If you read the name of this herb in the original Chinese manuscript you might think that this is a particularly well-balanced herb because it even contains the names of the two basic Chinese principles of the Yin and the Yang. These represent the opposing but complementary forces in nature, for example day and night, hot and cold, above and below or man and woman. This, however, is not true at all. In the Chinese language, there are only 400 syllables with which the thousands of words in the language are formed. Because each syllable can be spoken with four different intonations, however, this actually produces a total of 1,600 syllables. Unfortunately the intonation signs are rarely shown in the Pinyin manuscript, otherwise people might have noticed that the Yin and Yang, the pair of opposites, have a different intonation in the first syllable than the Yin and Yang in our herb. The second syllable has the same intonation sign on it but that matter can only be finally resolved if you look properly at the Chinese characters, because they differ completely from one another. That's just the way it is with the Chinese language: In some circumstances than can be dozens of different written characters for syllables which are pronounced in the same way. This is the difficulty we face when we think we might like to learn Chinese. The grammar is as easy as it could be: There are no declinations of nouns, no grammatical cases and no conjugations of verbs!
So this is not a harmoniously balanced herb in the sense of the well-known fundamental principle of Chinese philosophy – the Yin and and the Yang. No – quite the contrary! The difference could hardly be greater. Epimedium is also known as Yin Yang Huo and the syllables Yin and Yang in Yin Yang Huo stand for extreme one-sidedness, namely for impetuous (male) desire. You see,Yang means goat, or he-goat, and Yin means here rampant, unfettered. The syllable also appears in the Chinese words for pornography, sexual infidelity or (in official language) sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This actually tells us all we need to know: Epimedium is a type of Viagra in plant-form. That at least is its reputation. But we have to look carefully at even this statement. Because Viagra is not actually an aphrodisiac in the sense of a medicine which increases the libido or sexual desire. Viagra helps only with the mechanical aspects of the sexual act. The desire to have sex must come from elsewhere. It would be more accurate to describe Epimedium as being like a plant form of testosterone.
The Chinese do actually describe Epimedium as being an anti-impotence drug. There are classical Chinese formulations used for treating this problem, which combine Epimedium and other herbs which work in a similar way.
Chinese medicine, however does not set much store by prescriptions which follow just a single principle. Instead, it values far more highly the sense of balance in all things in of nature and in human functions. An excessive sex drive is considered unhealthy or pathological and, from the point of view of Chinese medicine, it damages the body in the long term. Periods of rest are considered to be just as important. The body must be allowed to regenerate itself.
According to TCM, impotence as a symptom can have many causes and it is accompanied by many other symptoms, depending on the syndrome patterns. The specific pattern which is found in impotence should, according to TCM, be crystallised on the basis of further symptoms about which we have to ask the patient and which have to be looked for. In doing this we see that Epimedium is indicated for the treatment of very many other conditions; It is also given for (chronic) back pain, for forgetfulness, for difficulties in micturition, i.e. difficulties in passing water, for nocturia, i.e. when man/woman get up more often at night to pass water, for muscle spasms, paraesthesia (sensory disturbances like pins and needles of numbness) in the extremities, for certain irregularities in the menstrual periods in of women and in infertility. You see, Epimedium is not simply an anti-impotence drug for men. It is also used just as often to treat women. This is because each Chinese remedy has a function within the framework of TCM's practice of syndrome differentiation and Epimedium belongs to the class of herbs that tonify and, within this category, specifically to those which strengthen the kidney’s Yang, sustain and nourish and to those which drive out wind and moisture. Whenever one of these functions, which can be seen from the variety of symptoms described above, is disturbed, Epimedium is the right thing to use.
A lead substance in Epimedium is Icariin, a prenylated diglycosilised flavonoid. Those who understand how to read Chinese will be able to find several dozen articles about this substance in the scientific literature. These are some of its effects:
Icariin induces the secretion of interleukins 2,3 and 6. Interleukins are endogenous messenger substances of the cells of the immune system, through which these communicate with each other and which either promote or hinder their growth. With other flavonoids from the same plant, Icariin promotes the cerebral blood circulation and it also acts to dilate blood vessels. It also induces apoptosis, i.e. cell death in lung tumour cells. It also has a positive effect on certain forms of leukaemia. Finally, it encourages hormone secretion in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Icariin has an influence on the rate of bone growth by stimulating the development of the osteocytes using TGF2-beta (Transforming Growth Factor II beta).