Sexual Attraction

Natural Aphrodisiacs

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Apple including the one given by Shakespeare - Cupid's Flower. On the priciple of homeopathic magic, that which causes love will also cure it, or the result of it. That was why it was prescribed for venereal disease. Gerard noted the belief, and prescribed "the distilled water of the herbe or floures given to drinke for ten or more daies together ... (it) doth wonderfully ease the paines of the French disease, and cureth the same.". Culpeper too regarded it as "an excellent cure for the French disease, the herb being a gallant Antivener-ean", the latter remark being contrary to the accepted belief of his time. But such a hopeless idea as pansy being aphrodisiac must be reflected in the best-known of the "love" names - Love-in-idleness, for that can only mean Love-in-vain, a name that is actually recorded in Somerset (Grigson. 1955).

Who would ever have thought of POTATOES as aphrodisiacs? But Shakespeare was only echoing popular belief when he had Falstaff say: "Let the sky rain Potatoes ... and hail Kissing-comfits, and snow Eringoes". Almost certainly he was referring to sweet potatoes, but no matter, for the idea lingered after the introduction of our potato, and all because of a fundamental error. Being a tuber, it was mistaken by the Spanish who first came across both the potato (papa) and sweet potato (batata), for a truffle, and the truffle was the trufa, eventually meaning testicle, and so an aphrodisiac (Wasson). The other Spanish term for the truffle was turma de tierra, even more explicitly 'earth testicle'. In the same way, the testicle-suggesting tubers of EARLY PURPLE ORCHID ensured that the root would be regarded as aphrodisiac, the old tuber being discarded, and the new one used. It would be dried, ground, and secretly administered as a potion (Anson). Another orchid with the same reputation, among the American Indians, was FROG ORCHID (Yarnell). Similarly, a root with that reputation was that of SEA HOLLY, preserved in sugar, and known as Kissing Comfits, as mentioned above, in Falstaff's speech (see KISSING COMFITS). Even WILLOW was once credited with being an aphrodisiac - "spring water in which willow seeds have been steeped was strongly recommended in England as an aphrodisiac, but with the caveat that he who drinks it will have no sons, and only barren daughters" (Boland. 1977). GLOBE ARTICHOKE has to be included. As Andrew Boorde had it, "they doth increase nature, and dothe provoke a man to veneryous actes".

Among African examples, the Zezuru chewed the roots of MIMOSA THORN (Acacia karroo) as an aphrodisiac (Palgrave & Palgrave), and in Malawi, the leaves of CATCHTHORN (Zizyphus abyssinica) are chewed for the effect (Palgrave & Palgrave).

CORIANDER seed was one of the many plants supposed to be aphrodisiac. It is mentioned as such in the Thousand and one Nights. Albertus Magnus (De vir-tutabis herbarum) includes it among the ingredients of a love potion. SESAME seed, soaked in sparrow's eggs, and cooked in milk, also bore this reputation, and so did GINSENG. The name is Chinese, Jin-chen, meaning man-like, a reference to the root, which, like those of mandrake, was taken to be a representation of the human form, and it was this supposed resemblance that resulted in the doctrine of signatures stating that the plant healed all parts of the body (W A R Thomson. 1976). The more closely the root resembled the human body, the more valuable it was considered, and well-formed examples were literally worth their weight in gold as an aphrodisiac (Schery; Simons). It was the the Dutch who brought the root to Europe, in 1610, and its reputation as an aphrodisiac came with it. The court of Louis XIV in particular seemed to value this reputation (Hohn). AMBOYNA WOOD (Pterocarpus indicus) once had this sort of reputation, or at least was used as a man-attracting charm (C J S Thompson. 1897), as was PATCHOULI perfume, too (Schery). MANDRAKE was held to have aphrodisiac as well as narcotic virtues. Theophrastus, in the 4th century BC, recommended the root, scraped and soaked in vinegar, for the purpose (Simons). But the plant was perhaps better known as an aid to conception, and to put an end to barren-ness, even independently of sexual intercourse. And see Genesis 30. 14-16, in which it is said that Rachel bargained for the mandrake with her sister Leah (by giving up her husband to her). She sunsequently bore her first-born, Joseph, though she had previously been barren (see Hartland. 1909). Mandrake's associates in British flora, BLACK BRYONY and WHITE BRYONY, have inherited the aphrodisiac beliefs, the former, according to East Anglian farm horsemen, benefiting both man and horse (G E Evans. 1966). CARDAMOM has long been famous as an aphrodisiac, and it has been suggested that the practice of blending coffee with cardamom, still current, it seems, in Saudi Arabia, is that the cardamom would eliminate the bad effects of drinking the coffee (Swahn).

Apparently SAFFRON, like coca, enjoyed in the Aztec court the reputation of being an aphrodisiac (De Ropp). However unlikely that may sound, there are comparable beliefs in the Old World - see Leland. 1891: "Eos. the goddess of the Aurora, was called the one with the saffron garment. Therefore the public women wore a yellow robe". There is a doubtful looking observation that Rorie made, when he claimed that an infusion of Deutzia gracilis was taken as an aphrodisiac in Scotland (Rorie. 1994).

Apium graveolens > CELERY

Apium nodiflorum > FOOL'S WATERCRESS

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