Add Spice (literally) to your Valentine’s Day with these Six Aphrodisiacs

by Mike Dunphy

Cleopatra used to bathe in saffron to increase her sexual pleasure; Casanova started each day with a breakfast of 50 oysters, and ancient Aztec ruler Montezuma legendarily consumed more than 50 cups of chocolate before visiting his harem. So long as human shave gotten down by the fire, aphrodisiacs have been used to turn up the heat or jump start chilly libidos.

One resource for Montpelierites looking to do the same is Iris Gage at Grian Herbs, who welcomes many customers seeking herbal support and enhancement to lovemaking. However, drinking a tea, dropping a tincture, burning an essential oil is never as direct a charge as the little blue pill, she emphasizes.

“With herbs in general, they take time,” Gage explains. “Rarely are you going to be able to drink a tea and immediately feel the effects. People need to get that out of their head that if it doesn’t work within 24 hours, it doesn’t work at all.

”As with any infusion of herbal remedies, aphrodisiacs often need to go hand in hand with larger changes in lifestyle to reach maximum potency. “People always want Band-Aids,” Gage points out, “that’s why I always ask lots of questions and then educate a little bit. I talk about what is a libido, what is a sex drive, circulation, cortisol, adrenaline, endorphins; Maybe it’s exercise, drinking water, eating better; I try to give a bigger picture so they know how better to address it, rather than just handing them something and saying, ‘good luck.

’”That said, Gage recommends several herbal enhancements at the shop that can indeed raise and facilitate carnal yearnings:

Schizandra Berry

This berry comes from northern China and also goes by the name of the “five-flavored berry, ”with distinct bitter, sweet, sour, pungent, salty notes. Chemically, it supports the adrenal gland and creates energy and stamina. It’s also considered an “adaptogen,” which helps the body to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote normal physiological functioning, making it ideal for people who don’t have very much energy and are bogged down by daily stressers.


This root from India, also called “Indian ginseng” and “strength of ten horses” is considered one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. The reputed benefits are many, including with arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart health, menopause, and more. It’s also mentioned in the Kama Sutra as an aphrodisiac for both men and women, and studies have shown it to improve sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction, in part thanks to dilatation of the vessels that carry blood to the genitals.


This Peruvian tuber grown in the high Andes was once worshiped by the ancient Incans for its herbal power. That’s why it shows up so often nowadays in weight lifting supplements catered to men, as well as aphrodisiac formulas, particularly in China. Loaded with zinc, iodine, and essential fatty acids, maca may balance sex hormones and improve mood. Post-menopausal women also report that it reduces symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and depression, thereby increasing libido. In men, the resulting increase in nitric oxide helps alleviate erectile and sexual dysfunction.


This member of the rose family, particularly the berries, has long been associated with fertility. In ancient Greece, bridesmaids wore its fragrant blossoms while brides carried a Hawthorn bough. As a result, it’s used in a lot of libido formulas, as it’s great for stimulating blood circulation and opening up the vessels, particularly in the heart, which gets a boost in the amount of blood pumped out during contractions. This is the same for pelvic blood flow, thereby reducing issues with erectile dysfunction.

Ylang Ylang

Never underestimate the power of smell to facilitate arousal. The flowers of the ylang ylang tree, found in the rain forests of the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Polynesia, have been doing it for centuries. Diffused as an essential oil, the soft, sweet, jasmine-esque aroma breathes an exotic and sensual air into the room that both uplifts and relaxes the body, slows the heartrate, reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, while inducing feelings of joy and hope. There’s no wonder its fragrant pale yellow blossoms are spread on the beds of newlyweds in Indonesia.


The close partnership between sex and chocolate is well-documented, but additional oomph may come when consuming raw cacao, essentially chopped up beans with the shells removed. That means no added sugar, but also a denser dose of iron, magnesium, calcium, and caffeine. Cacao also contains the compounds of anandamide and phenylethylamine, aka “the love chemical,” which triggers the release of endorphins and pleasurable opium-like neurochemicals, which otherwise release naturally when we fall in love and during sexual activity.

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