Sexual problems are widespread and may adversely affect mood, well-being, and interpersonal functioning. In marriages and relationships, the absence of libido would mean no procreation (reproduction) and ultimately the extinction of the human race. So, it has assumed the status of a serious medical and social problem.

Studies have shown that mostly menopausal women suffer from reduced libido and men from erectile dysfunction. Although modern medicine asserts that it can treat these many dysfunctions in various ways, the majority of individuals with erectile dysfunction turn first to traditional medicine, which offers several plants that can be utilised for this purpose.

Erectile dysfunction has been defined as the difficulty or the inability to attain or sustain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual intercourse at least 50 percent of the time for six months.

Researchers have noted that there is a compilation of plants that are used to improve sexual arousal among men in Oyo State. They assessed the nutritional value and phytochemical composition of these plant parts to understand why these plants may act as sexual enhancers.

Trips were made to various Ibadan local markets, including Bashorun, Ogunpa, Bodija, Oja-Oba, and Gbagi Market. To gather ethnobotanical data on plants used for sexual enhancement, 50 questionnaires were randomly delivered to herbalists and herb vendors in the study area.

The study, in the Ecological Frontiers journal, listed these plants to include Carissa spinarum (Kirin kasha in Hausa; Nzuru in Igbo; and Oruwo in Yoruba); Asparagus africanus (Aluki in Yoruba; Ogba in Igbo; and Ganye Birii in Hausa); and Calpurnia aurea (Emido in Yoruba and Marga in Hausa).

They declared, based on tests done in the laboratory, that these are plants that contain significant chemical components that aid in the fight against and prevention of many disorders, including sexual dysfunction.

A 2023 study in the Nigerian Agricultural Journal documents 25 medicinal plants used in the traditional treatment of erectile dysfunction in the eight villages in Akinyele Local Government Area.

The survey, which included traditional medical practitioners (TMPs), herbalists and hunters, listed Epimedium grandiflorum as the most frequently mentioned plant used in the traditional treatment of erectile dysfunction, impotence, and reduced fertility.

Others include Alligator pepper, banana plant, Carpolobia lutea, watermelon, Sphenocentrum jollyanum (Akerejupon in Yoruba), Dioscoreophyllum cumminsii, Acacia nilotica, Buchholzia coriacea, Dracaena mannii, Microdesmis puberula, and Dioscorea alata (water yam).

Traditional medicine practices across different Nigerian cultures utilise various parts of the Carissa spinarum for treating digestive issues, malaria, colds and coughs, toothaches, and promoting healing wounds and skin infections.

Common medicinal uses of Asparagus africanus include treatment for urinary tract infections, arthritis, constipation, coughs, colds, malaria, and stomach pains, and to improve overall health.

Calpurnia aurea in traditional Nigerian medicine is used for a variety of ailments, including malaria, pain relievers, fungal infections, arthritis, rheumatism, wound healing, coughs, colds, and digestive problems such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and stomach pains.

Scientific studies have proven the effectiveness of plant species like cloves, ginger and Gloriosa superba (Adundun in Yoruba, Ubuluinu in Igbo, and Gizaga in Hausa), which are historically used as aphrodisiacs in Ethiopia.

Others include Tragia brevipes (Esinsin in Yoruba and Odundun in Igbo), Acacia mellifera (Igi Odan in Yoruba and Baki in Hausa), olive tree, Calpurnia aurea (Marga in Hausa and Emido in Yoruba), Sida rhombifolia (Ibada in Yoruba, Bahunu in Hausa, and Ogwu ogwe in Igbo), Drymaria cordata (Alaba pupa in Yoruba, Kahal in Hausa, and Akwụkwọ mma in Igbo), alligator pepper, tiger nut, garlic, and bitter leaf.

Despite the growing acceptance of medicinal plants as sexual enhancers, researchers emphasise that herbal treatments for erectile dysfunction still need further investigation. Scientists are unsure whether these herbs are safe and the evidence supporting some is only preliminary.

A 2021 review of previous research found “promising” evidence supporting the use of red ginseng for ED. Another study also used red ginseng in combination with vitamin E, which also produced positive results.

However, there is some evidence that its long-term use may cause side effects, the most common being insomnia. Other potential adverse effects include nervousness, headaches, vomiting or diarrhoea, and high or low blood pressure.

A 2023 study in the Annals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine titled “Evaluation of Aphrodisiac Activities of Four Nigerian Ethnomedicinal Plants” also warned against mixing herbal sexual stimulants with prescribed drugs as being not beneficial.

For instance, it stated that taking sex enhancers with white onion and garlic bulbs significantly inhibited the effects of the standard drug, while kola nuts and bitter kola did not affect this orthodox drug.

It suggested that people who enjoy taking suya in large quantities and onions need to be cautioned not to eat this delicacy at the same time that they are on orthodox aphrodisiacs, as such a practice may not give the desired enhanced sexual stimulatory effect.

In northern Nigeria, many of the adult citizens take both orthodox sexual stimulants and Burantashi, a locally prepared aphrodisiac.