One of the most popular aphrodisiacs was a mixture of scented water and honey because it was a great cure for constipation. Constipation causes genital odours and energy blockages—both were death to good sex.
Fish was also an excellent food for lovers. Not just oysters – almost any kind of fish. The ancients believed that fish expelled trapped wind and reduced bloating—getting rid of wind was the quickest way to unblock the channels of sexual energy. Fish also generated heat in the body which in turn made you more passionate. So strong was this belief in the efficacy of fish as an aphrodisiac that men of the British East India Company held that having sex with Bengali women was the only way to beat the unbearable monsoon heat which was known to completely sap people of energy. According to an article that appeared in a London newspaper in the 1800s, the Company men (back in the time of Jahangir) had even applied to the Mughal emperor for permission to have sex with Bengali women during the monsoons – for health reasons.
The zinc in almonds boosts the male sex hormones and the ancients believed that their fragrance was a turn-on for women. Romans used almond confetti during weddings and, according to the Bible, Samson wooed Delilah with almond branches.
Alcohol was great but in moderation. A couple of glasses not only lowered inhibitions and relaxed you but added to the beauty of the woman as well—‘flushed cheeks’, ‘red eyes’, ‘wine breath’ were high compliments. Too much wine however caused people to perspire and flop all over their lovers. Vatsyayan begins by saying that ‘abstinence is a very special virtue’ but moderation was a good compromise. Generally the alcohol referred to in the Kama Sutra was a form of red wine—one, because it was a warm drink and, second, because red was the colour of passion and anything red was considered an aphrodisiac. It was perfumed with lotus flowers or new mango leaves—to counter the effects of bad breath.
Paan was a very popular aphrodisiac. It served a variety of purposes. It freshened the breath, it beautified the mouth (staining the lips red) and the different ingredients were supposed to have their own particular effect on the senses. Besides which, the love vocabulary associated with the giving and taking of paan made it even more desirable.
Sugarcane juice and sali rice come highly recommended. Legend has it that when the Sun god was drinking his share of the Amrit (the nectar of immortality) a few drops fell to the ground and these became sugarcane juice and sali rice. Sugarcane derived its aphrodisiac reputation from the season (it’s hot) and the taste (sweet foods were associated with sweetening the senses). Sali rice comes in different varieties—one has a lotus fragrance, one is red and there is even a variety that looks like the male organ and was considered a great aphrodisiac (the Indian tradition of throwing rice at newly-weds comes from sali rice). Whatever their reality both things are great because for some reason they help mellow the senses.
Virgil wrote that rocket leaf (arugula) salad was good for the libido because ‘it excites the sexual desire of drowsy people’.
Onions, garlic and meat increase the heat in the blood. In ancient India widows and women whose husbands were travelling were not permitted to eat any of these foods for fear of arousing passion.
Condiments like turmeric, red chillies, black pepper etc. were considered very effective stimulants because they cleared the blood stream and made digestion easier.
The Chinese believed that foods that are good for the kidneys are the best aphrodisiacs because the kidney is the organ that balances the energy of the genitals. According to Chinese medicine, the kidneys like foods that have deep colours and are naturally salty. They suggest a diet of fish (sea fish are better than river fish), black mushrooms, black beans, blueberries, eggs (especially quail’s eggs), red meat (not chicken), bone marrow, walnuts and tofu.