The Pomegranate Badge of Katherine of Aragon
The Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, lends her name to an extensive list of foods and other weird and wonderful items that are supposed to increase the libido and enhance the chances of seduction and therefore fecundity. The issue of fertility has always been an overriding concern for humankind, and any substance that either enhances sexual prowess or increases the chance of conception has always been highly sought after.
Ancient man had a limited seasonal diet, and a bad hunt or the failure of a crop could literally be a life-or-death matter. Getting enough food to eat was an overriding concern. Chances of fertility are restricted if nourishment is poor, and so certain foods were given magical powers in the hopes that they might increase both male and female potency despite the limited diet. There is a marked differentiation between the foods that increase fertility versus the ones that enhance sex drive, and given that early man did not know about the chemical constituents of food, many aphrodisiacs were chosen as such primarily because of their symbolic significance. The Doctrine of Signatures—the notion that a plant or a feature of an animal that is similar in appearance or quality to a body part could be beneficial to the organ it resembles—had an important part to play in deciding which foods had aphrodisiac qualities. Rhinoceros horn, for example, still carries a frisson as a stimulant to sexual appetites, as does Spanish Fly. Both these ingredients, sort of mystical precursors to Viagra, were ingested by men in eager anticipation of increased virility.
Pliny the Elder and Dioscordes documented many of these aphrodisiacs as far back as the first century, and it is likely that they would have been regarded as such for some time prior to this.
The behavior and lifestyle of certain animals made them fertility symbols, too. For example, the sparrow, a prolific breeder, was sacred to Aphrodite and its blood was a popular ingredient in love potions. Steak was thought to contain all the virility of the animal it came from, the bloodier the better. Ground rhinoceros horn is symbolic of the libido but the power of the rhino is also perceived as the ultimate in male sexual energy.
This ancient, visceral belief in the power of appearances has meant that many of the original foods that were considered to have aphrodisiac powers by ancient man still carry the same meanings today, despite their actual chemical constituents. It is true to say that certain foods actually do have aphrodisiac powers purely because of these old beliefs, and generally owe more to folklore and symbolism than to fact; however, a symbol is a potent force and often the association alone is enough to bring about the desired effect. For example, a dinner date where oysters and strawberries are on the menu will leave no doubt about the intended conclusion to the evening.
To our ancestors, any kind of food that resembled the penis, the vagina, or constituent parts thereof, carried powerful suggestive meanings, although latterly our ability to analyze certain minerals and trace elements has proven that some supposedly aphrodisiac foods may actually deserve their reputation. For example, the fifty oysters that Casanova reputedly managed to swallow every day for breakfast not only resemble the female sexual parts in scent, texture, and form, but it has also been discovered that their high zinc content may indeed help enhance the libido; a large proportion of zinc is spent when men ejaculate.
For ancient man it was not always necessary for the foods to be eaten for them to have the desired effect. Some of the weird and wonderful things considered to have aphrodisiac qualities were toxic, but could work their magic simply by close proximity. The berries of mistletoe, for example, were a reminder of the semen of the Gods and the little crosses on the undersides were kisses, but it would be unwise to eat them.
Seeds, nuts, bulbs, and eggs, because they are full of potential new life, were considered as aids to fertility; snails, too, were considered to enhance sexual appetites because of the viscous fluid of the trails they leave behind, although slugs are not considered to have any aphrodisiac qualities whatsoever.
Here is a brief list of some of the foods that have been considered, at some time or other, to have aphrodisiac qualities.
NUTS, SEEDS, AND BULBS
Falls into the category of seeds. Also aids digestion and sweetens the breath which could explain why the Romans considered it a useful ingredient for seduction.
Because of its shape, the star anise was sacred to the Goddess and therefore a potent fertility symbol.
In general, all seed-bearing fruits are aphrodisiacs. Their numerous seeds, their texture, scent, and color make them a naturally sexy foodstuff.
Infamous as the fruit that Eve gave to Adam, a symbol of sexual awakening.
Sensuously red and juicy, and containing a potent symbol of new life inside the stone. “Popping the cherry” is a slang term for losing one’s virginity.
Raspberries and strawberries
Libido enhancing because of their color, their many tiny seeds, and their resemblance to nipples.
The tomato is also called the “Love Apple” and is regarded as an aphrodisiac, because of the prolific number of seeds contained within it. However, the name itself is the result of an accidental misinterpretation. Because they were originally a yellow color they were called “Pomo D’or” in Italy, the Apple of Gold. It was also called the “Pomo d’Moro”—the apple of the Moors, referring to its Spanish origins. From here, it was just a slip of the tongue to the French, “Pomme d’Amour,” or Love Apple.
Many of these are self-explanatory, all considered powerful simply because of their shape. Asparagus, carrots, and cucumber are just a few of the “phallic vegetables.”
The Mexicans called the avocado tree the “testicle tree,” since the fruit dangles down in pairs. The sensual texture of avocado adds to its reputation.
The banana flower resembles the phallus. Islamic tales say that Adam and Eve covered their sexual parts with banana leaves rather than the more common fig leaves.
Because they resemble little phalluses, cloves were considered to enhance male potency. The clove tree was planted to signify the birth of a baby boy in certain parts of Indonesia, the health of the tree reflecting the health of the child as it grew up.
As well as being the same shape as the vesica piscis, the sacred doorway through which matter emerges into spirit, the almond is a nut and therefore carries the potential for new life.
The plethora of tiny seeds inside the fig is symbolic of fertility, and the moist plumpness of the fruit has a very sensual, feminine element to it.
The oyster’s resemblance in form, scent, and texture to the female genitalia is renowned. Oysters have had a long history as an aphrodisiac and their reputation is well known. The pearl that is sometimes found inside the oyster was said to increase the powers of arousal, because it resembles the clitoris.
Other shellfish, such as mussels, fall into this same category.
SPICES AND HERBS
Anything sharp tasting or pungent is believed to stimulate the senses, so spices are often used as libidoenhancing ingredients.
This is the ground root of a fennellike plant. It has a powerful odor, and despite its folk name, Devil’s Dung, it is used as a sexual stimulant in Ayurvedic medicine.
The glorious scent of cinnamon was reputedly used as oil by the Queen of Sheba to help her capture the attention of King Solomon.
Also comes under the category of seeds. Reputed to stimulate appetites of all kinds.
The Egyptians who used this as a sexual stimulant cannot have known that it contains plant estrogens that can help balance female hormones. These estrogens also enhance the breasts.
Ginger and ginseng
Considered to have aphrodisiac powers because of their sharp sensual taste, and because their roots resemble the human form.
A Greek legend says that Menthe, a beautiful nymph, was transformed into the herb because Persephone was jealous of the beautiful scent that captivated her husband, Pluto.
The sweetness of honey made it a rarity for ancient man. It is likely to have given humankind its first instance of alcohol in the form of mead, and its intoxicating effect has distinct aphrodisiac qualities. Bees are themselves symbols of fertility, and honey gives its name to the honeymoon period spent by newlyweds immediately after their marriage.
The melting point of chocolate is the same as that of blood temperature, and so its mouthfeel alone is a sensual experience. Added to this, chocolate contains mood-lifting substances, including phenylethylamine which, when released into the bloodstream, induce feelings of euphoria. Still arguably the most popular food given as a gesture of love. When the sixteenth-century Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés heard about its reputation as an aphrodisiac, he planted two thousand trees.
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