Named after the Ancient Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, aphrodisiacs are generally foods or aromas that are priced as erotic stimulants (Mallon 1999).
Since the beginning of time, cultures have priced certain foods and scents for their aphrodisiac qualities. The Greeks valued onions, carrots, truffles and sturgeon to excite their passions, while the Romans believed that liver of pike, peacock brains and flamingo tongues could inflame romance (Mallon 1999). The Romans also valued crushed celery seeds, even dedicating celery to Pluto, their god of sex (Mallon 1999). The Aztecs named the avocado 'ahucatl' which means 'testicle' and after the Spanish spread the news of the avocado's stimulating powers, Catholic priests forbade their parishioners to eat it (Mallon 1999). In the Tantric tradition, bananas were associated with erotic energy due to the shape, and according to legend, the serpent that tempted Eve hid in a bunch of bananas (Mallon 1999).
Originally from Afghanistan, carrots were used by Middle Eastern royalty to aid seduction, as it is said to be a particularly effective aphrodisiac for men, while the fig, originally from Syria and one of the oldest known plants, was said to act as a powerful sexual stimulant and was Cleopatra's favorite fruit (Mallon 1999). Because figs are also associated with fertility and love, in many southern European countries, wedding guests throw figs instead of rice at the newlyweds (Mallon 1999). Ginger has been priced in China for more than 3,000 years, as the spicy scent is said to stir the flames of passion, while the Persians believed liquorice had strong aphrodisiac powers and that girls who mixed it with milk, honey and butter were said to become 100 times sexier (Mallon 1999). Mustard, described in the Bible as "the greatest amongst herbs," is believed to have a powerful effect on the sexual glands, and a folklore remedy for impotence recommends rubbing the male member with mustard (Mallon 1999).
It seems humans are passionate when it comes to searching for passion and the variety of substances that have been tried over the years to provoke sexual desire is astounding (Schwarcz 2003). Bird's nest soup and ginseng were among the ancient Chinese favorites, while the Kama Sutra, compiled between 100 and 300 A.D., recommended an elixir made of home, milk, licorice, and fennel juice (Schwarcz 2003). The Roman philosopher, Pliny, believed that consuming a lizard drowned in urine had an aphrodisiac effect on the person who donated the fluid, or if someone had an aversion to lizards, they could dine on the right lobe of a vulture's lung (Schwarcz 2003).
Foods that resembled appropriate body parts were especially priced, such as asparagus, which was recommended for stirring lust by European herbalist Nicolas Culpepper (Schwarcz 2003). Sixteenth century Italian physician Leonardo Fioravanti prescribed a tonic of nuts and cinnamon sticks for men who "needed a little help," while Casanova fed on a regular diet of oysters, "supposedly because of their resemblance to the female private parts" (Schwarcz 2003). Casanova was also said to be a chocolate fanatic and always ate some before entering the boudoir (Mallon 1999). In fact, chocolate is said to be one of the undisputed kings of aphrodisiacs and its powers on the sexual appetite have led to a chocolate ban being imposed in some monasteries (Mallon 1999). The aroma of almonds is reputed to excite women and is a common ingredient in creams and soaps (Mallon 1999). Among other libido booster include rhinoceros horn, nutmeg, truffles, deer antlers, elk horns, seal penises, and ground goat testicles, only the left one (Schwarcz 2003).
Although aphrodisiacs have intrigued humans since the Garden of Eden, it has only been recently that research and writings have taken them from the mystical to the medical realm, "giving new credence to the notion that lotions and potions can stimulate desire and enhance sexual experiences" (Fain 1996). Mainstream Western medicine has by and large shunned the study of aphrodisiacs as serious medicine, "Because sexuality has traditionally been viewed as a nonessential part of health and well-being, funding of research to promote healthy sexual functioning is less than that for other health issues," says Dr. Barbara Bartlik, researcher in the Human Sexuality Program at New York University/Cornell University Medical Center (Fain 1996).
However, according to Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, a San Diego specialist in sexual medicine and human relationships, the study of aphrodisiacs is important because "sexual dysfunction is a side effect of a number of pharmaceuticals and it is one of the two most common reasons (weight gain is the other) people stop taking lifesaving medications" (Fain 1996). Crenshaw first became interested in researching aphrodisiacs more than twenty years ago when patients who were taking medications for unrelated ailments complained of sexual dysfunction (Fain 1996). Men taking antihypertensives often complained of impotence, while both men and women taking antidepressants reported inhibited desire and orgasm/ejaculation difficulties (Fain 1996). Crenshaw began to believe that "with so many substances that could depress sexual function in one way or another, there must be ways to influence the same mechanisms favorable ... And indeed that turned out to be so" (Fain 1996). Research by Crenshaw and others have given medical viability to aphrodisiacs, many of which are now available by prescription (Fain 1996). Crenshaw and James P. Goldberg, a clinical research psycholpharmacologist in San Diego, compiled the research into "Sexual Pharmacology: Drugs That Affect Sexual Function," a 600-page encyclopedia that lists a wide range of medications, herbs, hormones and other substances that both enhance and depress sexual performance (Fain 1996). The following are of few of the listings:
Yohimbine, a bark extract has been shown to increase sexual desire and performance, especially in men with diabetic neurological impairments;
Prozac and its cousins are now a standard treatment for early ejaculation, and the antidepressant
Wellbutrin has been found to enhance desire in men and women.
Drug studies across the country began discovering that male patients on L-dopa, a common medication used to control the tremors of Parkinson's patients, suddenly started showing more sexual desire (Fain 1996). Despite lack of funding, research continued and studies have shown that male hormones, testosterone and DHEA (dehyroepiandosterone), increase sexual desire in menopausal women, and an injection combining blood-pressure medications and muscle relaxants helps men with erectile dysfunction (Fain 1996). It has also been found that Psychostimulants such as Ritalin and Dexedrine are helping men and women override the side effects of antidepressants, one of which is delayed orgasm (Fain 1996).
There are more purported aphrodisiacs available today that at any other time in history (Schwarcz 2003). There is Niagara, a beverage created in Sweden, promoted as 'romance in a bottle,' and sold as a dietary supplement, and contains extracts damiana, ginseng and schizandra, a Chinese berry (Schwarcz 2003). These plants have a history of being an aphrodisiac, yet there are no scientific studies to corroborate their effectiveness, however, Niagara also includes caffeine which may account for some of the stimulation that people claim to feel (Schwarcz 2003). L-arginine, a commonly occurring amino acid that the body uses to produce nitric oxide, a compound that produces smooth muscles relaxation, is also receiving a lot of attention as a performance enhancer (Schwarcz 2003). New York urologist, Jed Kaminetsky has formulated Dr. K's Dream Cream for women, "which he says increases blood flow to the essential area and increases pleasure (Schwarcz 2003).
Tongkat ali has long touted as an aphrodisiac and its root is sold fresh or mixed into medicines, soups, and most popularly, tehtarik, tea (John 1997). A recent study by Dr. Ang Hooi Hoon of the University Sains Malaysia, has actually scientifically proven the effectiveness of tongkat ali as an aphrodisiac (John 1997). Ang's research showed that tongkat ali extended the duration of coitus in rats that were fed the substance orally, as compared to those in the control group (John 1997). Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of the five-year study was the absence of male to male response in the rats, which means that tongkat ali does not alter the male's ability to adequately distinguish the appropriate sexual partner (John 1997). The study which was conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Medical Research and the National University of Singapore's Medical Faculty, showed that the plant increased the penile erection index and increased libido of the rats, exhibited in their increased mount frequency, uninfluenced by other behavioral components (John 1997). Moreover, the "rats dosed with tongkat ali showed more frequent mounting, licking, anogenital sniffing and increased grooming of the genitals," as well as enhancement of yawning and stretching, two acts that indicate increased sexual arousal (John 1997). The study also found that "old sluggish, non-copulator rats were more sexually active after dosing with tongkat ali" (John 1997). According to Ang, "Further tests on tongkat ali also indicated that the penis relaxes or stretches two to three times more than when normal aphrodisiac drugs were
Used" (John 1997).
Ang says that the use of many plants as aphrodisiacs is based on an "ancient belief in that…