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Oysters, chilli peppers and chocolate are well known culinary aphrodisiacs, yet there’s many more that you’ve probably never heard of.

Who knew that parsley and cardamom could boost your sex drive?!

For centuries now, certain foods and drinks have been rumoured to have aphrodisiac properties. Named after Aphrodite - the Greek goddess of ‘love, beauty and eternal youth’, the official definition goes something like this, ‘any food, drink or substance that increases sexual desire’. So how do they do that? Aphrodisiacs may help to increase blood flow, reduce stress, enhance sensitivity or support the production of sex hormones or neurotransmitters - all of which could enhance libido.

Here we take a nutritional look at some of the more surprising natural aphrodisiacs and finish with some recipes that might help to harness their magical powers!

1) Parsley – Not just a pretty decoration, parsley is packed full of love-enhancing properties too! Parsley and its seeds are said to stimulate the sexual glands and increase blood flow to the sexual organs. This bright green herb delivers a rich supply of magnesium, calcium, manganese and potassium, and also contains high levels of key nutrients beta-carotene, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. The roots are a particularly good source of calcium, iron and folate too. It is also said to be a powerful antioxidant, natural antifungal, antibacterial and diuretic.

2) Pine nuts are packed full of zinc, which helps to support testosterone production – the steroid hormone essential for a healthy sex drive. Pine nuts also contain generous amounts of vitamins E & K – both needed for a healthy functioning cardiovascular system. Vitamin E helps to produce red blood cells essential for the transport of oxygen round the body.

3) Basil – This Mediterranean herb not only adds plenty of flavour to pesto and tomato-based dishes, it may also help to increase heart rate and improve blood flow. What many people don’t realise is that basil also acts as an adaptogen – a substance that helps you to cope with stress. A member of the mint family, there are actually 35 different types of basil (!) - the most studied of which is holy basil.

4) Cardamom – This ancient and beautifully aromatic spice adds warmth to Indian dishes and is said to help increase blood flow, hence why it is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac. In India, cardamom is commonly chewed after meals to freshen breath and support healthy digestion. It is reported to help counteract nausea, acidity, bloating, gas, heartburn, loss of appetite, constipation and much more.

5) Coconut water – More often associated with hydration because of its high electrolyte content, coconut water is also said to help boost sex drive due to its blood flow enhancing effects. Coconut water contains high amounts of potassium in addition to multiple vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are ideal for human health. 

6) Arugula – This peppery green salad leaf is reported to have been used by the Ancient Romans as an aphrodisiac. Along with libido-boosting effects, arugula may help to support digestion and is a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin C.

7) Watermelon – Reported to increase the production of nitric oxide, a natural substance produced in the body, which relaxes blood vessels, speeds up circulation and so may enhance sexual arousal. Watermelon contains a high amount of water, making it a great choice of fruit for anyone exercising regularly. It’s also rich in lycopene – the compound that gives watermelon flesh its characteristic pink colour and delivers powerful antioxidant benefits too.

8) Vanilla - The sweet spice vanilla is believed to be a mild nerve stimulant, which may help to enhance sexual sensation. Natural vanilla extract contains vanillin – a natural antioxidant that gives vanilla beans their distinctive aroma. A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found vanillin to have liver-protective and anti-inflammatory properties1.

9) Pomegranate – The 600 or so jewel-like seeds contained in the average pomegranate are said to enhance blood flow and increase genital sensitivity. Often referred to as a ‘superfood’, pomegranate is packed full of antioxidants which can help to protect you from harmful environmental toxins, contains high levels of vitamins C and K, and supports a healthy heart too. 

10) Sea vegetables – Valued in many different cultures as an aphrodisiac, sea vegetables contain high levels of vitamins B1 and B2 which are essential for the production of sex hormones. Sea vegetables are also packed full of iodine, which is crucial for thyroid hormone production and often missing from typical Western diets. 

If you're feeling more adventurous than Vanilla ice-cream, why not try these recipes with plenty of aphrodisiacs...

Hemsley & Hemsley Miso Kelp Noodle Pot

We love this Hemsley & Hemsley recipe for a healthy take on pot noodle. It might not be the sexiest-sounding offering for a Valentine’s feast but it is packed full of libido-boosting sea vegetables! 

You will need:
35g kelp noodles
1 pinch dried dulse (or other sea vegetable)
2 tablespoons grated ginger, squeezed to get 1 tablespoon ginger juice
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon unpasteurized miso paste
1 handful assorted steamed vegetables (green beans, broccoli, cabbage)
1 handful assorted raw vegetables (mushrooms, bok choy, grated carrot)
1 lime wedge

Rinse and drain the kelp noodles

Add all ingredients to a heatproof jar (lime wedge on top) and keep refrigerated until ready to eat. When ready, boil the kettle and remove the lime wedge. 

Let the boiled water sit for a minute or two before filling the jar (leave half an inch at the top). Stir, cover with the lid and let sit for 5 minutes

Squeeze in the lime juice, stir and enjoy!

Watermelon, pomegranate and basil salad served with vanilla yoghurt

The combination of watermelon, pomegranate, vanilla and basil is simple but powerful for its aphrodisiac effects!

You will need:
1 small watermelon (cubed)
1 large ripe pomegranate (seeds only)
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)
Tub of live yoghurt
Half a scraped vanilla bean
Lime wedges

In a large bowl, gently toss together watermelon, pomegranate and chopped mint. Put in the fridge for 3hrs. Serve chilled with the lime wedges to squeeze over the top.

In a separate bowl add the live yoghurt. Scrape the contents of half a vanilla bean into the yoghurt and stir well. Serve the watermelon salad with a generous dollop of vanilla yoghurt on the side.

Basil & Parsley Pesto

The addition of parsley adds a sexy twist to this classic pesto recipe. This recipe features parsley, basil and pine nuts to add some aphrodisiac qualities to any simple pasta, meat or fish dish.

You will need:
50g pine nuts, lightly toasted
30g bunch of basil, leaves only
30g bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves only
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
35g Parmesan, finely grated
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
100-150ml extra virgin olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, for a few minutes, tossing frequently until golden brown. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.

Put the toasted nuts in a food processor, with the basil, garlic, parsley, Parmesan and lemon zest. Whizz to a paste then, with the motor running slowly, pour in the olive oil until you have a sloppy puree.

Scrape into a bowl. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add a good squeeze of lemon to taste. This will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. 

Makni M, Chtourou Y et al.  Evaluation of the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective properties of vanillin in carbon tetrachloride-treated rats.  Eur J Pharmacol.  2011 Oct 1; 668(1-2):133-9. Doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.07.001. Epub 2011 Jul 13
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall  - River Cottage Herbs Handbook
Jasmine & Melissa Hemsley – The Art of Eating Well

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