Damn You, Damiana

Damiana (or Turnera diffusa) is a shrub native to parts of Texas and just about every Spanish-speaking country south of that. Many Central and South American countries regarded it for its relaxing effects. However, it was Mexico that recognized it for another – less chaste – use. And no one had told my parents.

My mother and stepdad were on a cruise to Mexico. While in Cabo San Lucas, they came upon a vendor hocking an herbal “tea”. He explained that his herbal product had a list of purported health properties attached to it, including: Treatment for headaches, treatment for diabetes, and a tonic effect on the muscles and nervous system. Also in the fine print was another, more infamous use.

When they got back to the U.S., my mother proudly called me up to tell me what she picked up for me. She knew I had a thing for trying out new teas and tisanes, and – God bless her – her heart was in the right place. However…um…well, here’s how the conversation went:

Mom: “We picked up this tea for you in Cabo. It’s a cactus tea!”

Me: “That’s great!…Wait…it’s not ‘damiana’, is it?”

Mom: “That’s it.”

Me: “Mom…that’s an aphrodisiac.”

Mom: [long pause] “Oh…well, you don’t have to drink it for that.”

They stayed with my brother and I on a visit to drop off their wares. My mother let my stepdad do the “honors” of handing me said herb. His exact words were, “Here’s your boner tea. Enjoy.” Just like that.

A few months after that, a friend of mine also made a trip to Cabo. I had related the tale regarding the damiana to him, and – being the way he is – he texted me: “I picked you up some more damiana.”

I didn’t receive this second stash of sex tea until a tea party a few weeks back. I actually had the other bag of damiana with me in the hopes of giving it away. What use did I have for it? I wasn’t dating anyone. The moment I started unloading the bag of teas I had for said party, my friend handed me the damiana he bought for me.

It was from the same damn farmer my mother had purchased hers.

I guess there was no escaping the stuff. It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried damiana before. As I’ve related before, I had taste-tested it plenty of times over the course of years. I had blended it with gingko, lemon verbena, and other anti-inflammatory herbs for a “prostate” tea. (What? I’m a male in my 30s, I worry about this sorta thing.) While I didn’t remember liking it all that much by itself, I didn’t remember hating it either. ┬áThis stuff was straight from the source, wild-harvested even. I guess a second go-around was in order.

The appearance was strikingly similar to quite a few other green-leaning herbs. There were leaf bits ranging from green to brown along with stems and twigs. I likened it to tulsi, only (obviously) greener. What really surprised me was the sweet/mint aroma it possessed. The last time I whiffed this stuff, it did not possess that profile. I expected herbaceous, and I got…fruit sweetness with a hint of spearmint. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all; maybe there was something to this wild-harvesting thing.

I didn’t adhere to any particular brewing instructions for this. Damiana blends past only required about a five-minute steep time in boiling water – roughly a teaspoon of herb per cup. I went a little stronger with a heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water for five minutes.

The liquor brewed up green-gold, almost jade-like with an aroma that made an eyebrow cock. It smelled like weed. What was it with Spanish-speaking country herbs smelling like weed?! Yerba mate smelled like it, guayusa kinda smelled like it, mate de coca definitely smelled like it. This at least had a nettle-ish lean to differentiate it from the druggie rabble. That’s not to say it was a good scent; it was just very herbal – questionably so.

As for flavor, it opened up with a spinachy front that caused my tongue to curl. Not unpalatable, just alarming. Mamaki and nettle leaf had a similar affect on me. That transitioned to an uphill top note of citrus and something bittersweet. The finish was both grassy and silky at the same time.

What was really worth noting was the immediate side effect upon imbibing. This stuff went straight to my skull like a brusque Assam. A couple of sips in and my frontal lobe went, “WTF?! Is that caffeine or something else?! Help, I need an adult!” Or something to that effect. There was no way to test out any…er…aphrodisiac results, but if the “woosh!” to my brain was any indication, it did increase blood flow.

I can’t say this is an herbal I would have on a regular basis. Sure, it’s pleasant enough on its own, but not habit-forming in the slightest. It tastes like something someone would take for its apparent health benefits. Like St. John’s Wort…only randy. It was exactly as I remembered it, but there was something to be said for getting it directly from a farmer. The sweeter profile was testament to that.

If I am ever in a situation where it’s “services” are required, though, it’s good to know that I have plenty on hand for just such an emergency. Ladies, I’m single.

(As if that’s a surprise.)

Photo by Kenneth Lu

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Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 Steep Stories 1 Comment

The Sex Tea Saga

I’ve been asked on multiple occasions what started my unsurpassed obsession with tea. My leanings are neither hippie or New Age-y, and I shy away from most holistic approaches. The reason for my reluctance in relating this story is simple. It’s downright embarrassing. However, even I must acknowledge that it is a tale that must be told, and – so – here it is.

The origin of my fascination with tea.

It all started with a quest, a very manly quest.

It began in the Fall of 2004, my first year back in Oregon. College was a somewhat distant memory, separated by Summer’s lack of whimsy. Already, the four-year sabbatical to the desert state of Nevada had taken refuge in the recesses of my mind. The last six months of which were akin to a purgatorial nightmare. I was now home, back in the bosom of the Northwest. Real life – or so it felt – had just begun. The academic reverie was over. I was 27.

Changes occurred quite rapidly. My parents had moved to California and offered their three-story behemoth as a rental to my sister, her husband, and myself. Within a month, I was saddled with two jobs. In late-October I even landed myself a girlfriend. Quite quick indeed.

About a month into the relationship, it had reached “that stage” – the to-do or not-to-do dilemma. My experience level was infantile at best. College had trained me for many things, but I’d shied away from Hook-Up 101. Or more to the point, I think I fell asleep in class. Maybe it was geek thing, I dunno. Eh, we’ll blame it on that for now.

Our dates up to this point were mostly informal outings, occasional Blockbuster nights, a party or two, nothing grand. It was time for that next step: Inviting her to my place.

I made the necessary preparations:

Booze? Check.

Protection? Check.

Breath mints? Check.

Change out single bed for the guest room’s queen-sized? Check.

(Trying to explain the furniture move to my mother/landlord was a difficult task.)

The night was upon me.

She arrived with a batch of Coupling episodes she received from Netflix. We sat on the couch, popped the DVDs in, cuddled a bit. Cuddling led to kissing, then the notorious “heavy petting” teenagers are condemned for. She whispered the The Question as she straddled me on the couch. I cocked an eyebrow in confusion. She reiterated. I nodded.

Upstairs, we went.

Everything proceeded according to plan; the undressing, the massaging, the exploration of each other’s vitals. Things were moving along like clockwork, textbook even. I caressed where I thought I should caress, kissed (and/or licked) where I thought I should lick. 80s sex comedies had trained me well, or so I thought.

We were go for Phase Two! That whole “unity” thing. But there was a problem. Nothing happened. The knight was suited, but for some ungodly reason…he’d forgotten his bloody horse.

My heart sunk.

The mainsail hadn’t hoisted. The soldier didn’t salute. The batter never left the cage. The car wouldn’t leave the garage. Oh, hell, you get the point.

The night was officially a botch.

I drove her home. She was silent, and I was sullen. She may have put the blame on herself, as women often do in that situation, yet I knew where it lay. Squarely on my shoulders. Something was wrong with me, and I didn’t know what. Everything had been perfect! The timing was right! Lust was in the air! Pheromones had fireworked! I had to learn what went wrong.

To the Internet!

According to various sites, the causes for impotence were innumerable. There was performance anxiety, reactions to medications, high blood pressure, obesity, illness, mental health, physical impairments. The factors were endless. I was stumped. Mr. Happy-Pants worked well enough for me during solo training, why the hell had it caved under pressure during the actual mission? (Maybe it was my terminology? Er…no.)

Eventually, I ruled out the physical causes. I wasn’t that obese, blood pressure was normal, and – for the most part – all my limbs were working. Well, except the bloody key one. That left the mental.

Only methods used to combat sexual anxiety were rigorous therapy, hypnotherapy, or resorting to the infamous “blue pill” I really didn’t want to do that. To admit that I was under 30, moderately healthy and in need of boner-meds made my stomach knot. That left one other viable viable. One I hadn’t ever dreamed I’d explore. It was notoriously out of character for me. I looked to male enhancement products.

Everyone has seen these doohickeys. Big bottle-jars with names like Mega-X-Tone or Testost-X-Treme…or anything that had a bold-faced “X” in the title. They are a ghastly sight. Just looking at them makes one think they’re buying into the biggest scam on the planet. Not to mention even the staunchest atheist would think he made Baby Jesus cry.

I read the ingredients. Some were elements in nature I hadn’t even heard of; herbs such as yohimbe bark, ginkgo biloba, kava kava, and…wait…

Green tea?

What the hell did green tea have to do with male enhancement?!

Each of the products I looked (or winced) at had one ingredient in common. Aside from the weirder African-sounding herbs, they all had a generous helping of green tea extract. I was no stranger to tea. At one time or another I’d partaken of Earl Grey or chamomile. The black teas tasted like smoky burlap, and chamomile knocked my ass clean out. Green tea was unexplored territory, and here I was seeing it on the back of a cheesy “X” label.

This revelation needed some back-up. My cousin’s girlfriend was somewhat well-versed in the ways of green tea. She’d touted it for as long as I’d e-known her. While she couldn’t confirm the virility claim, she could attest to its other health properties. These were not limited to: weight-loss, lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, increased immunity, the elimination of free radicals in the body, and increased blood flow.

The last benefit caught my interest. I won’t go into the inner workings of the male anatomy. If you don’t know by now, then there’s no hope for you. The Cliff’s Notes version being, erections rely on healthy blood flow. Hurray!

I started drinking green tea. To my surprise, I actually liked it. Grassy aftertaste and all. It was quite refreshing. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any immediate “changes”. What can I say? I’m the impatient sort. As such, I browsed the tea aisle to see what different types of green tea were out there. One stood out above all the others.

Celestial Seasonings’ Honey Lemon Ginseng.

When researching the herbal extract info on the aforementioned “X” varietals, I ran across mentions of ginseng. Panax ginseng, to be precise, was often touted as a sexual tonic in Asian cultures. This was news to me, so I bought a box.

The first test-drive was a train-wreck. It tasted good. Damn good. Lemony-green-ish goodness. I had five cups of the stuff in a two-hour sitting. Moderation? Who needed it! What I should have read more closely was that this blend was caffeinated..

Anyone in the herbal know is aware that Panax ginseng, while beneficial in some areas, is also a stimulant. Not as earth-shattering as caffeine, but rather one that is slow-building. The Celestial Seasonings box even highlighted that the blend was for giving someone an extra kick in the morning. And kick it did.

The first day I tried it, I was jittery and buzzing. I went and saw a movie to calm myself down, can’t recall what. I called my Dad, rambling a mile a minute about feeling weird.

He said, “Maybe you should lay off the ginseng.”

I knew he was right, but I was stubborn. A part of me thought maybe this was its way of working. None of the other green tea blends ever made me want to run through walls while singing a merry tune. I gave it a second chance.

Day two came around. My girlfriend and I were set to have dinner at her parents house. For the first time ever. I was another four-ish cups of Honey Lemon in, all jitter-buzz-a-go-go. Why four? I dunno. I thought we were going to do stuff later and wanted to be aptly prepared.

I had three mini-panic attacks during dinner. No one noticed, thankfully, but my breathing was fast and labored. My eyes darted from corner to corner. Sounds were sharper. Smells irritated my nostrils. I existed in a tunnel version of my own head.

She drove me home after. I went through some sort of Lamaze-style panting to keep from freaking out. Nausea crept up in me. She asked if I wanted to come over. I said I wasn’t feeling well. It was the truth, but try explaining that to a girlfriend convinced you weren’t attracted to her.

In a huff, she dropped me off. I went to the kitchen and threw away the lemony-goodness box, never to touch the stuff again. Back to square one.

December rolled around, and I made another discovery. I entered the world of herbal supplementation. My first foray was multivitamins, but on a whim, I purchased a bottle of ginkgo biloba. In addition to it’s X-pantheon tonic-like qualities, I also read it was good for memory and mental alertness. The extract gave me abdominal cramps almost instantly upon taking it.

I read the label after the fact and discovered that – in some rare cases – ginkgo could cause “gastrointestinal discomfort and irritability”. That was the same month I discovered I was sensitive to a lot of things. Certain health foods made me queasy, I couldn’t hold my liquor, I reacted quickly (and sometimes adversely) to certain herbs, and caffeine booted me in the head and gut at the same time. Reading side-effect information on anything became second nature.

Then I discovered a green tea online that had ginkgo and Panax ginseng in it! Triple Leaf’s Ginkgo & Decaf Green Tea.

I read the label and ingredient information carefully. It was decaffeinated. I gleefully ordered a batch. It came in the mail about a week later. I poured myself a cup, nursed it gingerly, and waited for any adverse ginkgo-like stomach punches to occur. None did. It even helped in…uh…that area from what I observed.

Too bad it tasted like tree bark…and ass.

I tried to mix it with other teas to mask the flavor. Ginkgo has a distinctly tangy and leafy taste followed by a rough aftertaste, reminiscent of eucalyptus. It really is quite offensive to the tongue. The only other tea that would compliment it was a green tea formula put out by Salada, one that contained Siberian ginseng.

The potential horrors of Panax ginseng were firmly established, but I didn’t know much about it’s redheaded stepbrother, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng). I did some reading and learned that it had only mild stimulant effects, no sexual tonic properties, and mainly worked as a mental alertness enhancer, which was fine by me.

By the time I was ready to field-test the stuff, the relationship with my girlfriend had gone south. She was through waiting. This was a clear case of gender reversal. Instead of the girl being hesitant towards sex, it was me. I was the reluctant one. Part of this might have been due to our seven-year age gap, or my continued anxiety, I dunno. We parted ways somewhat amicably.

Aside from a couple of dating stints here and there – one physical, others not-so-much, none long-term – sex had receded to non-issuedom. My tea habit hadn’t regressed, though. In fact, the addiction blossomed.

A love for green tea graduated into a love for white tea. A reverence for generic bagged teas grew into a quest for more esoteric blends. Eventually, I was ready for loose-leaf teas. I grew to love them. All of them. Black teas still hadn’t caught hold, but herbal blends, fruit fusions, and designer teas did. An amateur tea snob was born.

Work shifts without a cup of hotness seemed an irregularity. Tea became synonymous with, well, me. I would go to friends houses with a mug of some herbal concoction in hand. Often times, I would forget to take it with me. Proposed tea dates were my standard meet-and-greets with new women. While not a successful way to prove one’s self as more than a Friend Zone dweller, it did provide for a nice day out.

Knowing the locations of local teashops helped me broaden my leaf-like horizons. Beforehand, my knowledge of Portland and peripheral areas were limited to bars, clubs and tourist traps. The teashop quest allowed me to seek out odd-ended nooks and crannies of the surrounding area.

I also felt considerably better, rarely getting sick. And even if I did, the duration for the ailment was considerably shorter than usual. Colds were a rarity, flues were still commonplace but not as dreadful and bed-ridding, stomach flues were cast aside after about a day thanks to good ol’ Captain Chamomile. I was a proud herb-a-whore.

The ginkgo tea I took was the last vestige of my original purpose. Eventually, after further research, I learned that I was taking the medical equivalent to an Alzheimer’s patient’s dose per day. A normal healthy adult only needed, maybe, 120 mg of the stuff. The tea I drank contained over 600 mg. No wonder I felt surprisingly irritable. Like ginseng, ginkgo was also a stimulant. Sure, it helped in the one area I set out to improve, but in lieu of other health considerations, it had been rendered obsolete. By the end of 2005, I limited my intake to once a week, and eventually substituted it for it’s lesser ginseng-only cousin.

It wouldn’t gain favor again until February of 2006.

I won’t (i.e. can’t) go into detail as to the encounter, for I’m sworn to some amount of discretion regarding the finer points, but I will say that Ol’ Man Ginkgo came to the rescue. For a good three hours. Okay, yes, there were “union breaks”, but it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things. The stuff really did work!

There was still the taste issue, however, even with the Salada green tea’s citrus-y cover-up. Nothing could get rid of the tree-bark-ness of it, nor contribute to the virility issue. Er…not that anything really needed to top what was already included, but – hey – while your kicking ass, might as well jot a few names. Right?

The final breakthrough wouldn’t appear until February this year. Perusing the Stash Tea store – which is conveniently located in my stomping grounds, huzzah! – a fellow tea-nerd and I noticed a line of herbal blends referred to as Chanakara. The cashier informed us that they were herbal fusions specifically designed to coincide with each of the bodies chakra points, all seven of them.

I bought the sample pack to try each one.

If you don’t know what chakra points are, well, I really don’t have time (or space) to go into the finer nuances of it. Just look up any yoga-related material on Google, or you can be extra nerdy and watch a couple of episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Or, better still, visit the Chanakara website. Those will give you a basic rundown.

I digress.

The one that grabbed my attention was Chakra #2, the dragonfruit blend. The bag and box describe it as vital for “tantra and sexuality. Contained in the blend was an herb known as damiana. Further inquiries revealed that the herb is often used as a sexual tonic for women in Latin America. Studies regarding its potency were still in its infancy, but apparently it also worked on men. Hoo-boy, did it! I found out the hard way at work…pun quite intended.

The taste was also pleasant, light citrus, faintly tangerine-like without the tartness. Very pleasant and very subtle. So, I tried it with the ginkgo tea. The bark-ass taste was gone. No aftertaste either. I no longer felt like I was tasting tree! Victory was achieved.

Which brings us to the present.

I have yet to try my newfound Sex Tea blend in a practical setting. Not quite sure where/how that’ll happen in the near-ish future. But when it does…

And I do mean when…not if…

She won’t know what hit her.

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Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 Musings No Comments

I work for tea money.


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