Native to the Gulf of Mexico region, the Carribean, and Namibia in southern Africa, the herb is an aromatic shrub, growing to six feet with smooth, pale green leaves and small bright yellow flowers. It grows wild in these areas, as well as being cultivated, preferring a hot, humid climate. The leaves are harvested when in flower during the summer. Damiana has been the traditional aphrodisiac of the Mayan people of Central America.
Its leaves are used in Mexico as a substitute for tea and as a flavouring.
The ancient Mexicans used it as a tonic to increase the appetite and as a digestive aid, but today it is used mainly to treat sexual dysfunctions.
Ironically, it is also a popular cure for a hangover, while, at the same time, used to flavour a liquor made in Guadalajara called Damiana.
Arbutin is converted to hydroquinone, a strong urinary antiseptic also found in other plants, including uva-ursi.