Tag Archive | aphrodisiacs

Cinnamon’s Sexy History

I’ve really gotten into baking this winter. During the “snowstorm that wasn’t” over superbowl weekend I got to the grocery store a little late to prepare for being locked indoors due to the impending snowstorm of doom and found that all the sliced bread was gone. So I bought yeast and flour and I spent the uneventful snowpocalypse proofing dough and making various rolls and breads. It was awesome.

One of the better fruits of my baking labor (if I say so myself) was a cinnamon bread. Nothing too fancy: I simply rolled out the dough before baking and applied a generous heap of cinnamon and sugar before rolling it up in the loaf pan. Of course, it was the night of the superbowl, so there was WAY too much food and my bread didn’t get finished. Then it got forgotten. Then it got old. I was cleaning the kitchen today and saw it, still sitting there two weeks later, when I noticed there wasn’t any indication that it was that old.  No mold. That’s a little crazy when you figure the sandwich bread I bought AFTER that has already gone moldy and been thrown away… and  I know I didn’t add any preservatives to my dough. Except for the cinnamon of course.  Which got me thinking about cinnamon…

Cassia

Cassia

The word “Cinnamon” has been applied to a variety of different (but related) substances since it was first “discovered” in 2000 B.C.E. In the modern market, there are two different kinds of cinnamon: what is considered “true cinnamon” (Cinnamomum verum) and Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia). True cinnamon is endemic to Sri Lanka and is sometimes referred to as Ceylon cinnamon. It is more sweet in flavor and is the more expensive of the two spices. Cassia is sometimes referred to as Chinese cinnamon because it was first imported from China although it is now widely cultivated throughout Asia. It is usually what is found in grocery stores when you purchase cinnamon and almost certainly what you are buying if the country of origin is Thailand, Vietnam, or China.  Continue reading

Just mad about Saffron

Saffron has been known for centuries. As a dye it yields a deeply hued yellow color, prized by the fashionable Minoan women of Ancient Crete (2700 – 1450 BCE) (Willetts 1976) and later Egypt (Willard 2001). A fresco depicting saffron was found at the site of Akrotiri, a Greek city destroyed (and preserved) by volcanic ash in 1627 BCE. In the work, two finely dressed women are in a field of flowers, gathering the valuable parts that constitute saffron.

The Saffron Gatherers

Fresco of saffron gatherers from the bronze age excavations in Akrotiri on the greek island of Santorini, Greece.

To some, the robes and jewelry the women are wearing show that this painting was representative of a harvest festival. Others hypothesize that the saffron was an offering to the goddess Eileithyia, whom Homer referred to as “Mogostokos” – the goddess of the birth pains. Regardless, by the time of ancient Greece, saffron was well known and, judging by the fields depicted in the fresco, cultivated. But saffron isn’t celebrated for its longevity, nor for its ties to pregnancy (even though I think that’s worth exploring and will do so later on in this post). No, to most, saffron is known as a potent aphrodisiac. Continue reading

Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot: seeds for contraception

Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

What we now call Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) has been recorded as an oral contraceptive and early abortifacient for quite some time… a natural morning after pill, if you will. Yes, that common roadside weed, which can now be found on every continent, has been utilized for at least two thousand years as an effective emmenagogue and anti-fertility agent.

That first written mention comes from De Mulierum Affectibus, a gynecological text written in the tradition of Hippocrates (but likely not actually authored by him). It states that the wild carrot is an effective abortifacient (Riddle 1997).

Dioscorides, writing about it next, wasn’t as direct. After describing its appearance and the small purple flower that forms in the center he noted that:

 The seed induces the menstrual flow, taken as a drink (or inserted as a pessary), and is good in liquid medicines for frequent painful urination, dropsy, and pleurisy, as well as for the bites and strikes of venomous creatures. The root (also being urinary) is applied to stir up sexual intercourse (Dioscorides, De Materia Medica)

And Pliny the Elder agreed, stating in his work Natural History that:

the seed of this plant, pounded and taken in wine reduces swelling of the abdomen… to such a degree as to restore the uterus to its natural condition (Pliny the Elder. Natural History)

as well as affirming that it was utilized as an aphrodisiac as well.

In his 1653 work Culpeper’s Complete Herbal,  Nicholas Culpeper described the wild carrot as

belong[ing] to Mercury, and therefore break wind, and remove stitches in the sides, provoke urine and women’s courses…I suppose the seeds of them perform this better than the roots (Culpeper 1653)

And a recipe written shortly after by Joseph Pitton De Tournefort to “provoke menstruation” required:

two drams of the seed infused in white wine and drunk [to cure] hysterical fits or fits of the mother

Later Mrs. Grieve notes their use in her Modern Herbal:

The seeds are carminative, stimulant and very useful in flatulence, windy colic, hiccough, dysentery, chronic coughs, etc. The dose of the seeds, bruised, is from one-third to one teaspoonful, repeated as necessary. They were at one time considered a valuable remedy for calculus complaints. They are excellent in obstructions of the viscera, in jaundice (for which they were formerly considered a specific), and in the beginnings of dropsies, and are also of service as an emmenagogue (Mrs. Grieve 1931)

It turns out they were all right Continue reading

Saw Palmetto for Men’s Health

Saw Palmetto photographed by Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society

Saw Palmetto photographed by Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society

I don’t have a clue about male prostate health. I’m still trying to master all the parts of my own reproductive system, which is confusing enough. But one thing I’ve noticed about the Sarah Sexy Plants blog is the lack of male-specific medicinal plant interactions. Well no more! Tonight we talk about men’s health (and cancel out all of those abortion-inducing and uterus tonic plants…)

The Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a palm tree native to the southeastern United States (specifically along the Gulf Coast). The fruits of the tree contain the medicinal properties and were used by Native Americans to treat prostate problems, urinary issues, and as a specific male aphrodisiac. In the April 1879 issue of American Journal of Pharmacy, the use of Saw Palmetto was first described by Dr. J. B. Read. He suggested its use for coughs and to improve digestion but noted:

it increases flesh and strength. Its sedative and diuretic properties are remarkable

By 1926, Saw Palmetto was listed in the United States Dispensatory as a treatment for prostate issues, increasing sperm counts, and increasing libido.

Currently, Saw Palmetto is one of the most widely used herbal preparations for treatment of BHP (benign prostatic hyperplasia). There is conflicting evidence for efficacy of the herb: some studies have shown a statistically significant reduction in symptoms (with less side effects than the prescribed pharmaceutical drugs), others show the same outcome as the placebo control.

Still, Saw Palmetto is one of the top selling herbal supplements in the ever increasing retail demographic of alternative medicine, so it seems people are willing to forgo the claims of insufficient evidence for a relatively benign treatment option.

Lovage or Love’s Ache

Levisticum officinale photographed by H. Zell

Levisticum officinale photographed by H. Zell

The lovage plant (Levisticum officinale) has been cultivated for medicinal and culinary use for many years – so long, in fact, that the exact native region of the plant is unknown because humans were so swift to spread it across the globe. With a taste reminiscent of celery, the leaves, roots, and seeds have been used as a folk medicine for ailments from kidney stones to migraines. Contemporary research shows the root has high diuretic properties and its tea is effective for expelling gas in both children and adults.

But the entomological breakdown of the name shows that the plant was known for its abilities in love. From Wikipedia:

The name ‘lovage’ is from “love-ache”, ache being a medieval name for parsley; this is a folk-etymological corruption of the older French name levesche, from late Latin levisticum, in turn thought to be a corruption of the earlier Latin ligusticum, “of Liguria” (northwest Italy), where the herb was grown extensively. [In]  Italian [it is] levistico or sedano di monte, French livèche, Romanian leuştean, Hungarian lestyán, Russian любисток lyubeestok, etc. In Bulgaria, it is known as девесил deveseel. The Czech name is libeček, and the Polish name is lubczyk, both meaning ‘love herb’. The name in Swedish is libbsticka. The official German name is Liebstöckel, literally ‘love stick’.

Indeed, lovage has been noted as an aphrodisiac since ancient times – the Emperor Charlemange even planted the love herb throughout his garden.  Apparently, a potion brewed from the roots of the plant and given to a woman would “melt” her frigid disposition and make her agreeable to… well, let’s call it wooing. Soaking in a warm bath sprinkled with lovage leaves would leave you irresistible to others.
Continue reading