out of direct sunlight. After a couple weeks, strain the mixture through a coffee filter to remove the plant pieces. You can use the tincture to make a cup of tea by placing one dropper-full of the alcohol in a cup of hot water with honey. To make a liqueur, add the vodka to 500ml of water. Warm the infused water and add one to two cups of honey until dissolved. Bottle the liquor to enjoy at your leisure. If you’d rather not go to the trouble to create the liqueur yourself, you can purchase a bottle or find a version with tequila or whiskey base.
Heading back to the states after my visit to La Paz, I stopped at the airport liquor store to ask about damiana liqueur. The gentleman quickly offered me a sample. I told him I’d heard stories about its potent aphrodisiac qualities and said it might not be the best drink to taste before boarding an airplane. He told me, “Oh, drink it and find out. I’m single!” (Now that’s a good salesman.) He poured me a small shot of Agavero, a blend of 100 percent agave reposado and añejo tequilas with added damiana flower essence. It was sweet and woody, but I only took a small sip, still worried about the consequences. The gentleman allayed my fears and told me in confidence that it’s really a myth. He said tradition has it that guests would give the bride and groom a bottle of damiana liqueur as a wedding present to enhance their honeymoon and increase the odds of fertility. Whether it’s based on lore or not, people who enjoy the liqueur believe in its benefits.
Now distributed in the United States, you don’t have to visit Mexico to sit on the beach and sip this sweet, mythical liqueur. But it might be worth a trip south of the border, just for the experience.