The Many Roots to Bedroom Bliss - Part One

It's Valentine's Day; in my youth this was an occasion on which tokens of affection were given to one's beloved - flowers and a card, perhaps. Nowadays the store windows seem to focus more on sexy lingerie and erotic fiction. Attitudes towards love and sex change over time and this may merely be a return to a more overt and honest celebration of an important aspect of human existence before the prudery of the Victorian era stifled it.
Arum maculatum Wikipedia

In the not-so-distant past, people were obviously not in the least bit coy about giving objects from the natural world suggestive or bawdy names. Plants did not escape their attention. Take cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum) for instance. This is also called lords and ladies, because of the apparent resemblance of the flower to male and female genitals. And the aformentioned pint is not what the milkman is supposed to deliver to your door on a daily basis: it refers to none other than a penis. The fact that a cuckoo doesn't actually have a penis should not hinder our enjoyment of the symbolism of the arum's upstanding member. Oh and if you're so minded, you can dig up the root and cook it: properly prepared, it's edible.

This amusing habit of naming plants for their resemblance to intimate parts of the human anatomy is not limited to our own culture - take that marvellous Mexican fruit, the avocado. The name is derived from the Nahuatl "ahuacatl", meaning testicle, which, let's be honest, has some validity as a comparison, colour not withstanding; their tendency to hang in twos only adds to the association - avocado pairs indeed. Strangely enough, the avocado is claimed to have a positive effect on sperm production. It's all about the folate, apparently.

So it comes as no surprise that various plants have been credited with helping to ignite or rekindle sexual passion. In fact, it seems that pretty much every plant has been used as an aphrodisiac at some time or other - even mashua! By aphrodisiac, I mean something that gets you aroused and enables you to stay physically and emotionally equipped for action until such time as you are able to seek relief in the arms of another. Or words to that effect.

And the often suggestive shape of roots, recently beloved of photographers, bloggers and TV producers, has led many of them to be considered aphrodisiacs down the ages.

So let's start with that standard component of the meat and two veg dinner: the potato. Next time you tuck into a spud, consider this claim, made by herbalist William Salmon in 1710: "they nourish the whole Body, restore in Consumptions and provoke Lust".

Lust - with a capital L. I was tempted to respond thusly to Mr Salmon: "cease forthwith this idle prattle, Sir, for which there is not one shred of Evidence",  but then I came across this:

Officials in Jersey have discovered an annual baby boom linked to the Jersey Royal Potatoes season. Since 1997 the Jersey Registry Office, which records births on the island, has recorded an average of 170 more babies a year born between January and March. The increase has been directly linked to the Jersey Royal Potato season, which runs from April to June, nine months prior to the baby boom peak.

Aphrodisiac expert, James Sotte, explains the phenomenon:

"Throughout history potatoes have been considered an aphrodisiac. Amazonian women ate them to stimulate their sex drive and in late 16th century Europe sweet potato tarts were recommended to increase sexual desire. The reason is that potatoes have the same affect on the body as chocolate; they increase serotonin levels. Insulin is produced when digesting potatoes, affecting the movement of amino acid from the blood to the brain, which stimulates serotonin production. Serotonin is the chemical that makes you feel happy and is similar to the feeling of being in love."

He continues:

"Jersey Royal Potatoes are a particularly powerful aphrodisiac for women because they have a smell from their unwashed, earthy skin which is redolent of the musky aroma of the male. They also contain complex carbohydrate, which is a great source of energy for the body. Energy is fundamental to sex drive in that tiredness and lack of energy deflates the libido. "

The cynics among us might be inclined to reach a different conclusion: increasing temperatures, day lengths and light intensity might have more to do with it than potato consumption. Yes, potatoes contain complex carbohydrates and these are a good source of fuel for activity both in and outside the bedroom, but the same could be said of crumpets. And could it be that most women would rather their lovers didn't smell like a pile of rotting seaweed, the favoured fertiliser for Jersey Royals? No, this is an amusing, not to say audacious, piece of marketing, but it can hardly be taken as proof of the potato's efficacy as an aphrodisiac.

And what about another pert stalwart of the dinner plate, the carrot? Carrots, famous for enhancing the eyesight of airmen on WWII night bombing raids, turn out to do even more good things for you after the sun goes down by "inciting coitus". Do my eyes fail me - is that a typo? Do they mean exciting coitus? Nurse, fetch me my glasses and a pint of carrot juice - I had no idea that carotenoids were so damn potent. No wonder I've always enjoyed growing Chantenay Hard Core carrots.

And now the humble beetroot has burst onto the scene as the latest love aid, to be swallowed in liquid form - small shots at regular intervals. Come on, you're kidding me, not beetroot?  I'm afraid so. Not only does it improve stamina for athletes, both horizontally and vertically aligned, but the cyclic Guanosine monophosphate it contains is just what hard-pressed men need to maintain turgor so they can walk tall and stand proud. Who knew? The Romans apparently - beetroot-themed murals have been discovered in the brothels of Pompeii, for example.

Most of the supposed hard evidence for plant aphrodisiac efficacy is nothing but flaccid anecdote pumped up with wishful thinking. Still, if you're prepared to stiffen your resolve and ride out some more of the absurd claims made by the promoters of these plants, come again - I'll be posting more on this subject at a future date.


CarpeDiem said…
I believe Mashua is contrary. Can't explain in english, but possible you can read here: ""

Caroline Mikhail said…
Great post Rhizowen. The humble occa not mentioned though. Perhaps you are you doing trials on this one!
Rhizowen said…
Hi Cori,

Yes, mashua is normally considered an anaphrodisiac, but I recently came a cross someone referring to an article that claimed it stimulated the libido.

Hi Caroline,

Glad you enjoyed it.
Oca will get a mention in the next installment.