Last Updated: Oct 17, 2018
Tribulus terrestris comes from the genus Tribulus which includes about 13 different species that have naturalized to warmer temperate climate zones throughout the world.
Also called puncture vine because of its sharp thorny caltrop-like fruits that are prolific at the end of its growth cycle, it is known for "puncturing" human skin as well as bicycle tires. For this reason, it is often considered a type of invasive weed.
Despite its thorny nature, the aerial portion of the plant and especially its seeds (or fruits) have been highly valued in certain countries for different therapeutic purposes as an herbal substance.
Further on this page we'll discuss traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese uses, but first... what are the differences between tribulus extracts and other herb-based preparations?
And, can tribulus supplements actually increase testosterone levels in men and build muscle mass?
1) Tribulus Extract Supplements - Bulgarian tribulus is the primary one used in the supplement world for its higher amounts of furostanol saponins (*) and "protodioscin", the main steroidal constituent in the herb that is revered for its benefits as a natural aphrodisiac. Most herbal extracts are standardized to contain about 40% or more saponin content.
Genuine Bulgarian tribulus is claimed be of a premium grade, not only because the longer, colder Bulgarian winters produce more saponins, but also because it is harvested during a specific time of year when active compounds are most concentrated. Supplement extracts, in tablet or capsule form, are usually made from the whole aerial portion of the plant as well as the seedy fruits.
2) Tribulus Herb or Fruit, Gokshura or Bai Ji Li - This is from the same Tribulus terrestris species, but is sourced from India or China, as opposed to Bulgaria, and does not necessarily contain a high amount of saponins, especially protodioscin.
It is still, however, a very useful herbal ally to have in your treasure chest for other therapeutic qualities as well as its mild effects as a sexual rejuvenator. Although the fruits are sometimes used in tea decoctions, it more commonly utilized in powdered form, called Gokshura in Ayurveda.
It just takes a little bit of online research to see that tribulus, as a dietary supplement, is highly marketed as a natural testosterone booster and muscle-building herb to professional male bodybuilders and athletes.
This original notion was popularized in the 1970's by competitive Bulgarian weightlifters taking a tribulus-derived supplement called Tribestan. It was also subsequently endorsed by Jeffrey Petermann, an American bodybuilding champion.
Resurfacing again in the 1990's, supplement manufacturers promoted its use as a "testosterone boosting" extract, although this theory was not quite scientifically valid. Even to this day, the claim that it can significantly increase testosterone in humans or athletes is largely unsubstantiated. (Source)
In fact, it has shown in some cases to have NO apparent effect, according to a Bulgarian research study. The "steroid saponins possess neither direct nor indirect androgen-increasing properties" when tested on young men. (*) Likewise, its ability to enhance androgen levels in humans is still evidenced as inconclusive and not found to be responsible for its properties as an aphrodisiac. (*)
Whether or not scientists are using a quality tribulus product remains to be seen, but so far the odds are not in its favor in regards to its boosting effect on hormone levels.
Some advertise that protodioscin concentrations increase the luteinizing hormone (LH) which in turn signals the body to produce more testosterone (or at least normalize it). While this has been proven true in one or two animal studies (*)(*), there is no hard evidence (as of 2018) that tribulus extract supplementation when used exclusively also has this effect on human subjects.
Furthermore, it has not been proven to have an influence on directly increasing muscle mass, an effect often associated with higher testosterone levels.
Tribulus is most notably recognized throughout human history as a natural aphrodisiac for increasing sex drive, a property of which has also been identified in some human research.
Standardized Bulgarian derived extracts, with higher saponin and protodioscin concentrations, were shown to significantly improve sexual function in men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction after a 12 week period. (Source)
If you are a middle-aged male looking for a natural libido enhancer from one single herb, we would actually suggest tongkat ali over tribulus. It is just WAY more potent for male andropause in our opinion.
Tribulus terrestris is reported to be particularly beneficial when blended
with other male supportive herbs like maca, horny goat weed, fo-ti,
tongkat ali, ginseng, mucuna and saw palmetto. The Gaia Herbs product
called Male Libido includes tribulus along with some of these other
As an ayurvedic herb, tribulus is referred to as Gokshura. It is most commonly used as a powder created from the aerial parts, particularly the fruits. It is an ingredient in one of the premier rasayana preparations called chyawanprash , which also includes amla, ashwagandha along with other herbs, ghee and sweeteners.
Gokshura is identified for its health enhancing effects on the genitourinary system, which includes the urinary tract as well as the reproductive organs. It is likewise a tonic for the kidneys, supports healthy prostate function and can promote fertility. (*)
Tribulus, or gokshura, is balancing for all three doshas, especially Vata as it is calming to the nervous system.
In Chinese herbalism, Tribulus terrestris is called Bai Ji Li. The herb is primarily used to pacify or subdue the liver, disperse stagnation, dissipate wind/heat or facilitate the flow of liver Chi (Qi). It is similarly considered an adaptogen and nourishing kidney tonic for its influence on the genitourinary and reproductive systems.
Tribulus terrestris extracts are available in the form of a capsule or tablet.
Tribulus as an herbal preparation is most frequently available as a powder, like gokshura, or in capsule form. The whole fruits can be purchased by the pound by some suppliers and then ground down as a fresh powder.
You can also, of course, tincture the powder or whole seeds in alcohol alone or with other tonic herbs. Powders can be likewise used to make homemade chyawanprash.
The whole fruits are traditionally decocted (simmered) in water for about an hour, left to sit for 24 hours and then strained and consumed as a tea.