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Our 53rd Year

Aphrodisiac Plants?

Can a plant create feelings of arousal, contentment, receptivity? Did Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, design vegetation with sexually appealing traits not only to enhance our health and vigor, but also to ensure our continual interest in procreation of the species?

According to award-winning garden writer, Helen Yoest, the answer is a blushing “yes.” Her new book, Plants with Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers and Veggies in Your Garden, looks at history, folklore and ethnobotany to understand the “hot” reputations of 50 plants. She discovered that some plants derive their “zsa-zsa-zsu” from their suggestive shape. Others affect brain chemistry, increasing flood flow to certain regions. Others mimic human hormones or are affecting simply because of their richness in certain supernutrients. It’s a fun, fact-filled volume, including photos, growing tips, recipes – the first book about the sex appeal of garden plants!

Here are some of the author’s findings, as told to Penelope Green of the New York Times:

Q: What led you to write about this topic?
I didn’t set out to write a horticultural Kama Sutra. It was sort of an accident. I was researching an article on avocados and learned that the fruit was considered an aphrodisiac. I wondered why. Was it the nutrients, the shape? Turns out their reputation dates back to the Aztecs who observed how avocados grew in pairs and named the plant “the testicle tree.” I was fascinated to learn that during the harvest, the ancient Aztecs would lock up their virgin daughters. That’s how it all began.

Q: I was amused that you quoted Virgil on arugula (“the rocket excites the sexual desire of drowsy people”) since I eat the stuff every day. And I was most surprised to learn of boring old celery’s properties as an erection-enhancer and pheromone-jogger. What were you most surprised by?
I would have to say something like the studies on lavender or almonds. Honestly, if I smell almonds it’s like, “Wow, what’s happening?” What makes something become an aphrodisiac? The main thing is if its shape is suggestive – if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck. We didn’t invent sophomoric jokes about bananas and figs. We’re just carrying the torch.

The other thing that surprised me was the plants that mimic human hormones. Of course, we don’t know how much you have to eat of say, coriander, to get the “boing” factor. The F.D.A. hasn’t weighed in.

Q: Can we talk about the lavender studies? You cite a study in which men were exposed to various food aromas and then their level of sexual arousal was recorded by measuring the blood flow to their genitals. The scent of lavender increased blood flow by 40 percent, as compared to cheese pizza, which increased it by only 5 percent. Um, pizza? Do you recall what other aromas were tested?
The other biggie was pumpkin pie. And licorice, specifically Good & Plenty. It just drove men wild.

Q: Which plant is the best aphrodisiac for women?
Almonds. It’s not just the scent. Almonds contain amino acids, which are known to increase arousal.

Q: And for men?
After licorice, garlic is another really interesting one. It has a long reputation for increasing sexual drive. In India, ancient laws forbade Brahmins from eating garlic. Today, Tibetan monks are forbidden to eat it because of its arousal properties. Which I think is just really unfair. They can’t have sex or garlic.

Q: Which plant should require a prescription?
After licorice, I’d say nutmeg, which in large quantities is hallucinogenic.

Q: You say your ideal pre-sex meal is Champagne, almond soup, quinoa salad and chocolate. What about a meal made with only the plants you’re able to grow: what might that consist of?
I live in Raleigh, N.C., which is Zone 7. Certainly asparagus. That’s another one with a suggestive visual. As are carrots. Basil is aromatherapy. In ancient times, women would rub dried basil on their bodies to make themselves more sexually attractive.

I can grow figs. I might make a celery soup, or something with arugula. Definitely fennel, which comes at you from every direction: it has pheromones, phytoestrogens and an estrogen-like substance called estragole. It’s been tested on rats for its libido-enhancing properties.

Cucumbers: Those are a good, all-around healthy food. You know how the Viagra ads say you should be in good health for sex? Cucumbers are rich in potassium, which helps with hypertension, which helps with erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown the scent of cucumbers really increases arousal in women. Whereas men were just fine with Good & Plenty.

Source: New York Times.