by Sandra Fu

In ancient Greece when a man or woman greatly desired a member of the opposite sex s/he most likely turned to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, pleading for her to work some amorous magic on the object of affection. Sometimes the goddess stepped in on the poor mortal's behalf; intervening with a potion or some tool of manipulation, and other times, well…let's say the gods are a fickle group. One thing was for certain, nothing was a sure bet and the same can be said for aphrodisiacs, whose namesake is derived from none other than Aphrodite.

Since the beginning of humankind, people have looked for ways to increase sexual arousal or performance. Often this took the form of food, but today, when love comes a knocking and no one answers the door (or in some cases one can't open the door) a growing contingency are turning to herbal aphrodisiacs found at health food stores. Problem is, many of the herbal remedies make unsubstantiated claims and have no proof of their effectiveness, which is why sometimes it's better to experiment with traditional aphrodisiacs and affect your mate through the senses.

So let's explore the love-inspiring realm of food and scents.

There are many different foods that are proclaimed aphrodisiacs and some for obvious reasons. The first on the list is asparagus. From its phallic semblance to the ease with which it can be eaten with your fingers, this particular produce has long been a vegetable of choice when it comes to consummation. In fact, in 19th century France it was declared that bridegrooms should eat three servings of it at their prenuptial dinner. It is also high in vitamin E, which is believed to stimulate sex hormones. Consider it when preparing that Valentine's dinner and serve it up with a side of butter for dipping.

Probably one of the best known aphrodisiacs is oysters. Like asparagus, it is partially due to its resemblance to certain anatomy -- but this time female - and to its slippery texture. Though not everyone is fond of raw oysters there is actually some science behind this mood-enhancing mollusk. Oysters are high in zinc, which is a mineral used in the production of testosterone. And while many may mistakenly believe that estrogen would help stimulate women, the truth is that testosterone is the hormone that charges the sex drive in both men and women.

The next item to add to your shopping list is more of an accent than a main course; it's chilies. While you wouldn't dream of serving your sweetie a plate full of chilies, definitely use them to heat up your night. Aphrodisiac credit goes to capsaicin; it's the substance that puts the fiery kick in chilies and other spicy foods. Capsaicin stimulates nerve endings and causes the body to unleash a host of chemicals, resulting in an elevated heart rate, which could potentially trigger the release of endorphins and give you a sense of pleasure.

Now, let's move on to something sweeter. The fig is one of the most sensual fruits you can eat and many are reminded of either the female or male genitalia (or both) when they view it. The luxuriousness of the flesh's texture combined with the edible seeds that pop as you eat it qualify it as a premier aphrodisiac. It is believed that Cleopatra ate them in grand quantities and that it was her favorite fruit. Also, the ancient Greeks celebrated the harvest of the fig with Dionysian orgies, so think of eating a fig as having a taste of history.

Next up is something yet even sweeter and arguably the greatest aphrodisiac of them all -- chocolate. Just think of how many movies have been made that demonstrate the wondrous versatility of chocolate for sexual stimulation; in fact it's the very title of one (starring one very yummy Johnny Depp - you can certainly take this out but I couldn't resist). Chocolate is the consummate aphrodisiac and often the edible gift of choice on Valentine's Day. And its reputation for eliciting lustful desire goes back through history. A few centuries ago, some monasteries banned the ingestion of chocolate for this very reason, while the Aztec king Montezuma went the opposite direction and regularly devoured a chocolate drink that he believed made him virile. Chocolate: it's a tradition no one should mess with.

Food isn't the only reputed way to generate some excitement. Scent is also said to play an active role in arousal. Jasmine has a reputation for stimulating or sedating depending on need. As an aphrodisiac it is said to have the psychological effect of promoting confidence, optimism and vitality - qualities that are sexy and inviting on their own. And it is also believed to help with impotence and frigidity.

Another wonderful scent is ylang ylang. Like jasmine, it is also said to increase confidence and calm anxiety and is perhaps one of the reasons why in Indonesia, petals of the flower have been traditionally spread on the bed of newlyweds. Aromatherapy practitioners claim it also balances the hormones and has a special affinity with the reproductive system.

Now that you are armed with the foods and scents necessary to create a memorable Valentine's Day, use your imagination to make it one the ancient Greeks would be proud of.

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© Melt Magazine 2004