Epimedium is a genus of plants commonly called horny goat weed because of their claimed aphrodisiac effects. Epimedium sagittatum is one particular species of this genus. Along with its purported ability to enhance the libido, it has other traditional uses and a role in Chinese medicine, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Consult with a qualified health care provider before beginning any herbal therapy.


People have used epimedium traditionally to treat symptoms of a variety of health conditions, including arthritis, nerve pain, and kidney and liver disorders. It is included in herbal treatment for cancer in Asia, as noted by the MSKCC. In the United States, people mainly take epimedium for its aphrodisiac effects and to relieve fatigue.


Epimedium sagittatum contains flavonoids, which are chemical compounds that may have antioxidant activity, and phytoestrogens, plant chemicals with estrogen-like effects, explains eMedTV. The phytoestrogen icariin blocks the activity of a particular enzyme in the body, similar to the effect of prescription drugs that treat erectile dysfunction. Laboratory studies indicate that some epimedium components have nerve-protecting effects, immune-regulating properties and anti-cancer effects, according to the MSKCC.


Despite beneficial properties of epimedium components, research is lacking to confirm that this herb provides health benefits, according to eMedTV. Epimedium flavonoids prevented bone loss in postmenopausal women during a study noted by the MSKCC, but the center cautions that these women did not take the herb itself. A 1995 Chinese study cited by Ray Sahelian, a physician who specializes in natural supplements, found beneficial effects of Epimedium sagittatum for dialysis patients with chronic kidney failure. The results indicated the herb had sex enhancement effects and improved the patients' quality of life.


Epimedium sagitattum extracts are available containing various concentrations of icariin, from 10 to 60 percent, as noted by Sahelian. The lack of quality research makes it impossible to specify a safe and effective dose, according to eMedTV. Follow directions on the package and do not exceed the recommended dosage.


Some people experience dizziness, dry mouth, thirst or vomiting when taking Epimedium sagittatum. Very high doses might cause dilated pupils, muscle spasms and cramps, rapid heart beat, palpitations, hyperactivity and respiratory depression. An allergic reaction to Epimedium sagittatum is possible, with signs of a rash, hives, itching, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and facial, mouth or throat swelling. Patients with hormone-related cancers or cardiovascular conditions may not be able to safely take this supplement, as noted by the MSKCC.