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Aphrodisiacs: Surprising Foods of Love From Ancient Times

Nell is a great foodie and beverage girl who is fascinated by the foods of the past.

Love in ancient Greece

Love in ancient Greece

Food, Glorious Food!

Aphrodisiac foods have been around since time immemorial, but exactly which foods are considered to be aphrodisiacs has evolved over time. Today, we think of oysters and Champagne to get us in the mood, but if we go back to ancient times, the romantic dinner table looked very different.

But back in the deep, dark annals of history, the foods of love were slightly different. Let's just say that if we were given these tokens of love today, we would probably look at the person in astonishment. Food and romance go together. Or do they?

For example, if an ancient Greek knocked on your door with the udder of a hyena tied around his left arm, you would probably be disgusted. But back then, the guy would be confident that no girl would be able to resist him!

If this failed to inspire his intended's ardor, he could try a more powerful love magic with a calf's brain or hair from a wolf's tail. Then he might add snake bones or the feathers from a screech owl. I am sure the women thought he was wonderful!

Women making potions in ancient Rome

Women making potions in ancient Rome

Love Potions

Throughout the ages, both sexes have sought love by using potions. Women of ancient Rome brewed up concoctions that were so strong they were said to be dangerous. At a certain point, they were even made illegal.

The poet Lucretius, as well as others, were said to be driven mad by one of these potions. And it wasn't mad with love.

Even emperors fell foul of these dastardly women. Or maybe they really thought it would work. Emperor Caligula was thrown into a fit by a potion made by his wife in an effort to retain his affection. Seems she went too far!

There is no record of the actual recipe for the potion. However, it seems clear that it was actually poisonous, so it's probably a good thing the recipe wasn't documented.

The harem

The harem


Back in 400 BC, in the harems of Constantinople and Egypt, cakes were made from honey and asses' milk. There are some contemporary Pagan recipes that are similar.

In fact, this is where the word "honeymoon" came from. The cakes were eaten after a wedding, or as they called it, jumping the broom.

How many people today go on their honeymoon knowing that they should have eaten honeycakes? Not many!

Back then, it was Hippocrates who recommended the cakes as a healthy and effective aphrodisiac. Hippocrates is considered to be the father of medicine, so he may well have been onto something there.

Of course, many of the old love potions and food were made from herbs and flowers and gathered on Midsummer's Eve.

Mandrake root

Mandrake root


The plants known as mandrake and womandrake were said in the Bible to have the qualities of both a fertility drug and an aphrodisiac.

In the book of Genesis, Rachel was barren (had no children), and she bargained with Leah for some of her mandrake, which she believed would help her get pregnant.

The mandrake is a Southern European plant that was said to have magical properties due to its shape. It has greenish-yellow flowers and a branched root. As it resembles the shape of the human body, people believed that it was a healthy remedy for infertility.

In fact, the root of the mandrake plant contains the poisonous alkaloid hyoscyamine, which increases heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It's actually used in medicine these days to help patients with peptic ulcers, colic, and some heart problems. Too much causes hallucinations and medical problems.

Grapes as an aphrodisiac

Grapes as an aphrodisiac

The Amorous Tomato and Phallic Bread

The ancient Greeks used to bake their bread in phallic form. They believed that it would give them prowess in love. Grapes were believed to hold a special power.

Eggs were also eaten for this reason purely because of the connection between procreation and new life.

Even the good old potato had its day. When it was first brought over to Spain in 1534, it is said that the cost was £250 a pound. It was coveted purely as a love food and not for gastronomy.

The tomato has had a strange history. For centuries it was called pomme d'ore or golden apple. But this was soon changed to pomme d'amour, the apple of love.

In England, tomatoes were frowned upon purely because of their connection to the more amorous side of passion. According to the Puritans, tomatoes were said to be poisonous and were banned for over 200 years!

Luckily in 1830, sense returned, and the good old tomato was put back where it belonged—on the table of rich people to be eaten as plain old wholesome food.

Many Foods to Get You in the Mood

Thank goodness, these days, it just takes a bottle of wine, a meal in a restaurant, and maybe a couple of oysters. Back in the good old days, we had to be careful what our partners offered us to get us in the mood for love.

Sometimes I wonder why we need food to make us feel amorous. I think it's purely psychological—food makes us feel closer to the person we are with. Perhaps it's the routine of eating, chatting, and laughing together that makes us relax.

If we want an aphrodisiac, it is said that chocolate is probably one of the best. That will do for me! And, of course, a large bottle of wine will go down nicely, too.

© 2013 Nell Rose