Johan's Guide to Aphrodisiacs
The use of alcoholic beverages to stimulate the libido is of ancient origin. "Sine Ceres et Libero friget Venus" (Without Ceres and Libero [=Bacchus] Venus will freeze, i.e. without food and wine no love) wrote Terence in Eunuchus. However, it was also noted that excessive use would seriously hamper any attempt at love-making. A real intoxication is ugly, but to pretend being drunk can often be helpful, notes Ovid in "Ars amatoria". Then any (unintentional) bad manner will be attributed the wine you pretend to have consumed.
Shakespeare, in Macbeth, Act II, Scene III, lets the porter say that:
A moderate quantity of alcohol will reduce anxiety and release inhibitions, especially for strongly inhibited persons, but the sedative effects soon will be dominating. More than half a gramme of pure alcohol per kilo bodyweight should be avoided by anyone wanting to retain full amorous capabilities. At a bodyweight of 75 kgs this corresponds, e.g. to half a bottle of wine before an event.
Possibly, there might also be other physiological effects. A 1994 study published in the British scientific journal Nature claimed that intake of alcohol would raise the testosterone level of women. Normally, women produce about on tenth the amount men do. According to Dr. Weil "additional small amounts can dramatically increase the libido. For women who lack sexual interest and desire, the treatment can be life-changing."
Some alcoholic beverages are believed to be especially potent. Absinthe was extensively used at the end of the last century as an aphrodisiac by many European, especially French, artists and intellectuals. The driving force behind this Bohemian absinthe cult was the French poet Paul Verlaine. Absinthe is largely an alcoholic extract of wormwood, Arthemisia absinthium, a plant which is rich in quite toxic compounds, such as the essential oils thujon and thujol.
The main culprit is thujon. Its use on a moderate scale as a remedy against intestinal worms might be justified, but habitual use on a large scale can be devastating and result in blindness, cramps and nerve injuries. Absinthe was prohibited in France on 16 March 1915 and is now banned in most European countries because of its toxicity and habit-forming properties.
What the results of use can be are evident from this Degas painting (also available in a even larger format); what a glass of absinthe can look like has been sculptured by Picasso in 1914, a year before the absinthe prohibition.
For further information on absinthe, please consult the collection of absinthe FAQs that is available.
One could have expected that beer, being a nourishing drink with an alcohol contents low enough to make it easy to avoid overconsumption, quickly would have gained a solid reputation as an aphrodisiac, but alas! The only exception appears to be stout. According to Michel Jackson's Beer Companion, stout is seen as an aphrodisiac in some countries.
A possible explanation might be that beer (like all alcoholic beverages) lowers the production of the hormone vasopressin in the body. This hormone controls, inter alia, the resorption of primary urine; less vasopressin results in less resorption and thus in frequent trips to the toilet, especially when large quantities of liquid have been consumed.
Some special beers have a local reputation for increasing the libido. A favourite beer of ours during hot summer days is the Belgian whitebeer Hoegaarden. Served with a slice of lemon it will cool your exterior and heat your interior!
Recently, the European Magazine, (15-21 February 1996) reported that "oyster stout is being launched as an aphrodisiac drink by Murphy's, the Irish brewer. The brew contains extracts of oysters from the west coast of Ireland."
Several liqueurs developed in old monasteries have been attributed aphrodisiac effects. These liqueurs include chartreuse (especially the green variety) and benedictine. I have not yet been able to figure out why monks should be so interested in aphrodisiacal liqueurs.
In Guadalajara in Mexico a liqueur is produced from the allegedly aphrodisiacal plant Turnera diffusa under the name Creme de Damiana. The liqueur is supposed to increase libido and counteract impotence.
White portwine is held to be a far more powerful aphrodisiac than could be explained by its alcohol contents alone., especially when consumed together with strawberries, preferably of the wild variety. In contrast, red portwine appears to act as any ordinary alcoholic beverage.
Suitably spiced, wine can be a potent aphrodisiac. Red Burgundy wine, mixed with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and sugar is known as Hippocras' aphrodisiac, and was recommended by the French author Rabelais in Gargantua and Pantagruel.
Aqua Mirabilis was used during the 17th century as strengthening tonic but also as an aphrodisiac. It was prepared by letting finely ground cinnamon, galingale root, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary and thyme steep in claret for one week, then straining the wine. A suitable dose would be 1/4 bottle (180 ml) a day.On the basis of this observation it is reasonable to assume that also glögg or glühwein would have similar properties.
Last update 29 January 2000 by [email protected].