TAWNYA MANION was born and raised on a farm outside Kansas City, Kansas & though she loved the farm, her family, & her hometown she was itching to get out of Kansas. At 18, she left town to travel. She visited Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam, Holland, Paris, Stuttgart, Rome, & San Francisco. When she got to New Orleans, she loved it so much she got herself a job & stayed for three years. Currently, she is a full-time student at NYU majoring in Nutrition & Food Studies.
Pleasing Aphrodite: A column about food as aphrodisiac throughout history.
Classically, exotic and rare aphrodisiacs were expected to possess qualities that could stimulate the libido or entice a lover. One only has to look at the popularity of the rhinoceros horn or Spanish Fly in historical aphrodisiac medicinal blends to recognize the emphasis the herbalists, witches, and patrons put on the edibles local and scarcity. The 16th and 17th centuries were times of great exploration, and the discovery of new lands meant that a flood of unfamiliar fruits, vegetables, and spices with healing properties became available for Europeans to experiment with in their kitchens and pharmacopoeias. During this time, the tomato, potato, quince, and artichoke were at the height of their aphrodisiac lore. However, the love potion myth still occurs today in our rapid transportation society. Even with the invention of clinical drugs that can recreate sexual functions in men, people still turn to foods and potions that possess the reputation of assisting love between two people.
The belief that the rhinoceros horn was not simply an aphrodisiac, but a cure-all for the body, derived in China and Korea. The most obvious interpretation of this particular aphrodisiac materialized due to the aesthetic of the horn. But did the ancients observe results from the horn due to some of its active ingredients? An animal’s horn is made up of fibrous tissue similar to hair and contains large amounts of keratin. Also, it consists of a large quantity of calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that if not consumed in adequate amounts produce muscle weakness and general lassitude. If the muscles can not contract due to feebleness and mental and physical weariness, a climax is impossible to reach. Therefore, we can conclude that the reputation of a rhinoceros horn though a phallic connotation actually contains minerals that help a man or woman lacking the proper diet to consume the vitamins they need to maintain a healthy sex life.
The Spanish Fly was usually consumed as the dried beetle concentrated in a tea or pill. This particular species of beetle, when dried and ground, produces one percent of the active principle, cantharidins. According to the British Formulary, the toxin is poisonous. The chemical is injurious at 3 mg, and fatal at 32 mg. Victims begin to experience burning in the month, and eventually die due to kidney failure and shock. But how did Spanish Fly gain a reputation as a sexual stimulate? The symptoms of a toxic overdose on cantharidins are burning, sweating, swelling, fainting, and shock, and according to our English poetic comparisons, passion produces similar side effects. And in a less technological age it was probable that the symptoms of cantharidins’ toxin, and physiological effects it has on the body are behind the Spanish Fly’s aphrodisiac notion. However, according to Aphrodisiacs: The Science and the Myths, Spanish Fly produced an irritation in the genital area. The book states, “The urinogenital tract produced by cantharides could lead to an urge for relief that might be achieved through sexual intercourse. Therefore, the toxin produces not only feelings of desire, but a sense of wanting to release that longing. Cantharidins reputation in creating lust in our bodies seems logical due to its side effects, but in actuality, it is a dangerous toxin, which abused can cause serious side effects.” Plus, in modern medicine, we know that such physical side effects equal disease, not love.
Today’s understanding of exotic consist of subjective experiences. A banana to a man from Ecuador does not equate exotic (though no one can repudiate its phallic shape). However, there is no denying the importance of a balanced diet high in minerals and vitamins A and C in producing a vigorous sex drive and healthy body. So, even though a food possesses qualities that can enhance your love life, if you do not possess a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet you will not reap in the effects of eating such an aphrodisiac.