Herbal Aphrodisiacs: Six Plants for Enhancing Mood and Pleasure

Herbalist and founder of Supernatural Rachelle Robinett joins us to break down six plants you can turn to next time you're looking to boost the mood.

Aphrodisiacs may often seem mysterious or esoteric, superstitious or suspect — ingredients that inspire witch hunts hopefully ending in love potions. I’ve taught many classes on the topic of aphrodisiacs, and field questions about them more frequently than one might assume (especially as the pandemic drove us all into quarantine — stressing relationships as well as the lack of them). Curious or not, aphrodisiacs have been popular for thousands of years, they’re common in traditional herbal medicine around the world, and they’re still hot. 

Generally, I find that people are most surprised to learn how accessible aphrodisiacs are. They can be easy to find and use — especially as the health and herbal industries become more popular, bringing these medicinal plants into everyday lives (I’m here for it!). If you haven't experimented with them yet, consider now the time.

The word aphrodisiac comes from the 18th century Greek Aphroditē — goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. As plants and practices, aphrodisiacs are ancient and global, and many of the earliest known recipes are still used today. 

It's important to note that aphrodisiacs can work at any sensorial level. For example, they can be something we eat, or taste, or hear, or even think about. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus primarily on consumable aphrodisiacs, but do keep in mind how diverse and nuanced mood-stimulators can be for each of us! 

On the mind, aphrodisiac plants can lower inhibitions, inspire certain amorousness, and act as social lubricants. This ease may be actual — as with the unmissable effects of cannabis or alcohol — or it may be more of a placebo, like the mouthfeel of oysters or the deep red color. In our bodies, aphrodisiacs often increase circulation and blood flow or stimulate the release of chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. 

Whether you want the pleasure for yourself or to share, consider these six classic aphrodisiac herbs: 

CacaoA combination stimulant (contains theobromine, an alkaloid that activates the central nervous system similar to caffeine) and calmer (contains enzyme inhibitors that decrease the body’s ability to break down anandamide, a.k.a. “the bliss molecule”), cacao is a potent plant for pleasure! And, very easy to “take.” Try eating raw cacao beans, mixing pure cacao (not cocoa!) powder into decadent hot chocolate, or nibbling on cacao bars. The darker the better and know that the creamy mouthfeel is part of the effect.

Damiana is a flowering shrub native to Mexico and a member of the passionflower family, another herb that works well for enhancing moods, as the name suggests. Damiana works in part on our bodies’ endocannabinoid system to help create calmness and overall well-being. This effect is both physical and psychological-emotional for most. It’s easy in tea form, added to love potions, or smoked. 

Lavender s a plant best known for its scent and peace-inducing properties, and for good reason. Scent is perceived by our brain’s amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain where memories and emotions are stored. Knowing this can allow you to use the pathway wisely, employing lavender or any other fragrance you associate with the mood you’d like to induce. It’s also important to remember that when inhaling essential oils — or applying them to skin — we do actually absorb the plant extract into our bloodstream. So, essential oils aren’t simply scent-medicine, but rather are quite similar to eating or drinking the herbs. 

Saffron and Panax Ginseng are two very different herbs that share similar aphrodisiac properties. Ginseng is very widely regarded as a sexual-performance enhancing herb, which it achieves in part by improving circulation throughout the body. Imagine greater circulation to the brain, warmer skin, and flushed extremities (which also makes it a great winter-coldness cure). Saffron is also high in iron, which can increase red blood cell count, oxygenating the blood and also improving circulatory effects. Either plant works well in all of the ways: Tea, tincture, capsule, powder, or a combination of formats. 

Maca is a very powerful hormone-balancing adaptogenic herb. Occasional usage can be enough to see increased libido (and energy), whereas regular long-term use can significantly affect hormones by working on the endocrine system. Many people also find it quite energizing. This is a beautiful plant, but it should be treated with respect. I don’t recommend it in the evening unless you want to be up all night. It’s delicious as a naturally caramel-flavored powder, or in capsule or tincture form. 

Incorporate these herbs and more into your special occasions with this 5-Minute Cacao Latte recipe. Savor the process with all of your senses, and choose to share, or not!

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