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A history of aphrodisiacs

Oysters have been hailed as a help, but sparrow brains, lizard parts and even the humble spud have all been credited with improving performance between the sheets.

An aphrodisiac, as we use the term today, is something that inspires lust, but isn't meant to cure impotence.

But little distinction was drawn between sexual function and desire until relatively recently, with aphrodisiacs seen as a catch-all cure for a lack of potency.

Until the 18th Century, many recipes were based on the theories of the Roman physician Galen, who wrote that foods worked as aphrodisiacs if they were "warm and moist" and "windy", meaning they produced flatulence.

Galen thought that "wind" inflated the penis to cause an erection, so anything that made you gassy would also make you erect.

Because they were reckoned to have these qualities, carrots, asparagus, mustard, nettles and sweet peas were commonly considered aphrodisiacs, often liberally laced with spices, particularly pepper.

Parts of the skink, a kind of lizard, were thought to be an aphrodisiac for centuries, while potatoes were also popular, probably because they were a delicacy when first imported from America.

Of course the Greeks had a few tricks too. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love -- from whose name, of course, "aphrodisiac" is derived -- was supposed to have held sparrows sacred so their brains were eaten to improve performance.

St Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century friar, also wrote a bit on aphrodisiacs, believing that certain foods had to produce "vital spirit" and provide good nutrition.

Eating meat and drinking wine would help buck spirits, he suggested, a move agreed by millions since who use alcohol to help dissolve inhibitions and put them in the mood.

Of course, over-indulgence doesn't help. As Shakespeare put it in Macbeth: "It provokes the desire, but takes away the performance."

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