It’s well-known that plants can affect how the brain works. Take the right plant in the right dose and you can have an altered perception of reality. But if plants can affect the brain, can they also affect the part of the body that a lot of people think with as well? What plants could be aphrodisiacs?
1. A Plant that looks like a thingy
Eagle-eyed people throughout the centuries have spotted that some plants look like body parts. The Doctrine of Signatures was the belief that the plant was carrying a label saying, “This plant is good for this body part,” due to the intervention of a God that didn’t want to keep explaining what a certain plant was for.
Paris, Daunay and Janick have found aubergines (eggplants) and mandrakes were said to have aphrodisiac properties. You can download the full paper, with images from historical sources from the Annals of Botany. There’s no medical evidence to suggest they biologically work as an aphrodisiac. At best they might help with glaucoma. Culturally, you might start something with an amusing shaped carrot or a couple of melons.
2. Mondia whitei
Also known as White’s Ginger, Mondia whitei is found across sub-Saharan Africa. It is used in quite a few ways, usually to aid digestion or appetite, but the roots are used as a cure for impotence. The evidence it might be useful comes from rats. This isn’t a research project due to sympathy for lovelorn rats. Rats are often used as subjects for tests on what become human medicines as biologically we’re quite similar.
The effects seen in the rat experiments might well have human correlates. Experiments have found Mondia Whitei improves human sperm motility.
In the 1960s and 70s a staple of low-budget British comedy films was the potion that would invigorate even the most stubborn libido. What if it existed? Research says that it does. It’s nutmeg. Before you leap for joy when you read what a versatile spice nutmeg is, there is a catch. The experiments were all done on rats.
Experiments showed that nutmeg was almost as successful as Viagra in rats, with male rats mounting around three to five females in a night in the laboratory. The control sample only managed once or twice. So far these results haven’t be replicated in humans in lab conditions.
At least not any lab I’ve been invited to.
4. Tribulus terrestris
If you didn’t know that rats are used as a proxy for humans you could conclude that scientists have a worrying thing about rats. You can pick up Evaluation of the aphrodisiac activity of Tribulus terrestris Linn. in sexually sluggish male albino rats, if you’re worried about your rat (not a euphemism). It looks at treatments with extracts from Tribulus terrestris, sometimes called Land caltrops. They measured mount frequency, intromission frequency and a penile erection index to determine the success of the treatments. They found that testosterone rose with no significant effect on sperm count. It looks good for rats, but it’s not confirmed for humans.
If it’s rats that are the key interest in your love life then you may need more help than a dose of Tribulus terrestris.
People could have been using Ginseng to improve sex since 3500 BC in China. Once again it’s the doctrine of signatures to the rescue. However, there might be some science that correlates with this. The power of ginseng comes from Ginsenosides. These have been tested and found to affect the corpus cavernosum, which is sponge-like erectile tissue that both men and women have in different forms. And for a change the report I’m linking to isn’t in rats.
6. Horny Goat Weed
Horny Goat Weed is another example of Chinese medicine. We’re back to rats again. The effect of the plant was said to have been discovered by a Chinese goat herd who spotted the effect while out tending his flock. Experiments have shown it’s effective in aged rats. It’s been sold in the UK by Gillian McKeith. Given her track record you might want to hold off using it till there are more reliable studies on its effect on humans.
Saffron, made from the dried stigmas of the Saffron crocus has been tested for treating fluoxetine (Prozac) induced sexual dysfunction in both men and women. Pound-for-pound saffron is already more expensive than gold.
Ptychopetalum, a small tree or shrub found in Brazil, doesn’t sound too promising but its alternative name is Potency Wood. You’d expect it to have more aphrodisiac uses than you can shake a herbally-assisted stick at. Actually there are hints it might do a lot more. It combats stress in mice. It can make your eyes sexier. It’s used to treat fish poisoning. After all that its short duration effects in rabbits seem rather disappointing.
The Cacao bean from Theobroma cacao eventually ends up as chocolate. It’s a traditional valentine’s gift, but is it an aphrodisiac? Some people have argued that it’s the chemical cocktail in chocolate that gives it a sexual buzz but there have been few tests to see if this is true. But one has been done.
A team in North Italy systematically interviewed over a hundred women to see if there was a connection between chocolate and sexual satisfaction. The results were significant. There was a correlation. However, there was also a correlation between eating chocolate and age. Younger women ate more chocolate. When the team corrected for the effects of age, there was no significant difference.
No one has yet done the obvious follow-up test. Remove the chocolate and then find out how grumpy everyone becomes.
Maca, relative of mustard found in the high in the Peruvian Andes, is an acquired taste. For this reason it’s not taken off as a popular aphrodisiac to the extent that some other remedies have. Nonetheless it does seem to have some evidence that it works. A study of 50 men in a double-blind trial found that sexual activity was improved with maca.
Sadly I can’t access the full paper, so I can’t say if this includes reports and marks from their partners.
Finally we have a bonus. There’s one plant that shouldn’t make the list. In a slightly worrying question I wondered if there was nothing that couldn’t be an aphrodisiac. Pubmed has just one result for Coffee aphrodisiac and that’s in Romanian. I can’t tell if it is or isn’t an aphrodisiac. But anecedotal evidence suggests “Do you want… coffee?” is a powerful signal. Or it might just be turning into Anthony Head is an aphrodisiac.
Book eyes. Photo by Cjcj/Sxc.hu. Licensed from Sxc.hu
Immoral Aubergines. Image from Paris et al. “The Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis”
Mondia whitei. Photo by Mark Hyde, Bart Wursten and Petra Ballings. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc licence.
Nutmeg. Photo by W.A. Djatmiko. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.
Tribulus terrestris L.. Photo by lalithamba/Flickr. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by licence.
Ginseng. Photo: Eugene Kim/Flickr. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.
Epimedium grandiflorum var. thunbergianum. Photo by Kenpei/Wikipedia. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.
Crocus. Photo by Niall McAuley/Flickr. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.
Ptychopetalum. Photo David Kenfack. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc licence.
Theobroma cacao. Photo by Kai Yan, Joseph Wong/Flickr. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.
Maca root. Photo by Gust4vo/Wikipedia. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.
We’re celebrating Fascination of Plants Day today on AoB Blog. As the day progresses these links will become live:
- 09:00: Welcome to Fascination of Plants Day
What is Fascination of Plants Day? And more importantly, what happens when you pull apart a cell with lasers?
- 13:00: What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz
A review of the book that reveals how a plant senses its environment. It reveals how a plant can ‘see’ by sensing light, or how it can ‘talk’ to other plants. But is it fascinating?
- 17:00: Will Martian cuisine have a terrifying secret?
The colonists for Mars One will venture into a hostile environment farther from their families than any human has gone before. It’s a difficult life, but one that might be harder still when they see what’s for lunch.
- 21:00: 10 Plants used to spice up sex
After a busy day I’m off to make some… coffee.