Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

In love all over again

Falling for aphrodisiacs



Okay, we didn't work, and all

memories to tell you the truth aren't good.

But sometimes there were good times.

Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep

beside me and never dreamed afraid.

There should be stars for great wars

like ours.

This epigraph in Junot Diaz's latest collection of short stories, This is How You Lose her, has huge sticking power. It's from a poem by Sandra Cisneros, One Last Poem for Richard, from her collection, My Wicked Wicked Ways.

On Valentine's Day — time for love and lovers, times for lovers making up, or getting back into the ring — its point is even more potent. Then there's that line from The Persuaders' song: It's a thin line between love and hate...

So as Cupid wings his way around, bow and arrows at hand to patch up our divided selves, we call on the power of aphrodisiacs to build on that good love and at least minimize great wars. Love potions, No. 9, No. 10, whatever number they are, are as timeless as Cupid itself.

Think Valentine's Day and most of us think chocolate. Eating chocolate makes us happy anytime and not just because it tastes good, writes Julie Burton-Seal and Matthew Seal in their lovely little book, Aphrodisia, which is aimed at making love "more likely, more pleasurable, more possible." This is all good in our busy e-world where intimacy is more common with a glowing screen than it is with a warm human body.

It also makes us happy to eat chocolate because it melts at the same temperature as our body heat (93 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Then there are its amazing chemical properties. Chocolate contains small amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), a mild mood elevator and the same chemical our brain produces when we feel joy and love. Its main alkaloid, theobromine, stimulates our hearts, plus chocolate boosts our endorphin levels — those feel-good hormonal peptides runners and other athletes chase — as well as our serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts like an antidepressant.

So bring on the chocolate, the high-cocoa, low-sugar chocolate. But there's so much more.

How about seeds from cnidium, a traditional Chinese aphrodisiac called shi chuang zi or snake bed plant? Don't let that name put you off. Cnidium is a member of the carrot family and the seeds from the white flower that looks much like a carrot flower also look much like carrot seeds, but they sure don't act that way.

After eating a teaspoon or so of cnidium, "both males and females reported a definite rapid increase in libido and energy," say Seal and Seal, an effect much stronger than that of another traditional herbal aphrodisiac, yohimbe, which was all the rage in hippie times.

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