Since the deep past of history, aphrodisiacs have been identified and sought out to remedy various sexual anxieties and increase fertility. Procreation being a rather important moral, religious, and societal issues.
Enter the aphrodisiac plants--Nature's little helpers.
Throughout history, aphrodisiacs have been known to act as catalysts for fertility and, yes, sexual performance due to their physiological and psychological effects. Aphrodisiacs are based on the principle that what a person eats, drinks, rubs on the skin, inhales, or simply views - can impact his or her sex life, whether direct or indirect.
In a three-part series this week to get you in the mood for Valentine's day, I will share some of the plants that are considered aphrodisiacs and the quality that makes them so.
QUALITY #1: A plant is psychologically suggestive because of its aroma or shape. Sometimes, just thinking that something is an aphrodisiac is enough to make it work as one. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...
A banana comes to mind.
Single bananas, called a finger, are sold in grocery stores and even coffee shops! You're undoubtedly familiar with the sight of a single banana, and there is no getting around its amusingly phallic appearance. The human mind responds naturally to suggestive shapes.
The mere sight of a single banana has arousal tendencies for some men. Bananas are so common in our culture that it's easy to take this healthy fruit for granted.
It seems like each generation believes they invented six, but in truth, it's age-old, and so are the jokes associated with it. Humor aside, the banana's shape was embraced early on in history as a fertility aid and aphrodisiac. In India, bananas were said to be a favorite of sages, and even today, Hindus include them in offerings to the fertility gods. When planning a Hindu marriage, the groom's family brings offerings of bananas to the bride's family. In some Islamic traditions, the banana, not the apple, was the forbidden fruit eaten in the Garden of Eden. In Central America, sipping the sap of the red banana tree was an aphrodisiac elixir. There must be something going on.
QUALITY #2: A plant affects brain chemistry by directly increasing blood flow to sex organs or contributing to other pleasurable sensations. Chocolate comes to mind, and it's no coincidence chocolate is given to Valentine's all over the world.
Nothing says love like chocolate.
You love the taste; you love the gift; you love the love that comes within a heart-shaped box of sweets.
The cacao bean genus Theobroma originated millions of years ago in what we know as South America. Fast forward a few thousand millennia, and we have evidence that the Mayans domesticated cacao and that it was being drunk by traders as early as 400 BC. Cacao was given the name "Food of the Gods." The later Aztec culture, which dominated in Mesoamerica from the 14th century to the Spanish Conquest, emphasized cacao's virtue.
The first outsider to drink chocolate was Christopher Columbus when he reached Nicaragua in 1502. The chocolate drink was not what we think of today, but rather a bitter, spicy, pure dark chocolate refreshment called xocoatl, but it was a clear precursor of the modern winter delight we call hot chocolate. Once cacao was introduced to Spain in 1528, sugar was added, making it a popular Spanish royal court drink.
It was thought the Aztecs were the first to draw a link between the cocoa bean and sexual desire. The story goes that the Aztec ruler Montezuma called it "the divine drink.' and consumed 50 goblets of cacao daily for strength. Did he also mean sexual strength?
It's debated if chocolate is indeed an aphrodisiac, but studies suggest it has merit. Research reveals cacao as a mood-lifter, which leads to the feeling of excitement and increasing one's level of energy, and thus, receptivity to desire.
A Milan study with women subjects linked the consumption of chocolate and the feeling of sexual fulfillment. Those who ate chocolate daily reported a higher degree of sexual satisfaction - even from women who typically had a lower libido.
QUALITY #3: A plant's hormones mimic human hormones - like a tonic to ignite your own hormones. Researchers are finding that some foods do stimulate the production of hormones that affect our Libidos. They don't know whether those hormones are present in high enough quantities to notice the difference.
Coriander (the seed of cilantro) is a case in point.
Coriander is an important flavoring in many of the world's cuisines. It can trace its roots back over 7,000 years, making it one of the world's oldest known spices, with archaeological evidence dating back to Isreal's Neolithic period.
It was cultivated in ancient Egypt and mentioned in the Old Testament (Exodus 16:3)" "...and it [manna]was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." But coriander. became really famous when promoted as an aphrodisiac in The Arabian Nights, with a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years and was cured after drinking a mixture containing coriander. The Chinese traditionally use the herb in love potions, believing it stimulated arousal and bestowed immortality.
In the Middle Ages, a popular drink served at weddings to increase libido was called Hippocras - a blend of coriander, cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon, mixed with red wine. Hippocras was brought to Europe from the Crusades and then found popularity in the Americas.
Cilantro/Corianderr has a scent that people either love or hate. Some consider it extremely pleasant, but others are repulsed by it. There is some evidence that suggests a genetic component to these taste responses.
QUALITY #4: A plant promotes health and vigor. We know good nutrition is linked to good health and high energy levels - which, admittedly, can help set the stage for an active sex life. On that basis alone, hundreds of healthy foods would make the list of plant aphrodisiacs.
For instance, passionflowers come to mind.
The passionflower is one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. When friends visit and see these beauties in bloom for the first time, their faces brighten with wonder. Fascination is the word that comes to mind.
Passion is as Peruvians do.
A Jesuit priest discovered the passionflower vine growing wild in early 1600s Peruvia. The common name would normally suggest romance, but it is actually derived from the Passion of Christ. In a vision that evening, the Jesuit priest associated each of the flower's parts - from its petals to its anthers - with the Passion of Christ. As a perhaps ironic counterpoint, the Peruvians enjoyed the flower for its aphrodisiac benefits.
The Aztecs used the passionflower as a pain reliever and sedative to ease muscle tension and calm the mind. The Native Americans taught the early European settlers the many benefits of the passionflower's roots and leaves. Passionflower's effectiveness in treating a host of issues that trouble the human body and mind - like headaches and seizures, insomnia, and anxiety - has long been known. Still, it is only recently that scientific evidence began to support what the ancients knew.
SO WHAT GIVES?
The Food and Drug Administration is leery of endorsing aphrodisiac clams for plants. But, as you can see, the sheer weight of tradition and anecdotal evidence - aided by some intriguing confirmations from science - tells a different story.
On the non-governmental side of science, psychiatrists Alan R. Hirsch, D.D., F.A.C.P, has concluded and published more than 200 research studies on the effects of smell and taste on human emotion and behavior. As Neurological Director of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, he has found that certain plant-based foods do indeed increase sexual arousal.
Author of Plants with Benefits, An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, and Veggies in your garden.