Spice up Your Love Life with Plants with Benefits

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest

With Valentine's Day arriving soon, here are some suggestions to spice up your love life with Plants with Benefits!

Cinnamon, it's not just for pumpkin pie!

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What would our holiday seasons be like without cinnamon? From flavoring cider during a crisp fall Holloween evening to pumpkin and apple pies for our Thanksgiving feast, cinnamon is found in nearly every American home. Three thousand years ago, it also spiced up the bedchamber!

In Proverb 7 of the Old Testament, the biblical lover says, "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning." Cinnamon is also mentioned in the Song of Solomon, where the beloved's garments smelled of "Spikednard and saffron; calamus, and cinnamon..." Later, in Rome, the word cinnamon was a term of affection, like "darling." Scent and spice were clearly the language of love from way back.

Each part of the cinnamon tree - leaves, flower buds, and bark - is used to make the spice and essential oils, each yielding a different produce. The part we know best is from the tree bark, which is first stripped down to the brown inner layer, then allowed to dry, turning into those familiar stick-like quills. This part yields the highest of the essential oil, cinnamaldehyde. Served in hot drinks and pies and all manner of confections, cinnamon has a "something special" that many of us crave without knowing why.

Other than its aromatic oils obvious emotional appeal, there isn't much science to support cinnamon as an aphrodisiac. However, cinnamon bark is considered a warming agent, producing heat in the body and increasing circulation in the pelvic region, and all the good that comes with that!What would our holiday seasons be like without cinnamon? From flavoring cider during a crisp fall Holloween evening to pumpkin and apple pies for our Thanksgiving feast, cinnamon is found in nearly every American home. Three thousand years ago, it also spiced up the bedchamber!

Anise, seeds of desire.

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If you can believe some historians (and the movies, and a certain villa at Pompeii), Greek and Roman cultures were hotbeds of sexuality. While these sexual practices are likely exaggerated, they nonetheless have a "scandalous" reputation. Though, it's possible that our ancient Mediterranean friends just had a healthy libido, made even healthier by some of the foods consumed.

Case in point, anise or aniseed was used as both food and aphrodisiac during Classical times. Pliny the Elder and the physician and botanist Dioscorides recorded its use in flavoring foods and wine. Popular lore had it that you can increase desire by sucking on the seed of this herb.

There is some science behind the lore. Aniseed contains anethole, a phenylpropene that impacts anise's distinctive flavor. For many of us, its aroma and taste alone are enough to increase arousal. But there's more.

On the aphrodisiac side, anethole has estrogenic properties known to stimulate sexual drive by inducing effects similar to testosterone. A 2008 study of anise showed that the essential oils in its seed and leaves are 90% anethole.

Cayenne, Chili Pepper, Rev things up for hot fun!

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Have you seen the movie Chocolat? I was mesmerized by it. But it wasn't the late 1950s French village setting, for which I'm always a sucker, or the continued appeal of the quirky Johnny Depp, or even the beautiful Juliette Binoche that kept my attention. I was preoccupied with wondering what the heroine, Vianne Rocher, was putting in the chocolate! Whatever it was, it cured everyone who consumed her delectables. Sure, they may have killed Judy Dench's character, but at least she died happily!

It's all about the heat. Vianne's secret was the red-hot chili pepper, also known as cayenne. Cayenne is not actually a pepper at all but a berry, making it a member of the genus Capsicum.

There is evidence that cayenne pepper was in use in Central and South America as early as 7,000 B.C. Still, the combination of cayenne and chocolate was discovered later, in the ancient Aztec culture, where the royalty, in particular, enjoyed a little heat with their treat.

Christopher Columbus introduced cayenne to Europe and wrote about its medicinal effects in 1494. Cayenne became so popular that in 1767 young Thomas Jefferson planted it as his birthplace home at Shadwell. I'm not sure Jefferson was aware of cayenne's amorous properties, but nonetheless, he explored growing this perky, heat-enhancing berry with its peppers erect toward the sky.

Saffron, the world's most expensive sexy spice.

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Highly praised in classical Greece for its coloring and aromatic properties, saffron has long been used in a variety of ways, culinary and otherwise - as help for insomnia and even as a cure for hangovers caused by wine. But it's the aphrodisiac reputation of this crocus spice that has my attention. Imagine the luxurious life of Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt - a woman known for her brilliance and her secrets of seduction. It is said that before she had an important tryst, she bathed in the stigma (saffron threads) of the crocus plant, in expectation of the aphrodisiac effects. 

Saffron is the crimson red, protruding stigmas of Crocus sativus - the female reproductive system and pollen collecter of this flowering bulb. It takes up to 75,000 crocus brooms to produce a pound of saffron spice. Because of this, saffron has long been the world's most expensive spice. Luckily, it only takes two or three threads to flavor your rice or stir fry. Eastern cultures mix saffron in milk and in desserts for flavor - and its reputed aphrodisiac benefits.

During the early Renaissance, saffron was worth its weight in gold. Naturally, corruption ensued, with substitutes and resulting adulterations, to the point that King Henry VIII condemned to death any adulterers of his cherished spice. 

There is a disagreement about whether saffron is toxic or actually a detoxifier. Still, to be safe, one should not consume extravagantly large amounts of this aromatic plant, even if you could afford it!

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