Aphrodisiacs are ancient: wanting to have children (or at least sex) is not a modern condition. Find out about the early “science” of aphrodisiacs and which foods are still considered arousing.
What’s an Aphrodisiac?
An aphrodisiac is any form of stimulation thought to arouse sexual excitement. Aphrodisiacs may be classified in two principal groups: (1) psychophysiological (visual, tactile, olfactory, aural) and (2) internal (stemming from food, alcoholic drinks, drugs, love potions, and medical preparations).
According to the Cambridge World History of Food, aphrodisiacs were first sought out as a remedy for sexual anxieties including fears of inadequate performance as well as a need to increase fertility. Procreation was an important moral and religious issue, and people looked to aphrodisiacs to ensure both male and female potency.
Why Certain Foods?
In ancient times a distinction was made between a substance that increased fertility versus one that simply increased sex drive. In both cases, however, one of the key issues was nutrition. Food was not so readily available as it is today. Undernourishment creates a loss of libido and reduces fertility rates.
Substances that “by nature” represent “seed or semen” such as bulbs, eggs, or snails were considered inherently to have sexual powers. Other types of foods were considered stimulating by their “physical resemblance to genitalia.”
It’s important to realize these food substances were identified and documented by the likes of Pliny and Dioscordes (ancient Greeks) in the first century AD, and later by Paul of Aegina from the seventh century. Later more credence was given to foods that “satisfied dietary gratification.”
Other foods deemed to have aphrodisiac qualities got their reputations from mythology. For example, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was said to consider sparrows sacred because of their “amorous nature,” and for that reason they were included in various aphrodisiac brews.
There was not always agreement upon what foods were actually aphrodisiacs or “anaphrodisiacs” (which were supposed to have the opposite effect). But the ancient list included anise, basil, carrot, salvia, gladiolus root, orchid bulbs, pistachio nuts, arugula (also called rocket), sage, sea fennel, turnips, skink flesh (a type of lizard), and river snails.
The ancients suggested you steer clear of dill, lentil, lettuce, watercress, rue, and water lily. In modern times we may opt for the lettuce over the skink flesh regardless of the outcome, but many foods have maintained their sexy allure over the generations. Read on for some ideas!
Aphrodisiac Food List
A very popular aphrodisiac with many culinary uses. It has been used as an aphrodisiac since the Greeks and the Romans, who believed aniseed had special powers. Sucking on the seeds, which have a licorice flavor, is said to increase your desire. (Licorice-family herbs were also used as a breath freshener in the days before toothpaste, which may have helped your desire be more favorably received.)
Given its phallic shape, asparagus is frequently enjoyed as an aphrodisiac food. Feed your lover individual spears for a sensual experience. (Etiquette mavens say it’s proper to eat asparagus with your fingers as long as it is sufficiently firm.) The Vegetarian Society suggests “eating asparagus for three days for the most powerful effect.” It’s delicious roasted, steamed, or sauteed with garlic (another aphrodisiac ingredient).
A symbol of fertility throughout the ages. The aroma is thought to induce passion in a female. Try serving marzipan (almond paste) in the shapes of fruits for a special after-dinner treat.
Arugula or “rocket” seed has been documented as an aphrodisiac since the first century AD. This ingredient was added to grated orchid bulbs and parsnips and also combined with pine nuts and pistachios. Arugula greens are frequently used in salads and pasta.
The Aztecs called the avocado tree “ahuacuatl,” which translated means “testicle tree.” The ancients thought the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree resembled the male’s testicles. This is a delicious fruit with a sensuous texture. Serve in slices with a small amount of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper.
The banana flower has a marvelous phallic shape and is partially responsible for popularity of the banana as an aphrodisiac food. An Islamic myth tells the tale that after Adam and Eve succumbed to the “apple” they started covering their “nudity” with banana leaves rather than fig. From a more practical standpoint, bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, necessities for sex hormone production. If you’re a morning person, try banana pecan pancakes to get things started.
Basil (sweet basil)
Basil is said to stimulate the sex drive and boost fertility. It is also said to produce a general sense of wellbeing for body and mind.
Carrots are believed to be a stimulant to the male. The phallus shaped carrot has been associated with stimulation since ancient times and was used by early Middle Eastern royalty to aid seduction. High vitamins and beta-carotene. Perhaps a justification for a piece of carrot cake?
The Aztecs referred to chocolate as “nourishment of the gods.” Chocolate contains chemicals thought to effect neurotransmitters in the brain and a related substance to caffeine called theobromine. Chocolate contains more antioxidant (cancer preventing enzymes) than does red wine. The secret for passion is to combine the two. Try a glass of Cabernet with a bit of dark chocolate for a sensuous treat. Love and Kisses Pie might do the trick too.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant but remember, too much and it becomes a depressant. Serve small amounts of rich dark coffee in special little demitasse cups. Coffee stimulates both the body and the mind, so partake of a little in preparation for an “all-nighter.”
Coriander (cilantro seed)
The book The Arabian Nights tells a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years but was cured by a concoction that included coriander. That book is more than a thousand years old, so the history of coriander as an aphrodisiac dates far back into history. Cilantro was also known to be used as an “appetite” stimulant.
An open fig is thought to emulate the female sex organs and traditionally thought of as sexual stimulant. A man breaking open a fig and eating it in front of his lover is a powerful erotic act. Serve fresh black mission figs in a cool bowl of water as it is done in Italy and be sure to eat with your fingers!
The “heat” in garlic is said to stir sexual desires. Make sure you and your partner share it together, because garlic’s essence stays with you. Garlic has been used for centuries to cure everything from the common cold to heart ailments. Enjoy a pasta with a lightly garlicky sauce and it may lead up to something spicy in the bedroom later.
Ginger root raw, cooked or crystallized is a stimulant to the circulatory system. Perhaps a stir-fry with freshly grated ginger will cause a sizzle.
The Chinese have used licorice for medicinal purposes since ancient times. The essence of the Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) plant, glycrrhizin, is 50 times sweeter than sugar. Chewing on bits of licorice root is said to enhance love and lust. It is particularly stimulating to women.
Mustard is believed to stimulate the sexual glands and increase desire. Prepare a filet mignon for two with a mustard and peppercorn sauce, or a pork loin roast with a mustard glaze.
Nutmeg was highly prized by Chinese women as an aphrodisiac. In quantity, nutmeg can produce a hallucinogenic effect.
Oysters were documented as a aphrodisiac food by the Romans in the second century AD as mentioned in a satire by Juvenal. He described the wanton ways of women after ingesting wine and eating “giant oysters.” An additional hypotheses is that the oyster resembles the “female” genitals. In reality, oysters are a very nutritious and high in protein.
Zinc is a key mineral necessary to maintain male potency, and pine nuts are rich in zinc. Pine nuts have been used to stimulate the libido as far back as Medieval times. Serve pine nut cookies with a dark espresso for a stimulating dessert.
Pineapple is rich in vitamin C and is used in the homeopathic treatment for impotence. Add a spear to a sweet rum drink for a tasty prelude to an evening of passion. Or have it anywhere in the meal, from barbecued kebabs to pineapple cream pie.
Raspberries and Strawberries
Perfect foods for hand feeding your lover. “Both invite love and are described in erotic literature as fruit nipples.” Both are high in vitamin C and make a sweet light dessert. Try a strawberry walnut salad to sneak two aphrodisiacs (three if you use arugula!) into a healthy meal.
The Greeks and the Romans considered the rare truffle mushroom to be an aphrodisiac. The musky scent is said to stimulate and sensitize the skin to touch.
The scent and flavor of vanilla is believed to increase lust. According to the Australian Orchid Society, “Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness.” Fill tall Champagne glasses to the rim and add a vanilla bean for a heady, bubbly treat.
A glass or two of wine can greatly enhance a romantic interlude. Wine relaxes and helps to stimulate our senses. Drinking wine can be an erotic experience. Let your eyes feast on the color of the liquid. Caress the glass, savor the taste on your lips. Do remember that excessive alcohol will make you too drowsy for the after-dinner romance. A moderate amount of wine has been said to “arouse erections,” but much more than that amount with have the reverse affect.
Further Food and Fertility Resources
Folklore is fun, and we won’t dismiss it. But researchers and nutritionists have continued their work in recent centuries and have updated some findings. Go wild with the aphrodisiacs, but if you’re trying to conceive or pregnant, check out The Ultimate Trying-to-Get-Pregnant Diet. The article Can Foods Increase Your Fertility? will tell you more, and The Fertility Diet for Him will help you get your partner in shape. Meanwhile, strawberries dipped in melted chocolate sound awfully good….
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