The Chinese noticed that a certain herb had a peculiar effect on goats. It made them eager to mate. For this reason, the Chinese called the herb "yin yang huo," which more or less means "licentious goat plant." This has given rise to two of the common names which English-speaking people have given to the herb: "horny goat weed" and "rowdy lamb herb." The scientific name is Epimedium spp., including Epimedium brevicornum.
Carl Maximowicz, a nineteenth century expert on Oriental plants, gave Epimedium brevicornum its scientific name. The generic name "Epimedium" goes back to Carolus Linnaeus, the eighteenth century botanist who put plant taxonomy (the classification of plants) on a sound foundation, according to The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture, by L. H. Bailey. Epimedium brevicornum belongs to barberry family (Berberidaceae).
The species of the genus Epimedium are sprawling herbs that grow close to the ground. For this reason, they sometimes serve as ground cover. The leaves are cordate (heart-shaped). The vegetation spreads by underground stems called rhizomes and it is deciduous--the leaves fall off at the end of the growing season. The plant is perennial, resuming growth in spring year after year.
Bishop's cap is another popular name applied to species of Epimedium because of the general appearance of the flowers. The flowers of Epimedium have both male and female parts. The female parts develop first, followed by the male parts. Epimedium brevicornum has white flowers which when pollinated develop into a fruit called a capsule. The capsule splits open at maturity, scattering the seeds.
Chinese Medicine Uses
The Chinese have traditionally used the leaves of "yin yang huo" as an aphrodisiac, according to Acupuncture Today. Recently the West has followed suit. Extracts from Epimedium brevicornum and other species like Epimedium koreanum and Epimedium sagittum are offered commercially.
Chinese medicine also uses "yin yang huo" to treat infertility, osteoporosis (bone weakening), hardening of the arteries, menstrual disorders, and liver and kidney problems. Practitioners administer it in the form of a tea prepared from the leaves of the plant. They believe that Epimedium works better when it is used in combination with other herbs.
Epimedium brevicornum contains active ingredients like luteolin and icariin. These are complex compounds with several rings of mostly carbon atoms.
A study published in Phytomedicine in 2009 proves the antiosteoporotic activity of icariin and other research, including that performed at the Shantou University Medical College in China in 2006, demonstrates testosterone mimetic properties. A 2004 study of the Wuhan University in China proves that oral treatment with icariin may increase erectile function.
Luteolin is considered an emerging anti-cancer flavonoid, according to researchers from the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology from Calcutta, and it is believed to have high potential in cancer treatment.
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- PubMed: Luteolin, an emerging anti-cancer flavonoid
- Science Direct: Taxonomic, Genetic, Chemical and Estrogenic Characteristics of Epimedium Species
- Complementary and Alternative Healing University: Herba Epimedii
- Fuzhou Corona Science and Technology Development Co., Ltd.: Epimedium Brevicornum Maxim
- Acupuncture: Epimedium (Yin Yang Huo)