Though aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years in India, China, Egypt, and other parts of the world, science has been slow to take a look at why and how these foods and plants affect sexual performance.
That’s why two Canadian researchers decided to turn to science to find out which aphrodisiacs actually have an effect, whether it’s physical or psychological. They reviewed hundreds of foods, plants, and spices, ranging from nutmeg to toad skin and horny goat weed. But only a few were actually found to affect the participants’ sex lives, whether it was by increasing desire or arousal, improving erectile function, or just making sex more pleasurable. Here's the top four.
Adding ginseng to your diet could help you have a better erection. Ginseng helped guys with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction, which made for more satisfying sex, the researchers learned. This plant has definite potential to help sexual performance in guys, they concluded. The disadvantage is the bitter, earthy flavour – we’re talking medicine here, not flavoursome spice. The plant you need for the aphrodisiac effect is Panax ginseng by the way, not ashwagandha, which is sometimes called Indian ginseng.
Another tastier and more colourful spice that may have erection-boosting potential is Saffron. Evidence isn’t quite as strong as with ginseng, the study found. But it does add a delicious aroma to a biryani. Just one little disadvantage of course… it’s the most expensive spice in the world.
Ah, now we’re getting more yummy and affordable. When it comes to setting the mood for romance, indulging in chocolate could rev up desire. The aphrodisiac effects might be due to ingredients that increase levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain like serotonin and endorphin, say the study’s researchers.
OK, now we get to a bit of controversy. You might not expect to find alcohol on a scientific list of aphrodisiacs, but it’s an obvious and popular one, if you think about it – although you might take a dim view of booze on religious or health grounds. Alcohol’s psychological effects include lowering inhibitions, and that makes it easier to go with the flow and enjoy sex without worrying too much.
However, it’s important to go easy on your beverage of choice. As Shakespeare pointed out, ‘It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance,’ and there are several scientific studies to back him up. Too much booze can make for slobbery kisses, feeble fumbling and a drooping erection. What’s more, you can end up doing something you seriously regret later. (Check out our Sex and alcohol: top five facts.)
The effects of chocolate and alcohol are psychological, not physical. But that definitely doesn’t mean they can’t help spark passion.
So should you rush out and stock up on ginseng tablets, saffron, chocolate and whiskey for a sizzling sex life? Well, bear in mind that there’s not actually enough scientific evidence to guarantee that these herbs and spices will produce the desired romantic effects, the researchers are careful to say. Nevertheless, they might just help put you in the mood for love. But go easy on the booze, watch your waistline with the chocolate, and don’t blow your paycheck on saffron!
Source: Aphrodisiacs from plant and animal sources – A review of current scientific literature, John P. Melnyk, Massimo F. Marcone
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