Everyone knows oysters' reputation for spurring loving-making—but how do you kindle randy feelings in your partner if you can't call down to room service for a tray of blue-tips? Over the centuries, desperate lovers have developed aphrodisiacs out of surprising ingredients, and scientists are now researching how they work.
Ginseng is so commonplace today, available in teas, juices, and even chewing gum, that many men may not realize that it has long served as a bedroom aid. Ginseng boosts the level of nitric oxide in the bloodstream, and that in turn helps blood flood into the penis to create that male lovemaking necessity, the erection. Viagra, by the way, works by precisely the same mechanism.
2. Toad Secretions
During the mid-90s, four men died in New York after using "Love Stone," an aphrodisiac that's usually applied directly to the genitals. In these cases, however, the men decided to smoke the "stone," which wasn't a stone at all but a lump of ointment containing toad secretions. The toad juices harbored a hallucinogen known as bufotenine that may stir the libido in some way. But the toad juices also led to poisoning and cardiac arrest—not exactly the way you'd hope to end an amorous evening.
Toad was in the news again last month when another New York man died after ingesting a hard, brown substance containing toad venom.
The common spice nutmeg inspires lab rats to (a-hem) rattle their cages. Wrote researchers: "It significantly increased the Mounting Frequency, Intromission Frequency, Intromission Latency and caused significant reduction in the Mounting Latency and Post Ejaculatory Interval. It also significantly increased Mounting Frequency with penile anaesthetization as well as Erections, Quick Flips, Long Flips and the aggregate of penile reflexes with penile stimulation." Scientists are unsure about how nutmeg works its magic, or whether the resulting rat-love is as good for the lady rat as it is for the male.
4. Deer Antler
Deer antler is an extremely popular aphrodisiac worldwide. Deer antlers are the only organs on any mammal that can regenerate itself, and the velvet that forms on the horns is collected on specialized velvet farms. New Zealand produces more antler velvet than any other nation.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the velvet is dried and sliced before being mixed with medicinal herbs; people make a soup from the preparation. In the West, cleverly named products like Velvita (not the processed cheese) contain velvet in powder or capsule form. Deer antler velvet seems to have bedroom benefits for both men and women. The antlers are rich in amino acids, hormones, and enzymes, and this cocktail enhances strength and endurance, in bed and elsewhere. Scientists hypothesize that the antlers may have many other benefits, such as reducing stress, helping bones heal, and treating ulcers.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
In China, Turkey, and Bulgaria, men eat pumpkin seeds to stay virile. The oil in the seeds helps keep the prostate healthy, and that's good for the love life. Two to three ounces per day, eaten raw, are supposed do the trick.
In decades past, people get the aphrodisiac Spanish fly directly from the source, the beetle Lytta vesicatoria (pictured, courtesy of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board). It's not an easy thing to swallow, either, because the beetle secretes a substance called cantharidin so prickly that it has been used to remove tattoos. Inside the body, cantharidin irritates the urinary tract and may cause erections as it leaves the body, which enhances its reputation but comes at a price—the poison can cause extensive bleeding. In fact, cantharidin hastened the death of Simon Bolivar, the famed Bolivian revolutionary. Nowadays, you don't have to eat the beetles; Spanish fly, like everything else, is available on the internet. Though useless as an aphrodisiac, cantharidin has shown great promise in cancer treatments—so you wouldn't be wrong to say that lovers found a cure for cancer.
Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.