Home > Herbal Glossary > Chinese Herb List > Herba Epimedii
>>Where Does It Grow?
>>Nature and Taste
>>Identified Active Components/Major Chemical
>>Historical Use
>>What is It Used for in TCM?
>>Pharmacological Actions
  >Effects on Sexual Function
  >Effects on Cardiovascular System
  >Effects on Immune System
  >Effects on Respiratory System
  >Anti-viral Effect
>>Administration and Dosage
>>Adverse Effects, Side Effects and Cautions
Original plant of Herba Epimedii
Dried leaves
Latin Name: Herba Epimedii
Common Name: Epimedium
Scientific Name: Epimedium brevicornum Maxim
Chinese Name: 仙靈脾 / 淫羊藿
Pinyin Name: Xian Ling Pi/ Yin Yang Huo
The branch and leaf of Epimedium sagittatum (Sieb. Et Zucc.) Maxim. or E. brevicornum Maxim. and other Epimedium species; family Berberidaceae.[1]
Where Does It Grow?
Mainly in mountain areas, and distributed throughout most of China.[2]
Nature and Taste
Pungent and sweet in flavor, warm in property[1]
Identified Active Components/ Major Chemical Constituents[3]
Icariin Benzene
Linoleic acid Tannin
Oleic acid Vitamin E
Palmitic acid Flavonoids
Historical Use
Due to its qi-boosting and spirit quieting effects, Herba Epimedii is traditionally used to relieve stress and fatigue. Chinese folk healers were reported to use 100-200g (10 times the common modern clinical dose) of Herba Epimedii decocted with squid and red wine as a treatment for bodily fatigue and lack of strength due to overtaxation[5]. It is believed to remedy fatigue and absent-mindedness by flooding the brain with blood[6]. Additionally, Herba Epimedii leaf extracts have long been used as an aphrodisiac, and the herb is a common ingredient in the alcoholic "Spring Wine".
What is It Used for in TCM?
1. Invigorates kidney and strengthens yang while boosting qi.
2. For deficiency of kidney-yang, manifested as impotence, liver cirrhosis, emission, enuresis, frequent micturition, soreness of the waist and the knees, sterility.
3. Herba Epimedii is related to the Kidney and Liver Channels.
4. Strengthen tendons and bones, and expel wind-dampness: Helps with wind-dampness syndrome with arthralgia, numbness of limbs, muscular spasm and flaccidity of extremities, infantile paralysis, and rheumatoid pain.
5. Eliminates phlegm and relieves cough and asthma symptoms especially chronic cough and asthma (including geriatric asthma), of yang-deficiency type.
6. Also used for coronary heart diseases, hypertension and recently, neurasthenia.
Pharmacological Actions

1. Effects on Sexual Function
  Animal Studies
  Increase sex organ size and testosterone production in mice
Male mice administered Herba Epimedii extract or decoction showed an increase in the weight of prostate glands, seminal vesicles and levator ani muscles[7] as well as in the plasma testosterone level, testicular tissue growth and testicular secretions[8] . Icariin was able to promote testosterone secretion and cAMP synthesis in Leydig cells[9] . When female rats were administered with Herba Epimedii decoction, significant increase in the weight of anterior pituitary, ovary and uterus as well as an increase in the receptor binding affinity of hCG/LH was recorded[10] .
  Clinical Studies
  Improve impotence
Herba Epimedii was used with Semen Custaue to treat 52 cases of impotence. Together with a specific decoction bath and massage, the total effective rate was found to be 92%.[11-12]. A formula containing Herba Epimedii, Fructus Lycii, Cordyceps, Radix Paeoniae Alba and Radix Achyranthis Bidentatae was used to treat 28 cases of impotence; the overall effective rate was 86%[13] .
  Restore sexual function in men
Herba Epimedii was used together with Rhizoma Curculiginis and Radix Acanthopanacis Senticosi to treat 32 cases of sexual function decline, 21 cases showed significant improvement while seven cases showed improvement[14] .
  Alleviate the symptoms of leukoplakia vulvae
Patients treated with Herba Epimedii powder mixed in a cream made of liver oil used externally showed significant improvement in leukoplakia symptoms[15] .
  Improve mid-cycle menstrual bleeding
In a study where the single ingredient Herba Epimedii was used to treat 12 cases of mid-cycle menstrual bleeding, fully satisfactory results were reported in every one of these 12 cases[16] .
2. Effects on cardiovascular system
  Animal Studies
  Strengthens the contractility of heart muscle
A Herba Epimedii decoction was able to increase the contractive force of cardiomyoctes in toad hearts in vitro and in vivo. Herba Epimedii decoction was also able to restore cardiac muscular tension in a pentobarbital sodium induced heart failure toad model. Rabbits injected i.v. with Herba Epimedii decoction showed strengthened cardiac muscle tension.[17]
  Increase cardiac output
The cardiac output of rabbits injected i.v. with a Herba Epimedii decoction (=1g raw herb/ kg) was significantly increased. In contrast, when rabbits were injected i.v with icariin(1mg/kg), their cardiac output decreased significantly.[18]
  Increase Coronary Blood Flow
When guinea pig or rabbit hearts were treated with a Herba Epimedii decoction or extract, respectively, in vitro, their coronary blood flow increased[19-20] . When anethesized dogs were injected i.v. with a non amino acid extract or water extract of Herba Epimedii, their coronary blood flow was significantly increased[21-22] . A Herba Epimedii injection was able to restore the pituitrin induced coronary blood flow reduction in guinea pigs[23] .
  Protect against inadequate blood supply (ischemia)
Herba Epimedii decoction, water and non amino acid extracts showed a protective effect against ischemic damage in rat myocytes[21,22,24] .
  Lower blood pressure
When applied i.v., a Herba Epimedii decoction was able to lower the blood pressure in rabbits, rats and cats[7] . In a hypertensive rat model, Herba Epidmedii (by gavage) was able to lower the animals' blood pressure significantly. However, the hypertension resumes after cessation of medication. [25]
  Promote platelet aggregation
Both Herba Epimedii decoction and Herba Epidmedii polysaccharides were able to promote blood platelet aggregation and lower hematocrit both in vitro and in vivo[26] .
  Lower cholesterol and triglycerides
Administration of Herba Epimedii by gavage to hyperlipidemic rabbits was able to lower their beta-lipoprotein, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels[27] .
  Clinical Studies
  Decrease symptoms of angina
Herba Epimedii tablet and Herba Epimedii extract tablet were used to treat coronary heart disease patients in two separate clinical trials. The patients in both studies showed improvement in ECG readings as well as in the seriousness of angina[28-29] . In another study where coronary heart disease patients were treated with Herba Epimedii injection (intramuscular), the patients experienced improvement in ECG readings as well as symptoms such as angina pain, palpitations and shortness of breath[30] .
  Lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension
In a study where Herba Epimedii extract tablets were used to treat 115 cases of hypertension, the patients' blood pressure was decreased by 10.7kPa/ 5.33kPa (80/ 40mm Hg) and the overall effective rate was 78%[31] .

3. Effects on Immune Function
  Animal studies
  Increase antibody production
When mice immunized with sheep red blood cells (SRBC) were s.c. injected with Herba Epimedii flavone, Herba Epimedii polysaccharide or icariin, their serum antibody level and the splenic antibody level were significantly increased[32-34].
  Modulate lymphocyte proliferation
Mice injected s.c. with Herba Epimedii flavone or Herba Epimedii polysaccharide once a day for seven days showed significant increase in lymphocyte transformation[32-33]. Murine lymphocytes treated with Herba Epimedii polysaccharide were more responsive to phytohaemoagglutinin (PHA) stimulation[32]. Fifty percent ethanol extracts of were able to inhibit mitogen induced lymphocytic growth in vitro in a dose dependent manner. Previous studies on mice treated with overdose of cyclophosphamide showed that Herba Epimedii polysaccharide (injected s.c.) was able to promote T cell production that was suppressed by cyclophosphamide, which in turn inhibited antibody production. However, when cyclophosphamide treated mice were injected s.c. with icariin, the T cell production was suppressed and the antibody production rate was increased[34]. In a hydropredinsolone acetate induced yang deficient mouse model, administration of Herba Epimedii decoction by gavage was able to increase 3H-TdR incorporation rate during lymphocyte transformation and to increase erythrolysin level as well as anti-blood coagulation factor titer[35]. In another study, mice were rendered immuno-depressed by lymphocyte antiserum treatment. When lymphocyte antiserum induced immune-depressed mice were administered with Herba Epimedii decoction, their reduced splenic lymphocyte and splenic plaque forming cell counts were restored[36].
  Increase/ restore phagocytic activity of macrophages
Macrophages isolated from mice administered s.c. with Herba Epimedii polysaccharides or Herba Epimedii flavone showed increased phagocytic activities[33]. In an immune depressed mouse model induced by anti-lymphocyte antibody treatment, Herba Epimedii was able to restore the carbon phagocytic activity of macrophages[36].
  Stimulate IL-2 production
At low concentration (100μg/ml and 1000μg/ml), Herba Epimedii polysaccharide was able to stimulate the activity of IL-2 secreted from human peripheral blood lymphocytes, while at high concentrations (2500μg/ml and 5000μg/ml), it would inhibit IL-2 production[37].
  Increase DNA synthesis and bone marrow cell proliferation
Administration of a Herba Epimedii decoction significantly elevated DNA synthesis by 68% and enhanced bone marrow cell proliferation by 72% in a mouse yang-deficiency model[25].
  Clinical Studies
  Decrease the symptoms of leucopenia
In 22 cases of leucopenia of qi deficient type, treated with a Herba Epimedii powder (15g/bag, 3 bags/ day for the first week and 2 bags/ day from the second weeks onwards) for 30 to 45 days, three cases showed complete recovery, four cases showed significant improvement, five cases showed improvement and two cases experienced no change[38].
  Improve quality of life of patients undergoing hemodialysis
Patients on erythropoietin medications were treated with Herba Epimedii for 4 months, the infection rate was decreased and IL-2 levels were increased. Improvement in parameters like energy, sleeping, appetite and male sex function were recorded. [39]
4. Effects on Respiratory System
  Animal Studies
  Anti-asthmatic effects
Herba Epimedii extract can completely inhibit coughing caused by electrical stimulation of recurrent laryngeal nerve in cats. It can also relieve histamine-induced asthma in guinea pigs[40].
  Clinical Studies
  Effective in treating chronic bronchiolitis
Herba Epimedii was used to treat 1066 cases of chronic bronchiolitis, the overall effective rate was 74.6%[40].
5. Anti-viral Effect
  Animal studies
  Antimicrobial and antiviral effect
Herba Epimedii was able to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus albus, Staphylococcus aureus, Neisseria, pneumococcus, Bacillus influenzae, Mycobacterium tuberculosdis, poliovirus, ECHO virus (type 6 and 9) and coxsackie virus (type A9, B4 and B5)[7,25,41].
  Clinical studies
  More effective than vitamin C in treating viral myocarditis
In a study on viral myocarditis, 36 cases were treated with Herba Epimedii extract tablet (7 to 10 tablets/ time, 3 times/ day) and Vitamin C (3g in 500ml glucose solution, i.v. application) while 25 cases were treated with Vitamin C alone. The overall effective rate of former group and later group were 69.4% and 40% respectively.[43]
6. Others
  Anti-oxidation effect in animals
Water extract of Herba Epimedii was able to inhibit lipid peroxide formation in rat heart, liver, brain and kidney homogenates[44]. In an acute aging mouse model, Herba Epimedii flavone could significantly restore the depressed T and B lymphocyte proliferation, increase SOD activity, decrease lipid peroxide formation and reduce heart and liver lipofuscin[45]. Additionally, icariin has been shown to have catecholamines-antagonizing effects.
  Reduce blood glucose in animals
Rats treated with Herba Epimedii extracts showed blood glucose level reduction[46], as did experimental hyperglycemic rabbits[25].
  Used together with other Chinese medicine to treat Neurasthenia
A 3% Herba Epimedii decoction (iontophoresically applied), a Herba Epimedii extract, Herba Epimedii flavone and Icariin were used to treat to 104, 138, 61 and 29 cases respectively , the overall effective rates were 85.6%, 89.9%, 93.44% and 89.6% respectively. Improvement in the sleeplessness symptoms were also recorded in the studies. [47-48]
Administration and Dosage
Decoction: 6-15g, up to 30g for single use[4].
Adverse Effect, Side Effects and Cautions
Adverse effects are brought about by extended use, and include dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, thirst and nosebleeding. In mice, at large doses, it can cause respiratory arrest and hyperreflexia to the point of spasm.[49] It is also contraindicated in Deficiency of Yin with Heat[50].
1. Pharmacopoeia Comission of the Ministry of Public Health ed. A colored Atlas of the Chinese Materia. Joint Publishing (H.K.)Co., Ltd. 1995: 423.
2. http://www.herbasin.com/database/yinyanghuo.htm
3. http://www.botanical.com/products/learn/epimedium.html
4. Qu Ming ed. Chinese-English Manual of Common-Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co.,Ltd. Hong Kong. 1989.
5. Xu Ying-zhang. Epimedium's Has Qi-boosting & Spirit-quieting Effects. Zhong Yi Za Zhi 1999 Dec.
6. http://www.herb-tea.com/database/yinyanghuo.htm
7. 王浴生主編. 中藥藥理與應用The Pharmacology and Application of Chinese Medicine. 北京人民衛生出版社People Hygiene Publisher of Beijing 中國 北京 China Beijing 1983; p.1102
8. 牛銳. 淫羊藿炮制前後對小鼠血漿睪丸酮及附性器官的影響Effects of Herba Epimedii on blood testosterone level and on sex organ. 中國中藥雜誌China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica 1989; 14(9):18.
9. 熊躍斌等. 中國藥學雜誌Chinese Pharmaceutical Journal 1994; 29(2):89-91.
10. 李炳如等. 補腎藥(菟絲子、巴戟天、肉蓯蓉、仙茅和淫羊藿)對下丘腦-垂体-性腺軸功能的影響Effects of kidney tonic (Semen Cuscutae, Radix Morindae Officinalis, Herba Cistanches, Rhizoma Curculiginis and Herba Epimedii) on the function of hypothalamus- pituitary- sex gland axis. 中醫雜誌Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1984; 25(7):63
11. 殷愛華. 雲南中醫雜誌Hunan Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1989; 10(6):13.
12. 殷愛華. 貴陽中醫學院學報Journal of GuiYang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1990; (1):29
13. 王國忠. 北京中醫Beijing Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine , 1994; (2):31
14. 金維良等. 中醫藥研究Research of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1993; (2):40.
15. 吳新榮. 遼宁中醫雜誌Liaoning Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1991; 18(9):37
16. http://www.bluepoppy.com/press/download/articles/new_uses_epimedium.html
17. 王文正等. 淫羊藿對心血管機能作用的初步實驗觀察 Preliminary study on the effect of Herba Epimedii on cardiovascular function. 安徽中醫學院學報Journal of Anhui Traditional Chinese Medical College 1983; (2):60
18 劉崇明等. 淫羊藿治療冠心病的研究7:淫羊藿對心臟的影響. Research on the efficacy of Herba Epimedii on coronary heart disease 7: Effects of Icariin on heart 沈陽藥學院學報1981; (12):28, 中草藥Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs 1982; (9):30
19. 沈陽藥學院四十二期隊淫羊藿研究組.The 42nd research group of Shen Yang Medical College淫羊藿治療冠心病的研究2: 淫羊藿水煎劑實驗的藥理研究. Research on the efficacy of Herba Epimedii on coronary heart disease 2: Pharmacological Research on the water extract of Herba Epimedii 沈陽藥學院學報Journal of Shenyang Medical College1997; (8):90.
20. 劉福春. 淫羊藿的臨床和藥理實驗研究近況 Recent advance on the clinical and pharmacological researches on Herba Epimedii. 中草藥Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs 1985; 16(10):44
21. 李琠鰽. 淫羊藿對心血管系統作用的實驗藥理研究.(III) 對血液動力學及流變學的影響 Effect of Herba Epimedii on Cardiovascular system(III): Hemodynamic and Blood rheology studies. 朝陽醫藥Medicine of Chao Yang 1983;(2):25
22. 解放軍234醫院. 沈陽藥學院淫羊藿研究組Herba Epimedii Research group, Shen Yang Medical College, The 234 Hospital of Liberal Army,. 淫羊藿水浸膏治療冠心病有效部分實驗藥理研究 Efficacy of water extract of Herba Epimedii on Coronary heart disease. 沈陽藥學院學報Journal of Shen Yang Medical College1975; (7):86.
23. 龔蘭生等. 淫羊藿注射液的心血管作用及臨床應用的初步觀察 Preliminary study on the clinical application of Herba Epimedii injection on cardiovascular system. 遼宁中醫雜誌Liaoning Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1981; (10):45.
24. 韓建敏等. 淫羊藿制劑對心血系統的藥理作用Pharmacological function of Herba Epimedii preparation on cardiovascular system 中成藥研究Research on Chinese Medicine1981; (12):40.
25. http://riteherbs.com/herbology/exe/viewHerb.asp?id=408
26. 李銳松. 淫羊藿煎劑對健康血小板聚集性的影響 Effect of Herba Epimedii on platelet aggregation. 中成藥研究Research on Chinese Medicine1988; (1)28.
27. 錦州醫學院藥理教研組 Pharmacological research, Jinzhou Medical College . 降血脂中草藥篩迭的實驗性研究 Studies on the hypolipidemic Chinese medicine. 錦州科技Jinzhou Technology1977; (6):19.
28. 中國人民解放軍234醫院 The 234 Hospital of China Liberal Army. 冠心病防治組淫羊藿治療冠心病的研究I: 淫羊藿治療冠心病140例臨床療效觀察Effect of Herba Epimedii on Cardiovascular system(I): 140 cases coronary heart diseases. 沈陽藥學院學報 Journal of Shen Yang Medical College 1977; (8):85.
29. 王莉等. 淫羊藿治療冠心病140例臨床療效觀察 Efficacy of Herba Epimedii on 140 cases of Coronary heart diseases. 上海中醫藥雜誌Shanghai Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1989; (8):26
30. 于莉. 中醫雜誌 Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1990; 31(3):36
31. 中國人民解放軍234醫院. 冠心病防治組Coronary heart disease prevention group, The 234 Hospital of China Liberal Army.. 淫羊藿治療冠心病近期臨床療效觀察 Clinical study on the efficacy of Herba Epimedii on Coronary heart disease. 沈陽藥學院學報 Journal of Shenyang Medical College1976; (7):92.
32. 王天然等. 淫羊藿多糖促進免疫功能的實驗研究 Research on the immune promoting function of Herba Epimedii polysaccharides. 北京醫藥工業Beijing Medical Industry1985; (2):23.
33. 王天然等. 淫羊藿總黃酮促進免疫功能的寶驗 The immune promoting effect of Herba Epimedii flavones. 中成藥研究Research on Chinese Medicine1987; (2):27.
34. 王天然等. 淫羊藿促進抗体生成的作用 Antibody promoting effect of Icariin. 藥學通報Journal of Medicine1987; 22(9):583.
35. 王天然. 淫羊藿多糖和淫羊藿對抑制性T細胞的作用 Effects of Herba Epimedii polysaccharides and icariin on suppressed T cells. 中國免疫學雜誌 Chinese Journal of Immunology 1986, 2(2):74.
36 耿排力等. 溫陽藥及其有效成分對陽虛動物模型某些免疫功能的影響 Effects of Yang warming medicine and their active constituents on the immune function of yang deficient animals. 中醫雜誌Journal of Chinese Medicine1983; 24(3):61.
37. 張瑩. 仙靈脾對免疫功能低下小鼠作用的實驗研究 Effects of Herba Epimedii on immuno-depressed mice. 中醫藥信息Information on Traditional Chinese Medicine 1986; (1):33.
38. 劉虎占主編. 中藥現代研究與應用第5卷.Modern Research and Application of Chinese Medicine ,學苑出版社 Xue Yuan Publisher 中國 北京 China Beijing 1999.
39. 劉福春. 淫羊藿沖劑治療白細胞減少症及其對免疫功能的作用Effects of Herba Epimedii on treating leucopenia and on immune function. 上海中醫藥雜誌Shanghai Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1986; (3):32.
40. 廖洪軍等. 中國中西醫結合雜誌Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine 1995;14(4):202
41. 恩施地區防治慢性氣管炎辦公室 Enshi office: chronic bronchiolitis prevention and treatment, 淫羊藿治療慢性氣管炎臨床小結 Summary on treating chronic bronchiolitis with Herba Epimedii. 湖北衛生Hubei Hygine1972; (7):15.
42 曾毅. 中藥對脊髓灰質炎病毒和其他腸道病毒的作用 Effects of Chinese medicine on poliovirus and other intestinal virus. 中華醫學雜誌National Medical Journal of China 1964; 50(8):521.
43. 朱世才. 淫羊藿合維生素C治療病毒性心肌炎36例療效觀察 Effects of Combing Herba Epimedii with vitamin C on viral myocarditis: clinical observation on 36 cases. 中西醫結合雜誌Journal of Integrated Tradtional and Western Medicine 1984; 4(9):523.
44. 鄭州中藥制藥廠 Zhengzhou pharmaceutical factory of Chinese medicine. 抗痳痹注射液的制備及療效. 中草藥通訊Chinese Medicine Communication1972; (2):28.
45. 魏振裝等. 四組中藥煎劑對小鼠血液中SOD和過氧化氫酉每活力的影響 Effects of 4 Chinese medicine decocts on blood SOD and hydrogen peroxidase activity in mice. 中草藥 Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs 1985; 76(6):11.
46. 劉匯波等. 淫羊藿黃酮對抗小鼠D-半乳糖衰老模型的研究 Effects of Herba Epimedii flavones on D-galactose induced aging mouse model. 中藥藥理与臨床Pharmacology and Clinics of Chinese Materia Medica 1990; 6(2):18.
47 禎弘等. 醫學中央雜誌Journal of Central Medicine1971;276:344.
48. 蔡能等. 中藥淫羊藿游子透入治療神經衰弱的療效觀察 Treating neurasthenia by ion penetration of Herba Epimedii. 江蘇中醫雜誌 Jiangsu Journal of Tradtional Chinese Medicine 1962; (11):23.
49. 李海旺. 中醫雜誌 Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine; 1982; 23(11):70.
50. Jellin JM, Gregory PJ, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Pharmacist's Letter/ Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 4th Edition. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2002: pg500-501.
51 http://www.rmhiherbal.org/phar1/index.html