Ah, lurve. Few things are more fun to elevate and celebrate with oils, herbs, and food than sweet, sweet love.
Whereas many of the best parts of love are arguably intangible, love is still very much informed by our senses — especially in the physical expression of sex.
Taste, texture, and aroma significantly inform and escalate (or de-escalate) our attractions.
By leveraging the aphrodisiacal properties in various foods, herbs, and oils, we can encourage playfulness, anchor the bond in a long-term relationship, drive a new connection forward, or, you know, inspire physical response in the body.
Our aphrodisiacal choices are vast–and the root of their associations are sometimes quite comical. You’re bound to find inspiration for a delicious meal, intoxicating elixir, or tantalizing blend to share with your beloved from among the items that follow. But first, a quick word about aphrodisiacs in general.
Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, passion, beauty, and procreation, aphrodisiacs are substances that raise sexual energy and contribute to amorous feelings. Some aphrodisiacs are so called because they have a direct effect on the body (increasing blood flow, encouraging hormone release, adjusting brain chemistry), others are considered to arouse desire by their association and/or shape. Many aphrodisiacs were assigned their energetic association in ancient times via the herbalist’s Doctrine of Signatures which, vastly oversimplified, holds that a leaf, plant, fruit, or flower’s color, structure, and shape informs its efficacy. To wit, many aphrodisiacal foods and plants have evocative shapes and textures that herbalists centuries ago recognized as being suggestive of sex organs. Science has since confirmed the validity of many of those associations.
There are a variety of reasons that an item might be considered an aphrodisiac. In the case of food, it is often a lascivious shape (asparagus’ tall spear suggesting a certain erect member) or an erotic taste or texture (just, well… okay: raw oysters). One quick glance at a banana — or someone eating a banana a certain way — and you’ve got your shortcut to the association that’s in play there… Spiciness and heat are also commonly associated with arousing lusty thoughts and physical energy.
You’ll find this to be true for both foods (such as garlic, ginger, and chile pepper) and essential oils (such as black pepper, ginger, cinnamon leaf/bark and clove bud). Spices invigorate the senses and awaken us to experience. Heat, of course, has its own associations.
Throughout history, exotic floral fragrances have also been considered powerful inspiration for lust and love. No surprise, really. Their shapes are designed to catch the eye and attract the cooperation of pollinators — just as with people, at the most base level, flowers need to attract partners in their procreation.
As Diane Ackerman points out:
…flowers are the plants’ sex organs, and they evoke the sex-drenched, bud-breaking free-for-all of spring and summer.
To wit, a heady jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, or vanilla perfume can excite the sensual body to swift and evident response.
A word about what you won’t find on this list: animal-sourced scents. Glandular secretions from animals have a long-standing tradition of showing up on lists of aphrodisiacs. It’s presumed–because they assume the same chemical shape as a steroid–we recognize them the way we would human pheromones. It’s true musk is incredibly similar to human testosterone and our bodies have actually evolved to respond to it: we can smell as little as 0.000000000000032 of an ounce! That said, you won’t find me discussing glandular secretions (or rhinoceros horn or shark fin) here or see me using them in my products because, unless they are synthetic, they are sourced from animals, often irresponsibly, cruelly, and unethically. There are enough other tools in my aphrodisiac toolbox for me to feel confident of my results without having to use them.
Foods, herbs, oils, and spices offer countless opportunities for you to play and create something magical and delectable for your partner– have fun!
Your Alphabetical Aphrodisiac List
Long considered to be fertility symbols, almonds were said to arouse a woman’s desire. They are the first on our list to sport what will become a familiar teardrop or pear shape in aphrodisiacal foods and the first to draw on the rather humorous connection between nuts and love. (Give it a second…. it will come to you…. Nuts.) Use them raw or toasted in meals or on salads, as almond flour in baked goods, or as Sweet Almond Oil in a base for a delectable massage oil.
Remember that association with flowers we talked about earlier? While there are a handful of delicate flowers you can eat in your salad, our buddy the delicious artichoke is the only edible flower that comes in a larger than life package with a delicious, edible heart that plays hard to get — you have to work for it! Though we often think of them as leaves, the artichoke heart’s guardians are actually petals that we spread apart to yield the furry boundary to the flower’s tender heart. While they are certainly delicious when used as prepared artichoke hearts in a dish, they are best enjoyed erotically as whole, steamed flowers. Just melt some butter for dipping then move slowly as you gently separate the petals, tear one and dip it in butter, ravage the flesh from the petal’s edge with your teeth, and seductively lick the butter dribbling down your chin and you’ll have a whole new reason to love artichokes…
Asparagus’ spears are suggestive in their erect stance, right out of the ground. Herbalist Nicholas Culpepper believed they “stir up lust in both a man and a woman.” They were considered so lascivious, many nuns were forbidden to eat them… Beyond its suggestive shape, asparagus also happens to be packed with energy, vitamins, and minerals including folic acid which facilitates histamine necessary for the release in orgasm.
Here, again, that beautiful pear/teardrop shape that hearkens to the flower of a woman and the nut of a man. Inside its soft curves, a soft, creamy butter that melts on the tongue. The fruit was considered so tempting it was forbidden in some societies as its mere shape more than hinted at impropriety.
The Aztecs didn’t beat around the bush: they flat out called it ahuacuatl, or testicle fruit as avocados hang suggestively in pairs from their trees. Consider avocado chopped fresh into salads or pureed with your favorite salad dressing to give it more flavor and creamy texture. While I personally prefer avocado uncooked, there are recipes to be found that incorporate avocado in hot meals as well. And avocado oil? Rich in lecithin and essential fatty acids. If you are using true, organic, unrefined avocado oil, it will be a dark green color — it’s perfect to use as a massage oil base in winter months as it is not only hydrating but also rich in vitamin D. Try using it as the base for a massage oil featuring one or more of the essential oils on this list. Look for the unrefined oil — a characteristic dark green in color — to be sure you get the minerals inherent in the oil.
Just look at a banana. Okay. It has a certain… shape. Get it? Got it? Good. For their visual association alone, bananas have a reputation for being strong aphrodisiacs. Their vitamin boost, chelating minerals, and bromeliad enzymes are said to enhance male libido as well. While just watching the right person eating a plain ol’ banana can be enough, bananas are especially divine when they are sliced and lightly sautéed — yes, heated in a pan — with a small amount of butter, brown sugar, and honey and then poured over dulce de leche ice cream for dessert.
Basil’s stimulating aroma is enjoyed both as an herb to flavor foods and as an essential oil. Basil pesto with long, languid noodles is a wonderful go-to; a simple incense of blank charcoal sticks soaked in basil essential oil is equally lovely and far more exotic. It’s said that basil keeps a heart true and prevents a man’s eye from wandering, too.
Black Pepper is known to be warming and stimulating to the circulatory system — it gets the blood moving! As a spice, it is often taken for granted in foods and rarely allowed to take the lead in sauces. To bring black pepper’s essence to the fore, look to exotic pink and white peppercorns in a rich cream sauce with sausage and pasta. The pepper’s flavor will warm your mouth and stimulate your salivary glands.
Speaking of heat, nothing brings it like chile peppers! They open the pores, kick the sweat glands into high gear, get your blood pumping, and ignite your mouth with flavor and fire. There are any array of chiles from which to choose — over 200 varieties to be exact — but none compares to the Chilhuacle negro chile for aphrodisiac purposes. The cornerstone of true Oaxacan mole sauce, the Chilhuacle has an incredible flavor with hints of tobacco, dried fruit, and cacao. If you really want to spice things up for your beloved, leverage Chilhuacle chiles in a homemade mole sauce. Their heat is not overpowering — about a 5 out of 10 on the traditional scale — and their unique flavor is unsurpassed and unduplicated in other chiles. if you’re just looking to heat things up and don’t want the trouble of a day in the kitchen, tiny, Thai dragon chiles in an apple cider vinegar-based sweet and sour sauce will do the trick.
Believe it or not, the folks at Ball canning have an amazing Thai chile sauce recipe that can be made in large batches and stored in the pantry for when the mood strikes. Just add a couple of extra whole peppers to each jar before processing to add extra heat — simply remove the whole chiles when serving to avoid too much hothotHOT at the table.
Ancient civilizations were so enamored of chocolate that they celebrated the harvest with wild orgies. Cacao beans were so celebrated, they even served as form of currency. Many sources report that Montezuma drank fifty cups of cacao a day to keep up with his harem of over 600 concubines. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs who worshipped chocolate probably instinctively knew what science has confirmed today: cacao contains phenylethylamine or PEA, the very same molecule that trumps our bodies when we are deep in the throes of love.
While it’s easy to find the ubiquitous box of chocolates at Valentine’s Day, love deserves premium expression in the form of high quality, high-cacao content chocolate. To enjoy rich chocolate as the ancients did, look to Mexican chocolate that has been infused with cinnamon (another aphrodisiac spice!) to make intoxicating Mexican hot chocolate. Make sure your brew isn’t too sweet or you’ll lose the spice and bitter edge designed to inflame your senses…
Cinnamon is another warming spice that stimulates both the blood and the libido. A simple dash of cinnamon with warm cacao (as in Mexican hot chocolate) or added to honey and drizzled over succulent fruit is enough to awaken the libido.
While there are Cinnamon essential oils derived from the leaf and bark available, I don’t recommend them for topical use as they are highly sensitizing to the skin. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace and a fire, consider throwing a few cinnamon sticks in there to heat things up instead…
It may be that we bring coffee into scope for aphrodisiacs purely because we’re always drinking it — not a day goes by that most people don’t enjoy some java for a jolt of caffeine and a pick-me-up. In celebrating aphrodisiac properties, however, a styrofoam cup of joe or a Starbuck’s venti latte won’t do: you’ll need to create a masterful, mindful blend. Consider french-pressed espresso with a dash of cinnamon or a hot mug of strong coffee with cream and a teensy amount of vanilla-infused sugar (outlined below) to do the trick. It will not only help you to stay awake for what adventure lay ahead, it will awaken your senses and nerves if you don’t overdo it.
If you have given any thought to what an egg is, you instinctively appreciate the egg’s celebrated role as a fertility symbol.
If your desire is that your lovemaking should find purchase in the form of a sweet promise of new life for you and your beloved, a meal based on eggs may be just the thing for you.
While we are accustomed to seeing eggs as mundane ingredients in many staples, they can be leveraged in many incredibly complicated and fancy foods from soufflés to meringues.
A perfectly poached and seasoned egg will transform warm asparagus. Spaghetti alla carbonara practically hides the eggs to delicious effect. That said, my personal favorite has to be a rich egg custard either frozen as ice cream or served as creme brûlée.
Many of us are used to seeing figs as crumpled, dried teardrops of sticky sweetness with crunchy seeds on cheese boards and in nut mixes — far fewer among us have tasted the insanely decadent, provocative, sensual, and flavorful flesh of a true, tree-ripened fig. Their gentle aroma, erotic texture, and juicy innards are reminiscent of the best of sensual experience — show-stopping, eye-rolling, natural deliciousness. If neither you nor your partner have experienced a fresh fig before, I can highly recommend discovering a ripe one together. The mere act of pressing the fruit open between your fingers to reveal the juicy innards should give you pause… If you need a more complicated game plan, fresh figs with goat cheese and candied pecans over a bed of bright, baby arugula drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette can make you feel like you worked hard without a lot of actual effort.
Fresh garlic imparts a spicy warmth that often causes us to glisten with perspiration and heat. You might be willing to overlook what some consider garlic’s off-putting aroma when you realize that garlic is chock full of allicin to increase blood flow. That’s handy for reasons that should be obvious by now… If you want to soften garlic’s heat and spice, roast whole bulbs in the oven with olive oil. The roasted cloves will soften in flavor and texture, allowing them to be spread luxuriously over warm bread with olive oil to accompany your meal. You can, of course, also go all-out by creating a garlic-heavy pasta course!
Here again, we find a hot, fragrant spice to heat things up in our bodies and our minds. Fresh ginger root has a reputation for increasing sexual prowess and extending sexual performance.
Incorporate fresh grated ginger in a spicy stir-fry or just look to candied ginger to cleanse your palate after your garlic-y main course.
If you want to enjoy the essential oil of ginger, make a warming massage oil of 5 drops Ginger, 2 drops Black Pepper, and 3 drops Mandarin in two ounces of carrier oil. For a truly intoxicating experience, look for Ginger CO2 — it has a fragrance of true, fresh ginger that is unsurpassed! The lovely ladies at Stillpoint Aromatics offer it — divine!
Honey is often among the first things we think of when we think of playful foods for a romantic, lusty bedroom — and with good reason. In everything from the tradition of a “honeymoon” to our culture’s obsession with the birds and the bees, honey and bee symbology are heavily leveraged in romance and sexual lore.
Newlyweds retired for a moon’s cycle with fermented honey (mead) to increase their sexual energy and fertility after marriage. The product of hard-working bees attracted to sweet nectar, honey is among nature’s most precious gifts — it hearkens of attraction, connection, intimacy, and communion. (Full disclosure: my own association with honey and love is so strong I am literally covered in bees — I had nine of them tattooed on various meridian points on my body to celebrate my honey, Mr. B, after we were married. Our wedding colors were “dirt and honey”. Bees have figured prominently in our courtship, wedding, and married life.)
You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee, I’d like to sip the honey sweet From those red lips, you see I love you dearly, dearly, And I want you to love me, You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee. – Albert Fitz
Honey’s sticky, viscous texture and sweet, delicate flavor make it a best friend in the bedroom. If you have a decent washer and dryer and are willing to throw down a special “play” blanket, honey — and honeycomb! — is a spectacular tool in the bedroom all by itself. If you’re uptight about your bed clothes, you might want to limit your honey adventures to the kitchen where honey drizzled over fresh figs will do the trick.
The intoxicating, exotic aroma of true Jasmine has captured the heart of many a man — few fragrances straight up distract and muddy a man’s purpose like this delicate flower can.
Indeed, of all of the individual scents that I wear, Jasmine is the one that most often elicits compliments and embarrassed eye contact from the men around me.
Believed to induce euphoria, Jasmine is said to bolster the confidence and libido of the wearer as well as those around her…
A flower’s fragrance declares to all the world that it is fertile, available, and desirable, its sex organs oozing with nectar. Its smell reminds us in vestigial ways of fertility, vigor, life-force, all the optimism, expectancy, and passionate bloom of youth. – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Jasmine flowers are too delicate — and the steam distillation process too intense — for there to be a “real” Jasmine essential oil. Instead, most Jasmine oil is an absolute that has been extracted via a chemical process. You’ll find the oil is no less powerful, sensual, or dreamy for it, though it is likely to be more sensitizing on your skin.
Be sure you use it well diluted to both avoid sensitization and to prevent the fragrance from being too overpowering. If you aren’t averse to being coated in fragrant oil, I can highly recommend adding 5 to 8 drops of Jasmine absolute to 2 ounces of vanilla-infused jojoba oil mixed with a 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Use the mix as a sugar scrub in the shower or bath to exfoliate your skin and scent every inch of you with sweet, aromatic Jasmine.
It may surprise you to learn that gentle, soothing Lavender is considered an aphrodisiac, particularly for women. Considered for centuries to be an herb of love, Lavender is floral enough to appeal to women and subtle and herbaceous enough to enchant men.
Food grade lavender flowers (pesticide-free!) can be used to infuse cream for an unbelievable lavender creme brûlée. Don’t want to eat your lavender? Have fresh lavender at table or about the house. (Note that most lavender candles are synthetically fragranced and won’t deliver the desired effect…) Use lavender hydrosol to spray your bed linens or add a few drops of lavender essential oil to otherwise unscented laundry detergent to put the scent where you want it most: your sheets!
Confession: I have never had a raw oyster. The occasion to try one has simply never arisen at the same time I was in the company of someone with whom I’d benefit from the experience. To wit, my comments are pure hearsay, communicated by a cherished friend who positively swears by them.
Oysters have a ridiculous reputation as potent aphrodisiacs for those brave enough to indulge them. I’m told they are best eaten raw on the half shell where their briny flavor and unique texture are reminiscent of the salty flesh associated with women’s sexual organs. Loaded with zinc, oysters facilitate testosterone production in both men and women, a key ingredient in stimulating arousal.
The fuzzy, juicy, delectable peach has its own association with favorite body parts: the downy indentation of the fruit’s cleft is eerily reminiscent of the soft flesh and gentle curves of a woman’s hips and the line of her gluteal cleft.
The fragrance of a fresh, ripe peach is also unparalleled. While you can certainly enjoy a more traditional peach pie or cobbler, I highly recommend indulging the raw fruit at the height of its season when its flavor and juice are at their peak and the sweet liquid dribbles down your hands and chin, perfect for licking, sucking, and savoring.
Tiny, fragile, and incredibly difficult to coax forth from their cones, pine nuts are another “playing hard to get” food that imparts incredible flavor. They are considered to bring fertility and virility. While you might think pine nuts are ubiquitous with basil in pesto, basil pesto with pine nuts is exactly what prompted my first kiss with my beloved: he made homemade basil pesto that swept me off my feet on our second date…. Pesto not exotic enough? Pine nuts come to life when allowed to shine in salads (add our friend avocado for extra effect!). Or, if you really want to knock your lover’s socks off, make pine nut brittle with aphrodisiac rosemary (yes, rosemary!) and lick each other’s sticky fingers until you are parched and spent.
The Queen of Flowers has a well-deserved reputation for being an aphrodisiac. Her delicate fragrance entices and soothes. Food grade rose petals or organic rose hydrosol can be used to enhance a meal — especially a dessert — to great effect, but nothing compares to her sweet, simple fragrance. There are two ways of enjoying rose oil: otto (or attar) and absolute. Rose otto is more expensive as it is more dearly conjured via steam distillation with little yield. Its fragrance is more earthy and subtle than you might expect. I’ve watched many a student initially think it was too subtle from the bottle only to find that they then used too much in their blend once the oil had a chance to synergies and expand via carrier and application. You won’t need much! Rose absolute delivers the rose aroma most of us are more familiar with in a more direct fashion. Extracted via chemical process, the oil is thick, dark, and deliciously heady in its familiar rose aroma. Here again, you won’t need much to impart the fragrance you desire. Untamed Alchemy (yes, that’s me!) offers an amazing Aphrodite Goddess blend featuring rose, jasmine, and palmarosa if you prefer a blended, personal oil to try. If I do say so myself. (Ahem.)
Many perfumers consider Rosemary their secret ingredient: it appears in more famous blends than you can imagine. Earthy, fresh, uplifting, clearing, and restorative, it is amazing when used culinarily as a fresh herb or as an essential oil in perfume. Said to keep wanton lovers coming home, it is reputed to be a particularly powerful scent trigger: allow rosemary’s aroma to accompany just one powerful, sensual, erotic experience and your lover will forever remember the event with each new exposure to the scent calling them back to your heart or your bed. When I first met my husband, I made game hens glazed in honey that had been infused with rosemary so as to ensure we would share a night he would never forget. (It worked. If you are working to attract a man and he isn’t the flower-y type, hurry up and make a rosemary and lavender essential oil blend in a light carrier oil to win him! Add 5 drops each lavender and rosemary (I recommend the verbenone chemotype for its bright fragrance) to a 5 ml bottle of sweet almond oil or jojoba. If you happen to have long hair, add a drop of each to your unscented shampoo and allow your hair to fall when your target is near — he’s almost guaranteed to comment and want to bury his head in your hair.
Exotic Sandalwood is another go to when creating essential oil blends that aren’t too floral. Its musky aroma is decidedly woody, earthy, and sensual. Said to ease impotence and promote calm, Sandalwood is the perfect choice if you are looking for a fragrance to enhance a deliberate, erotic escapade in the bedroom. Blend with vanilla-infused jojoba for an amazing massage oil, mix with lavender in a diffuser blend, or make a dreamy Sandalwood incense with a hint of Sweet Orange to intoxicate and delight.
Aphrodite herself, the goddess of love, is said to have risen from the sea foam in a scallop half shell, so you know scallops are among aphrodisiac foods. Scallops are another meaty seafood with a sweet brine flavor and delicate texture, but they are typically more palatable than raw oysters. With their mild flavor and voluptuous texture, they are a divine indulgence in an aphrodisiac meal. I’m partial to the scallop and asparagus recipe featuring prosciutto found here.
Sweet, juicy berries are dreams realized — the promise of a blossom brought to edible life by generous pollinators. With their inimitable flavor and easy-to-feed-from stems, they are perfect for tantalizing your lover’s tongue with sensuality. Dipped in premium chocolate, they can be otherworldly.
Look for ripe, organic strawberries that are at their peak. Place them rinsed and whole around your dessert plates so you may feed your partner at whim throughout dessert. Eat them with whipped cream and drips of herbed honey. Slice them fresh into salads with balsamic vinaigrette. Whatever you do, make sure to save some to bring to bed, too.
I find it fitting that our alphabetical short-list of aphrodisiacs foods ends with Vanilla because for me, the list of edible aphrodisiacs virtually begins and ends here.
The romantic lore of vanilla is unmatched among aphrodisiacs. It’s name is said to have its root in the Spanish word “vainilla” or “small sheath” to hearken a woman’s sexual organs.
The vanilla bean is the product of one of nature’s most charmed and fragile pairings: the delicate flower of the vanilla orchid is only ripe for pollination for one day and requires a specific pollinator, the Melipone bee, to make manifest a bean. With the loss of the Melipone bee from many fragile ecosystems, today’s vanilla beans are created by a host of servile “concubines” who gently hand-pollinate the vanilla orchid’s sex organs to coax forth the precious fruit.
Vanilla orchids must be pollinated on a precise schedule, carefully tended to ripeness and then left to mature for several months longer. When ready, the bean is plunged into boiling water to halt its maturation process.
When working with vanilla in food, look to Madagascar vanilla — and avoid synthetics at all costs! Synthetic vanillin has a chemical make-up that is reminiscent of true vanilla, but it will never impart the rich, exotic flavor of the pure bean.
While vanilla is already familiar to us in the kitchen, you may not have tried the simple and exceptional delight that is vanilla sugar. Simply take two or three vanilla beans, cut them into one-inch sections and spread them wide to reveal the delicate seeds inside. Add the 1-inch bean pieces to an airtight container of about 8 ounces of sugar and shake; seal and set aside to synergies for about six weeks. When its ready, simply remove the whole beans from the jar and enjoy your fragrant, exotic sugar stirred in coffee or sprinkled over fresh berries.
If you prefer to indulge vanilla aroma outside the kitchen, nothing compares to vanilla-infused jojoba. While you can buy Vanilla absolute that is chemically extracted, I recommend pure, thick, ooey-gooey Vanilla oleoresin. About 1/3 ounce of oleoresin plopped in the bottom of a bottle of jojoba will impart the intoxicating aroma without muddying the oil as the oleoresin is soluble in water, not oil. Allow them to synergize in a cool, dark place for a few weeks before using. When you’ve used up the jojoba, you can add more to infuse again as the thick oleoresin will remain at the bottom of the bottle undiluted.
The exotic floral fragrance of Ylang Ylang increases attraction and libido at the same time is tends to slow the heartbeat and calm the breath so it is both euphoric and sedative — it can help to soothe anxiety in the bedroom, too!
Ylang ylang’s delicious fragrance is probably best enjoyed in its native tropical climate when the flowers are at their prime and infuse the whole environment with their thick, heady scent.
Short of that, we have rich Ylang Ylang essential oil to enchant us… For an insanely decadent experience, add three drops of Ylang Ylang essential oil to a cup of full-fat organic milk and pour it into a hot bath; soak and delight in the sublime aroma. Or wear it as a personal perfume diluted in an appropriate carrier oil. Untamed Alchemy offers Ylang Ylang in combination with other dreamy oils in the Amunet Goddess oil blend.
If you are looking to create an amazing meal for your partner and want a one-stop shopping cookbook, I cannot recommend Intercourses highly enough! It was rereleased in 2007 as The New Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook at its ten-year anniversary. The book isn’t just chock full of aphrodisiac recipes and lore, it is also riddled with stunning, erotic photography of the included foods.
Want an idea of how seductive food can be? Read Like Water For Chocolate to see what food can do….
You might also like: Simple Sexy Food: 101 Tasty Aphrodisiac Recipes and Sensual Tips to Stir Your Libido and Feed Your Love by Linda De Villers, PhD. Food As Foreplay: Recipes for Romance, Love, and Lust by the Cooking Couple, Ellen and Michael Albertson.
Wishing you and your Beloved playful fun and delicious love!
Bless and blessed be.