Botanical Blog

The Science of Aphrodisiacs

Love Potion #9

When you think about aphrodisiacs you might think of kooky witches stirring a cauldron and selling a bottled love potion to the villagers who are hoping to have someone fall in love with them. Even though the idea of aphrodisiacs may seem the stuff of fairy tales, there is actually science behind it–and I believe they do work! Since the middle ages, aphrodisiacs have been known and used in concoctions to boost libido and seduce others. This article by Vogue discusses a brief history of aphrodisiacs.

There is not a lot of clinical research on aphrodisiacs and no direct signaling mechanism at a cellular level that has shown and proven that they work. However, there is evidence of indirect mechanisms throughout the body as a result of taking aphrodisiacs. You see, with herbs it’s hard to track the mechanism of what is happening in the body. Lucky for us, you don’t have to actually point to a mechanism to feel a certain way.


You Can’t Be On All the Time

Let’s start by talking about arousal and physical response. Most of us aren’t constantly in the mood, and sometimes it takes longer to feel aroused, which is dependent on many factors. Daily life may be making you tired or stressed, and this gets in the way of arousal. One in ten people actually have Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) which is an underactive libido and is caused by fatigue, stress, depression, or hormone changes over time. In fact, 40% of women experience this at some point in life (source: medicalnewstoday.com). Men who are experiencing sexual dysfunction often turn to Viagra®, and there is a medicine for women who need more testosterone called Flibanserin by Addyi. All those conditions aside, some people may just feel that things are getting a tad stale with their partner and they wish to fan some oxygen onto the flame.

Prescription medications can come with a long list of side effects, and I say if you can treat something with plants and herbs – try that first! Botanical aphrodisiacs offer a natural alternative.

Even if sex is not a big factor in your life, anytime it is shared with someone it helps to create a shared intimacy that will deepen your bond. Know that low or slow arousal is common and there is something you can do about it in a natural way.

The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Aphrodisiacs

In addition to physical response, your mind is also positively affected by aphrodisiacs. Your mind has a powerful effect on how you feel. Here are the four ways in which aphrodisiacs can benefit you:

  1. Happiness

    Swiss Chocolate

As I discussed in my last post, For the Love of Botanical Chocolate, chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is very

 popular around Valentine’s Day and is known as an aphrodisiac as it triggers the release of serotonin and contains trace amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is already found in small amounts in our body. Is a neurotransmitter in our nervous system, and is one of the chemical components that plays a key role in our mood. Not only is PEA good for our mood, but it is also a stimulant that is associated with heightened states of euphoria and arousal due to its stimulation of endorphin release, as discussed by Chris Kilham, a Professor of Ethnobotany at the Univerersity of Massachusetts at Amherst. These are major players that ifluence our mood and are responsible for happiness.

  1. Circulation

A big part of arousal is getting good blood flow to the genitals. A food that stands out for this is chili peppers. They are vasodilators, which means they increase blood flow. In fact, any kind of chili pepper has the capsicum molecule which causes dilation of the blood vessels and allows for greater blood flow to the genital area. 

  1. Stimulation

There are several herbs that cause stimulation in us and stimulation is tied to arousal. Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a climbing shrub native to the Amazon basin whose seeds are often used in energy drinks. But energy drinks can be very unhealthy. Stick with the pure forms, straight from the ground! Guarana contains twice the amount of caffeine than coffee so it is guaranteed to give you an energy boost. This is a great herb for people who feel too tired to have sex. The component in the seeds from the fruit on this shrub is called guaranine, which is the stimulant. It warms the body. Because of the combination of stimulation and warming, Brazilians are known to use it as an aphrodisiac. Buy guarana as a powder for consumption and take it during the day, or right after work, when you are looking for a pick-me-up for a sensual evening. It’s generally too stimulating to take close to bedtime.

Damiana Plant
Damiana Plant

The next stimulating herb is damiana–the queen of all aphrodisiacs in my mind! I studied damiana (Turnera diffusa) while in Mexico and absolutely love the floral flavor. I add it to my Frolic aphrodisiac bitters and Sexual Vitality Tea. Damiana has hormone balancing properties and is restorative when mixed with licorice root and rose. It is a native shrub in Mexico and both the leaves and flowers have been used for thousands of years by the Mayan people. Fun fact: this plant is named after St. Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists. Damiana is mildly irritating/stimulating to the genitourinary tract. This is an herb you use over time in order for it to be most effective, and it generally takes several weeks to start noticing a difference. But the effects pay off: it provides more sensation in the genitals, and boosts sexual potency in men and women. Read more about Damiana

More stimulation comes from cnidium (Cnidium monnieri) seeds, which is a Chinese herb that also grows in Oregon. Cnidium seeds are known for rapidly increasing libido; in fact, it acts like a natural Viagra. The active component found in the seeds in it is called osthol, and it helps the penis tissue to become erect. Osthol impacts the nervous system involving muscles or tissue and this is why it helps with erectile dysfunction. It is a vasorelaxant, meaning it causes blood vessel relaxation and expansion in the tissue. It affects the corpus cavernosum (the two tubes inside the penis) and the erectile tissue in the penis. Additionally, it has been used in herbal Chinese medicine to improve sexual dysfunction in women by having the same effect on the clitoris (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) You ingest this herb by chewing a teaspoon of the seeds, but only when you are ready for the effects to happen!

The last of our stimulating herbs is one I first came across it while traveling in Peru in 2006. It’s called maca (Lepidium meyeniia), which is a tuber root, like a potato. Maca is high in protein and has an effect on mood and testosterone, being commonly used for an energy and libido booster. Data has shown that maca hasn’t had any effect on hormone levels, however it is used by clinicians to boost testosterone in women when needed for low desire. And people do report feeling a difference when using maca (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

  1. Relaxation

Kava Kava Plant
Kava Kava Plant

Across the spectrum from stimulation for desire is relaxation, and it is just as important for building arousal. The first herb that comes to mind is kava kava (Piper methysticum), which is a relaxant. This French Polynesia and Fijian plant’s root is used for a calming effect on the nervous system, which is the biggest area that you can address for your libido. When you are stressed, cortisol is produced in your body in larger amounts and it impedes one of the hormones that helps build desire. Kava Kava is a fantastic herb to help balance hormones.

What better named aphrodisiac is there besides passion flower (Passiflora)?! I like to say, passion flower for presence, passion and pleasure. It is also helpful for muscular tension and muscle cramps.

For an aide in stress reduction look to rhodiolia (Rhodiola rosea). It reduces cortisol and is an adaptogen. It’s a good daily tonic to help deal with stress. Look for an upcoming post that goes into depth about rhodiolia.

I discussed the main herbs that are known to be aphrodisiacs, but there are others such as ginseng and horny goat weed as well.

If you are interested in enjoying some of the herbs mentioned in this post, learn more about my Sexual Vitality Set which comes with teas, bitters, aromatherapy spritzers, and more.

Join the Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being Course

I just began hosting my Herbs for Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being course and we will discuss herbs in relation to sexual dysfunction and desire….soon to be virtual, so keep your eyes out in 2019!

Learn More and Register




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