I have been pretty obsessed about natural testosterone optimization for roughly five years now. So obsessed actually that it has become my job. During this time of natural hormone optimization, I’ve personally tested and researched an absolutely ridiculous amount of different herbal testosterone boosters, and in this post, I’m going to break down their effects, and the science (or in some cases the lack of it) behind them.
Keep in mind that this article is about testosterone boosting herbs. The list doesn’t include any isolated vitamins, minerals, amino-acids, or fatty acids (not that some of those wouldn’t be effective in raising & maintaining testosterone levels, they’re just beyond the scope of this article).
Also remember that no herbal supplement is a magic-pill. To really raise your testosterone levels naturally, you have to optimize your diet and workouts, you have to get proper sleep, and you should have plenty of sex, along with bunch of other stuff found around this site. Supplements are just there to give you that nudge towards the right direction, but never think that they’re anywhere near equivalent to steroids or HRT.
NOTE: There’s about 30 herbs in this list, but not all of them are something I would recommend to a friend. The bad ones are included only so that you’ll know what to avoid. Also note that the list is not in any particular order of effectiveness.
So, without further ramblings, let’s check out the herbals:
Forskolin (Coleus Forskohlii) is not that popular of a herb when it comes to boosting testosterone levels. It’s actually marketed as a fat burner, and mainly to desperate women, by no other than the ridiculous TV persona; Dr. Oz.
But Dr. Oz and the fat melting claims aside, forskolin can actually be a potent testosterone booster.
This is because it stimulates cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) production in the body, and cAMP acts as a second messenger between cells and hormones.
Increased cAMP levels should, by all the laws of common sense, increase the sensitivity, amount, and activity of hormones all over the body. And forskolin is actually so effective at boosting cAMP, that scientists use it as a positive control in test-tubes.
Theories aside, there are actually few relevant studies about Forskolin and testosterone:
Forskolin is an interesing herb, I would definitely recommend it, and for a long time it was one of my favorites. However I can’t personally use it anymore, since I live in Finland and the European Union decided to add it into their dreaded “medicine list” in the beginning of 2015 (meaning that I can’t order it anymore without getting into trouble with the customs office). Ridiculous I know, especially since it’s a herbal extract, but that’s the EU and I have to live with that.
Mucuna Pruriens (Velvet Bean) is an Indian Herb used generously in their herbal medicine; Ayurveda.
It’s usage as a sexual tonic dates back thousands of years, and lately M. Pruriens has gotten quite a reputation for its proclaimed effects on increasing testicle size.
But the big question is, why would Mucuna Pruriens increase testosterone levels?
And the answer is in a compound called L-Dopa (levadopa), which acts as a neurotransmitter/dopamine precursor in the human body.
Mucuna Pruriens is considered to be the richest known source for natural L-Dopa, and it’s a well-researched fact that the ingested L-Dopa quickly converts into actual dopamine.
That’s a good thing, since increased dopamine, tends to stimulate testosterone production due to the fact that it drives down prolactin. So by all laws of common sense, M. Pruriens which is a rich source of L-Dopa, should increase testosterone levels…
…And there’s actually some research backing this up:
Mucuna Pruriens, like Forskolin, is also one of my personal favorites when it comes to testosterone boosting herbs. However the same exact fucking thing that happened with Forskolin, happened with Mucuna Pruriens in the beginning of 2015. It contains L-Dopa, and L-Dopa was added to the EU’s “medicine list”. Therefore if I would order Mucuna from the US, the customs office would destroy it and accuse me with some illegal drug smugling shit. Again, that’s the EU.
Tribulus Terrestris (puncture vine) is probably the most popular testosterone booster out there.
Many steroid using bodybuilders use it as post-cycle remedy to jump-start their natural testosterone production…
…Mostly because it’s claimed that tribulus increases luteinizing hormone (LH) levels, and therefore would naturally enhance T production.
The only downfall with this is the fact that T. Terrestris is pretty useless in these regards. In fact it doesn’t work at all as claimed in humans.
The science around Tribulus Terrestris is fairly dubious, and inconclusive:
It annoys me that T. Terrestris is the “most-popular” herb for boosting testosterone levels, when in fact it doesn’t seem to work. This makes all the other herbs for such purpose seem useless, which in reality isn’t always the case.
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) is, after Tribulus Terrestris, probably the second most-popular testosterone booster.
And would you guess it, it doesn’t seem to be effective in those regards either!
The only thing that maca does, is that it acts as an aphrodisiac; increasing libido and erectile quality in athletes, healthy men, and depressed men…
…But this doesn’t automatically mean that Maca would boost testosterone levels. In fact, several studies have found that Maca does nothing for testosterone, LH, or FSH levels (study, study, study).
It’s an aphrodisiac, and works its libido enhancing magic through some other pathway, but not via the endocrine system.
Maca is sold a lot as a testosterone booster, but it doesn’t increase testosterone levels. Never has in any study. The last time I tried Maca was probably 3-4 years ago, when it was hyped up as the next best thing since sliced bread. I was sceptical of the claims back then, and I’m fairly certain that now that they were complete bullshit.
Ginger is the common household spice which probably everyone already knows…
…However there’s one positive benefit to ginger that is often left untold.
Ginger can potentially increase testosterone levels.
This was seen in a Iraqian study where ginger supplementation increased LH (43%), FSH (17%), and testosterone (17%) levels in infertile men (the researchers didn’t specify the dosage). As there was no group of healthy men in the study, it’s hard to say if the increase in testosterone is caused by the anti-inflammatory compounds in the herb, and if the same effects take place in a set of healthy gonads on non-infertile men.
NOTE: Few animal studies have found multiple compounds in ginger root to be androgenic (study, study, study), which means that the effects seen on that Iraqian study can be caused by something else than just reduced inflammation of the testicles.
There’s a big possibility that ginger increases testosterone. A study on non-infertile men would be great, but since a bottle of high quality organic ginger root costs about $4, I have no problems using it in the absence of more conclusive evidence
Chrysin is not really a herb, but it’s thrown around in the herbal category so I’ll address it here anyway.
It’s a naturally occurring flavonoid in honeycombs, some mushrooms, chamomile, and in passion flowers.
It’s used primarily as an estrogen blocker, due to the claims that it could block the aromatase enzyme (which is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen).
Chrysin is also added to some pharamaceutical testosterone gels to block topical aromatization.
But is there any real evidence behind chrysin? Yes and no:
Chrysin would be cool if it would enter the cells to excert its effects, but this seems not to be the case. Hence why I don’t recommend oral chrysin supplements. With that being said, the Life Extension Foundation does sell a chrysin supplement called “Super Miraforte“, which contains piperine to enhance bio-availibity. However there’s no evidence that even when taken with piperine, chyrsin would become effective.
Saw Palmetto is an extract made out of the fruit of a plant by the name of Serenoa Repens.
It’s a very popular supplement, and its proclaimed effects include: a boost in testosterone, improvements in prostate health, and hair regrowth.
Is it effective in boosting testosterone? Well yes kind of possibly, but it works through a pathway that I would not recommend…
…Here’s what I mean:
Bottom line: Saw palmetto can increase testosterone levels, but it does so by reducing DHT. Meaning that the extract doesn’t really stimulate new production, it only leaves more to your serum when it can’t naturally convert T to its more potent form. On top of that saw palmetto comes with a side effect of minor sexual dysfunction. In short, I can’t recommend saw palmetto with a straight face to anyone as I don’t believe in the benefits of reducing DHT.
Shilajit is considered to be the cornerstone of Indian herbal medicine; Ayurveda.
It’s a dark rocky tar like substance collected from the deep rocks of Himalaya.
It’s claimed that Shilajit would contain up to 85 different trace minerals in their ionic form, along with organic fulvic acid to improve the absorption. However this could also be just marketing hype, as I’ve never found any exact studies displaying the mineral content.
Anyhow, on infertile men, 200 mg’s of Shilajit for 90 days has proven to be pretty damn effective:
A study on non-infertile men would be really great, and I would also like to see a detailed mineral content of Shilajit being presented along with the claims. Still, Shilajit has potential.
I use it once in a while and I always feel really good when I’m on it, this could be caused by the fulciv acid and the effects could be something else than a boost in testosterone though.
In the absence of more conclusive studies, I can still recommend Shilajit (just avoid the snake oil salesmen, since authentic Shilajit can be really hard to find).
Velvet antler is a supplement made by crushing the antler of elk or deer into a powder form.
On various boards around the internet you can hear claims of it being full of natural growth factors and testosterone boosting compounds, and that it could skyrocket your testosterone and growth hormone levels…
…And surely it’s sold for those purposes too. It’s also claimed to increase power, aerobic capacity, recovery, you name it.
How about the evidence?
In conclusion, antler velvet is good for: nothing, except for maybe the manufacturers bank accounts.
Horny Goat Weed
Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium, HGW) is a flowering herb from the Mediterranean region of Asia.
It has been used as an aphrodisiac in Chinese medicine for more than a thousand years, only recently has the Western medicine started researching this compound.
Why would HGW increase testosterone levels?
Well that’s mainly due to a bio-active compound called icariin (which Horny Goat Weed is the richest known source).
Here’s some research:
Icariin is very interesting. There’s not any human data, only in-vitro and animal studies, but still, the effects have been quite impressive. I’m eagerly waiting for human research on HGW and icariin, but in the meantime I have no problems using HGW with standardized icariin.
Royal Jelly is an anabolic porridge like liquid that is secreted from the hypophranyx glands of the worker bees.
When the bee hive decides it’s time to change the queen, they select a small larvae and begin to feed it with royal jelly.
It’s this nutritional powerhouse that eventually makes the larvae to grow 60 times bigger and live for 40 times longer than other bees in the hive…
…In other words, because of royal jelly, she becomes the queen bee.
Royal jelly is incredible dense in nutrients and various enzymes, it also contains small amounts of testosterone, not a mimetic, but the actual hormone.
Because of its nutrient profile, royal jelly is often used as a natural infertility cure among both, men and women…
…But what about the research? Well here’s some:
It’s not completely clear what causes this increase in testosterone, but so far it has been seen that royal jelly supplementation converts DHEA and cholesterol more easily into testosterone by stimulating the 3β-HSD2 and/or 17β-HSD3 enzymes in testes, and that it also stimulates the pituiary gland to release more luteinizing hormone (LH).
NOTE: Due to the fact that RJ is collected from the hypophranyx glands of the worker bees, it’s fairly expensive.
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia, Long Jack, Pasak Bumi) has a huge reputation in Malaysia due to its pro-erectile qualities. It’s also widely used in Thailand and other surrounding countries.
It seems to have a positive effect on libido and erections, can modulate SHBG levels, and some research suggest that Tongkat Ali can significantly increase testosterone…
…in an in-vitro study, the herb extract blocks estrogen more effectively than tamoxifen and few studies have found that it can also suppress the stress hormone; cortisol.
Here’s some research:
NOTE: There’s a bunch of studies cited in the above papers which show that Tongkat Ali can reduce SHBG and thus could significantly increase free-testosterone levels. However these are all done by some dude called Dr. Tambi, and none of his work is linked up on pubmed. His name also appears in few patents, but all the work is said to be presented in conferences and so forth. So either he is bullshitting or just doesn’t believe in the power of the internet
Tongkat Ali seems to be really effective, despite the fact that some of the research is bit dubious. I have used several different brands of the herb in the past, but nothing compares to the original Indonesian Pasak Bumi which is wild harvested from Sumatra. Their packaging might not be flashy, but the product easily outplays all the competition.
Arkarkara root (Anacyclus Pyrethrum) is a herbal aphrodisiac from the Indian herbal medicine; Ayurveda.
It’s similar to chamomille, and it’s active compounds (alkylamides) are somewhat similar as the ones that can be found in the Maca root.
Arkarkara roots are touted to be pro-erectile, pro-fertility, and pro-testosterone, but there’s only rodent studies to support this herbal supplement.
Anyhow, here’s what studies say about Arkarkara root:
Does the root work on humans is not known, and the answer can be found only after someone test the roots on healthy humans.
The current evidence is interesting for sure, but I wouldn’t buy Arkarkara root before there’s some conclusive human evidence about the androgenic effects. Especially since the active compounds are similar to the ones seen in Maca, and Maca doesn’t raise testosterone in humans…
…With that being said, if you want to get yourself some Anacyclus Pyrethrum, this supplement is the only one (that I know of) containing the root on the market.
Sorghum (Sorghum Bicolor) is a grain native to Africa, which has some potential androgenic effects.
This was seen in this in-vitro study, where Sorghum Bicolor extract was able to raise the enzyme 5-a reductase levels by 54%…
…And the enzyme 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone into its more potent form; dihydrotestosterone, which has 2-3 greater affinity for androgen receptors. Therefore it’s only logical to suspect that sorghum probably has an androgenic effect in the body.
There’s also another in-vitro study where compounds called proanthocyanidins in sorghum extract lowered the activity of the aromatase enzyme (which as I’ve probably said many times in this post, is an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen).
The only downfall with sorghum, is the fact that there isn’t any studies on its androgenic effects when taken orally. So it’s not really known how bio-available the grain is inside the human body…
…I don’t mind the lack of research though, it’s so cheap (even though I have to order mine from the US), and actually tastes pretty good. So why not just substitute some of the more shittier flours (wheat et al.) with sorghum? I’ts even gluten-free so people with celiacs disease can consume it safely.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape Seed Extract (GSE) is not exactly a herbal supplement, but it gets thrown around in the herbal category, so it’s going to be addressed here anyway.
Grape seed extract, as the name indicates, is an extract made from the seeds of grapes.
It’s a potent natural estrogen blocker, and this is due to the fact that two compounds in GSE; proanthocyanidin and procyanidin, can both inhibit the aromatase enzyme.
Here’s some research:
You’re probably wondering if similar results can be attained by just eating a bunch of grapes or other foods containing proanthocyanidin and procyanidin?
The answer is yes, but it can be extremely hard…
…To get similar effects as seen in studies above, you’d need to consume ~2 grams of the active ingredients, which translates to: 20 cups of grape juice or 12 cups of red wine or 300 grams of aronia berries (richest known source). You could also just take a teaspoon of This GSE powder
Butea Superba (Red Kwao Krua) is a herb from Thailand that contains androgenic phytonutrients.
The composition of Red Kwao Krua is in fact bit weird, it contains mostly phytoandrogens, but then also phytoestrogens, and to balance things out; anti-estrogenic compounds.
It’s generously used among the men of Thailand, and B. Superba is claimed to increase libido, erectile quality, and the levels of androgenic hormones.
Does it though?
I started testing this 30:1 extract of Butea Superba exactly one week ago, and so far I haven’t seen any significant improvements in erectile quality (I’m probably not the best test subject for this anyway though). However, the effects that I have seen so far are; increased libido, reduced subcutaneous water, oily skin, and for some reason I seem to sweat like a pig now.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb from the Indian Ayurveda.
It’s also called Indian Ginseng, even though it’s not structurally similar to the other herbs in the ginseng group.
Obviously, as it’s an adaptogen, Ashwagandha should reduce stress. And stress reduction is one of the claimed reasons to why it would be a testosterone booster (think cortisol).
Another claimed “mechanism of action” are the withanolides, which are the active compounds in Withania Somnifera. They’re anti-inflammatory and claimed to stimulate the brain to release more luteinizing hormone (LH).
Here’s what research has to say:
All-in-all, Ashwagandha might just be one of the healthiest herbals to consume. It does increase testosterone levels on infertile men, but no evidence exists of it doing so on healthy subjects. I take it anyway. Even if the herb wouldn’t do shit for T, at least it’s going to improve cardiovascular health and reduces stress.
Ashwagandha powder is quite bitter, I add it to coffee, smoothies, yogurt, etc. The traditional Indian way of using Ashwagandha is to boil some whole milk with honey and add the powder to it.
Bulbine Natalensis is an African herb with possible testosterone boosting effects. However, no human research exists of the plant yet.
It’s rich in steroidal saponins, alkaloids, and glycosides.
Bulbine is claimed to be an aphrodisiac, and generously used among various tribes in Northern and Eastern Africa for intestinal health and to promote healthy libido.
The science behind bulbine is scant. No human data exists for its hormonal effects yet:
Bulbine Natalensis surely is very interesting, and I’m eagerly waiting for human data on those hormonal effects. However, due to it’s toxic effects at even low dosages, B. Natalensis supplementation might not be worth it. If you’re willing to risk your liver and kidney health for a T boost, you could just go a head and jump into oral steroids rather than take a herb that causes similar negative effects…
Muira Puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides, Natural Viagra, Potency Wood) is an aphrodisiac tree bark from the Amazonian rainforests.
The active ingredients include: several alkaloids, beta-sitosterol, and muirapuamine.
Muira Puama was first mentioned in 1929 in the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia, and it’s mainly used to relieve the symptoms of impotence and erectile dysfunction
It’s not that popular of a supplement, especially for boosting T, but there’s some research behind it:
And that’s it. There’s no research about testosterone, and some evidence that it might be an effective boner-herb. I would love to see it being tested on humans, but since the supplement industry hasn’t really tapped into Muira Puama yet, I don’t think we’ll see human research anytime soon.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is considered by some to be the “best natural testosterone booster”.
I disagree, since few studies show how it doesn’t work at all. And the only study showing any effects, is sponsored by a fenugreek manufacturer.
Fenugreek seeds are popular in some Arabian countries and India. The active compounds claimed to increase testosterone are protodioscin (same as in Tribulus) and fenusides.
It’s not only used by men, some women use it to increase lactation during pregnancy, and it seems to work, due to the fact that it contains phytoestrogens and diosgening (study, study).
Here’s some research:
I don’t see why anyone would want to use Fenugreek. Since it seems to do nothing to testosterone but lowers DHT.
Rhodiola Rosea (rose root, arctic root) is an adaptogenic herb which grows in the harsh conditions of Siberia and Northern Asia.
Claimed to be used even by the Vikingks, most herbalists agree that Rhodiola Rosea is the most beneficial adaptogenic herb the human race has discovered so far.
And since it’s an adaptogen, it’s often used in lowering stress, and to balance hormones.
Does it affect testosterone levels though? Here’s some research:
Can’t say for sure what it does to testosterone levels when there’s not much research around, but at least it could improve the C:T ratio in exercising humans, and significantly lowers all the parameters of stress. Bulk Rhodiola is also quite cheap to supplement with, at least if you make tinctures out of it. a 500 gram pouch would last for years.
Ginseng root (Korean Red Ginseng, Panax Ginseng, true Ginseng) is one of the most researched herbals in the World.
Not only that, but it’s also one of the most-used herbal supplements…
…In 2010 more than 80,000 tons of ginseng was produced in South Korea, China, Canada, and the United States. Global sales of the root exceed more than $2 billion dollars annually.
It has been in use in the Chinese herbal medicine for centuries, and the claimed benefits include: erectile dysfunction relief, stress relief, libido boost, adaptogenic effects, balanced hormones, etc.
But what does it really do?
If you have low testosterone and ED due to varicolele or infertility, then ginseng supplementation will most likely increase your testosterone levels. If your gonads are in top-notch condition already, you will probably see no benefits from Ginseng supplementation…
…Either way, at least it works as a boner-pill and this is not due to hormonal effects, but more likely caused by increased nitric oxide production.
NOTE: In this review it was noted that 25% of the tested Ginseng supplements were not as strong as promised, and 45% were either contaminated, or lacked the active ginosides. One of the brands that did pass with flying colors was Solgar’s Ginseng Root Extract. So if you’re planning on using Ginseng, that’s my recommendation.
Pine Pollen (Pollen Pini) is our natures very own androgen.
It contains testosterone, and various other androgens. No mimetics, but the actual androgens which are naturally in the bloodstream.
For example, the Pinus Sylverstis variete contains 80 ng/g of testosterone, 110 ng/g epitesosterone, and 590 ng/g androstenedione (study).
It’s unlikely that these androgens make it into the bloodstream when pine pollen is taken orally in a capsule or as a powder. However, when P. Pollen is dissolved into an alcohol solution (tincture) and absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth (which are permeable to hormones), there’s a good change of actually getting those androgens into your body.
Not only the androgens, but pine pollen is also a complete protein with 22 amino-acids, it includes over 100 different enzymes, more than 15 vitamins and 30 minerals, essential fatty acids (omegas 3, 6, and 9), and brassinosteroids along with many other plant sterols…
…In short, it’s an androgenic super-food of the super-foods.
The bad news is that there’s still no research on its hormonal effects, as pine pollen is extremely unpopular. I don’t care about that though. It’s such a nutrient dense super-food that even if it wouldn’t do jack shit for testosterone, I’d still be using it (I don’t buy it though, living in Finland allows me to harvest my own).
Suma root (Pfaffia Paniculata, Brazilian Ginseng) is an adaptogenic herb with possible ergogenic activity.
It’s also called “The Russian Secret”, due to the fact that during the cold war a Russian scientist by the name of V.N Syrov extracted an ergogenic compound called ecdysterone from Suma, and found that it was more anabolic in-vitro than two synthetic steroids: Dianabol and methandrostenolone (study). After that it was given to the olympic athletes of the now fallen Soviet-Union.
Since it was found to be very effective on athletes as an ergogenic aid, and as it was the cold war, the researchers vowed to never let the U.S know about Suma or ecdysteroids, hence the name “The Russian Secret”.
Here’s one abstract of Syrov’s trials:
“Experiment participants first noted a “sense of well-being” within 3-5 days, and a new increased desire to get to their next training session. Weight lifters experienced much less pain during heavy lifts when they took Suma. These researchers recommended 500 mg. for every 40 lbs. of body weight, spread out evenly in two divided doses, for the maximum gain in muscle strength and size. During a 54-day period, the dosage was only taken on days 1-10, 16-25, and days 31-40.”
Since the fall of the Soviet-Union, Suma is no longer a secret, and the Western science has conducted some research on the plant:
Sadly, no human data on Suma’s hormonal effects exists. Ecdysteroids and Suma look very promising on the paper, but until any peer-reviewed human studies will be conducted, there’s always a chance that it does absolutely nothing.
Stinging Nettle Root
Stinging nettle (Urtica Dioica) is the stinging plant that everyone knows.
The leafy part of the plant is a known anti-inflammatory agent, which seems to lower various inflammation related parameters in clinical studies (study, study, study)…
…And its roots are claimed to increase testosterone, lower SHBG, and to help with prostate problems.
But are those only claims?
I did use nettle root extract a while ago, since I was only familiar with the SHBG blocking research, but now that I’ve taken a closer look at the evidence, I think I’ll just throw the herb into the trash bin. As it doesn’t increase testosterone in humans, it probably means that the lingans are not that bio-available after all…
Well, that’s a lot of herbs. I know that the list doesn’t include all of the herbs that are claimed to increase testosterone…
…There are multiple “herbal T boosters” out there that didn’t make the list, simply because they’re extremely unpopular and their research is still in early stages (Fadogia, Massularia acuminata, Pedalium murex, etc).
NOTE: I’m not a big fan of supplements, and I wholeheartedly believe that true natural testosterone optimization should be more focused on proper nutrition, proper exercise, proper sex, and proper sleep, and well, a bunch of other stuff too. Anyhow, there are no magic-pills out there. Yes some of the herbs work exceptionally well, but remember that they’re just supplements, and supplements alone are not going to do anything dramatic.
ALSO NOTE: To support this article (and to avoid the never ending questions about cycling herbs), I wrote an article that describes how to properly cycle herbal supplements for maximal results. Go read that here.
Sources generously used: Examine.com, Anabolicmen.com, Google Scholar, PubMed, Tropical Plant Database, Wikipedia.