For close to 2000 years, the Chinese have used the cistanche herb as a tonic with such benefits as increased libido, energy boosting, anti-aging and improved mental function. Traditionally, the Chinese believed that cistanche increased blood flow to the pelvic area which enhanced erections and penis size. Modern scientific studies have in fact confirmed that taking the herb increases blood flow to various parts of the body including the brain and the pelvic area.

What is cistanche tubulosa?

A parasitic desert plant, cistanche depends on its host, usually the tamarix for its nutritional and supportive needs. Cistanche is yellow in color and does not have chlorophyl, the green material in most plants that processes energy from carbon dioxide and the sun in a process known as photosynthesis. This is, however, understandable because C. tubulosa relies on its host for its energy and survival requirements.

Where does cistanche grow?

The plant mainly grows in China. But it is also found in some parts of Africa, India, Iraq, Iran and Mongolia. Chinese originally used two varieties of the herb: cistanche tubulosa and cistanche deserticola. However, due to excessive use of these two, their populations have dwindled. This has led practitioners to also use two other varieties; cistache salsa and cistache sinensis.

Why is this herb so popular

Cistanche tubulosa is also referred to as the desert ginseng, herbal viagra and Chinese Viagra. Much of the popularity of cistanche revolves around its ability to boost male libido and sexual health in general. This is one of the oldest strengths that goes back many hundreds of years. The active ingredients that give the herb its health benefits are acteoside, echinacoside and saldroside. They are mainly found in the bark and stem which are dried and ground into a fine powder used to make cistanche supplements.

Citanche for increased sexual health

Cistanche has traditionally been used to treat or enhance different aspects of sexual health. In studies carried out in the recent past, it has been established that the herb has sexual health enhancing properties. Most of these studies have, however, been conducted on animals. But this does not diminish the effectiveness of cistanche. Some of these studies include the following:

Cistanche increases production of male sex hormones

In a study to determine how intake of cistanche tubulosa affects the sex hormones, rats were given different quantities of C tubulosa extract for 20 days. The study found that the active ingredients in cistanche stimulated the release of testicular enzymes which caused an increase in progesterone and testosterone levels. The study also found that the herbal extract caused an increase in the amount of sperm and their motility, while amounts of abnormal sperm decreased. This study suggests that intake of cistanche by a man with low testosterone levels can lead to increased T levels.

Cistanche enhancing erections

Another study was conducted to determine the effects of cistanche intake on the erections in castrated male rats. The study found that the castrated rats achieved fast and strong erections that lasted for longer. While this study was conducted on animals, based on its use over the years, the suggestion is that cistanche has powerful libido enhancing properties that can also work in men. It is noteworthy that many men suffer from erectile dysfunction, and these findings indicate that they can benefit from consuming cistanche.

Cistanche protects against sperm and testicular toxicity

Another study was conducted with the aim of determining whether cistanche tubulosa has protective properties against sperm and testicular poisoning. Male rats were exposed to BPA poisoning and cistanche and echinacoside (an active ingredient of cistanche) for 42 days. Ordinarily BPA causes abnormalities in sperms and testicular structure. However, at the end of this period, tests carried out on the rats showed that cistanche and echinacoside provided protection against BPA poisoning such that these parts of the anatomy of the rats in the study were normal. The study concluded that cistanche and echinacoside provided protection against toxicity.
BPA, a constituent of many plastics has been found to be toxic to health, and specifically to feminize men. Considering that plastics are part of life for most men, it makes sense that more men should consider taking cistanche tubulosa supplements to protect their virility.

Adaptogenic benefits

Cistanche has adaptogenic properties. But, if the name adaptogenic is new to you, it refers to the quality of a product to help the body to adjust to adverse circumstances such as excess stress signified by high cortisol levels. Adaptogens thereafter help the body to regain balance. The name adaptogens is generally used for plants with adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens help the body to deal with various issues including hormonal imbalances like reduced testosterone and reduced insulin sensitivity, and poor bowel movement.
It is probably the ability of cistanche to positively influence various processes in the body that has helped maintain its place in Chinese medicine for millennia. Chinese also use the herb to achieve Yang (life or energy) balance. These properties have also increased its popularity in many places in the world. It is worth noting that by reintroducing balance within the body, cistanche helps the body to operate efficiently.

Increased blood flow

Increased blood flow is one reason why cistanche helps improve health. Various parts of the body and its organs receive nutrients and oxygen through blood. Therefore, when blood flow improves, it can lead to improvement in energy and health.

One study found that cistanche reduces tension in blood vessels, thereby increasing the flow of blood to areas where it is required. The study also found that cistanche increased production of nitric oxide which helps relax blood vessel walls and thereby ease blood flow. And while the study was carried out on rats, the results show that one of the reasons why this herb has been used for hundreds of years for conditions like enhanced erections is its ability to inhibit constriction in blood vessels including those in the pelvic area in general and within the penis.

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Other benefits

Fights fatigue (boosts energy)

Low energy and fatigue affect millions of people around the world. This robs them of a fulfilling and productive life. But according to a study carried out on rats, cistanche can help them beat it. The study found that the rats which were given cistanche extract for 14 days, had better stamina such that they could swim harder and longer than the control group which was not given the herb extract. Cistanche lowers lactic acid levels in muscles and increases blood flow. And by increasing supply of blood, it helps transport nutrients and oxygen within the blood to the brain, muscles and all organs in the body.

Cistanche improves brain function

Another study found that cistanche has properties that improve the working of the brain. According to the study, use of the herb stimulates increased production of the nerve growth factor (NGF) which is responsible for the regulation of mental capacity including learning and memory.

Boosts immunity and increases longevity

Studies have shown that daily consumption of cistanche may boost immunity and thus offer protection against disease and ultimately increase longevity. One study indicates that the herb extract stimulates lymphoid cells to increase the rate of destruction of cancerous cells. Another study found that cistanche extract enhances immunity.

Enhances hair growth

Millions of men lose significant amounts of their hair and end up bald. But this need not be your destiny. According to this study, cistanche enhances hair growth. This is good news for women too.

Side effects and dosage

According to the American Herbal Products Association, cistanche is a safe herb with no known side effects or drug interaction issues. However, if you are on medication, you are advised to consult your doctor before taking cistanche. Some experts also advise that cistanche should be avoided in case of diarrhea or other stomach issues. Precautions are also advised in the following cases:

  • By people with high blood pressure. Increased blood flow can increase blood pressure. In such cases, a consultation with the doctor is advised before taking the supplement.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People who may be allergic to the herb. It is good practice to start with a small dosage to rule out an allergic reaction.

The typical dosage of cistanche ranges between 1 – 2 grams per day. For instance, to treat ED, start with one gram per day for one week. If after this period, you don’t get results, increase the dosage to two grams per day.


Cistanche tubulosa is one of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine. The desert-growing herb contains many ingredients which have health enhancing properties. Used to treat erectile dysfunction and to enhance libido, boost energy and mental function and as an anti-aging supplement, cistanche is sometimes called the desert ginseng. And while available studies have mainly been conducted on animals, their findings confirm what traditional Chinese medicine has always known: cistanche works.

Read the Cistanche Extract Powder reviews