Picture: fotostorm/iStock
Picture: fotostorm/iStock

There is no science that backs up any food, drink or medication as an aphrodisiac. By aphrodisiac we mean something that gets you in the mood for love, not something that sends blood rushing to certain areas. That's mechanics not love.

An aphrodisiac is the pinnacle of the placebo, and has no scientifically measurable effect on sex drive or ability. Unperturbed, humans throughout history have tried to spice things up with a little culinary pizzazz.

Like most things that border on the occult (think witchcraft, or homeopathy) many aphrodisiacs are taken from an ancient text, in this case the works of the Ancient Roman physician 'Galen'. It is important to remember that before the Enlightenment, a doctor was more akin to a butcher than the scientists we know today, so his advice is by no means medical in any sense we would understand.

Galen suggested aphrodisiacs were foods that made you 'moist' but also 'windy'. Flatulence isn't always as good as a Barry White album, but according to Galen 'wind' would inflate the penis.

Writing for the journal Clinical Automatic Research doctor Paula Sandroni looked at many of the foods that humans have tried to use as love potions.

Here are some of the other bizarre foods Sandroni identified:

1. Asparagus, carrots, anise, and mustard

The idea of 'spicing things up in the bedroom' comes from the belief that spices were an aphrodisiac. This may have been because spices in the western world were generally imported, making them exotic. Who doesn't like to be treated? Foods that contained spices such as asparagus, mustard, carrots and anise came to be used as aphrodisiacs. Potatoes, both sweet and white, were also consumed as aphrodisiacs because of their origin in the new world.

2. Mandrake root and oysters

The mandrake root and oysters have both been considered luxury items in the past, and the reason is based on aesthetics. The shape of the mandrake root was believed to resemble the legs of a woman, and oysters supposedly resembled a woman's genitalia.

3. Sparrow brains and rabbits

Aphrodite was supposed to have held sparrows as sacred and, as she was the goddess of love, the Ancient Greeks thought eating sparrow would increase amour. It's similar to the persistence of rabbits as a symbol of fertility in modern culture. Though today rabbit is a weird roast dinner substitute, and not generally a pre-coitus meal.

4. Alcohol

While alcohol is proven to lower inhibitions, it doesn't guarantee good things for your romantic life. Even if you're not a drunk who shouts or cries, too much wine can cause, ahem, inconveniences when it comes to consummation.

5. Spanish fly

Like alcohol, consuming a Spanish fly does produce a chemical effect but not necessarily the one you want. They contain an irritant, cantharidin, which inflames your genital membranes. It was this reaction which made people in the past think it was an aphrodisiac. The other side effects include death due to kidney failure and gastrointestinal hemorrhaging. Probably don't try this one at home.

6. Tree bark

Yohimbe extracts can now be bought in Europe as dietary supplements. The belief that this is an aphrodisiac began as a West African tradition which asserted that the bark of the Yohimbe tree could cure low libido in women and act as a natural Viagra for men. There is little science to back this up. There is a substance called Yohimbine hydrochloride which is a prescription treatment for male impotence which has existed since the 1930s, but the tree bark equivalent has no proven effects on love or libido.

The lesson of this story is that none of these potions work unless you want them to work. We just have to convince ourselves that this platter of snacks which would all be at home in a compost bin, are making the sexy time that bit more likely. Go forth and multiply.

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