by Helen Yoest, author of Plants with Benefits ST LYNN'S PRESS PWB CVR

The last two things a woman puts on before meeting her date for dinner is a touch of perfume and a smile. We want to be attractive to our evening companion. Even Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, more than 2000 years ago, felt the same when she got ready to meet her man. To ready herself, she used plants with benefits.

I didn’t set out to write a botanical Kama Sutra. I am a gardener. I write about designing gardens that are in harmony with nature. Then I got intrigued when I learned of the lengths Cleopatra and others throughout history went through to ready themselves for an evening out. Turns out our forefathers and mothers knew the value of aphrodisiac plants.

In the beginning

Since the deep past of history, aphrodisiac plants have been identified and sought out as a remedy for various sexual anxieties and to increase fertility. Procreation being rather important to the continuation of the race, fertility has long been an important moral, religious, and societal issue. Enter the aphrodisiac plants – nature’s little helpers. The aphrodisiacs featured in Plants with Benefits have been known to act as catalysts for fertility and, yes, sexual performance due to their physiological and psychological effects. Aphrodisiacs are based on the principle that what a person eats, drinks, rubs on the skin, inhales – or simply views – can have an impact on his or her sex life, whether direct or indirect.

How a plant made the list


Clockwise from upper left: Saffron, Garlic, Lavender, and Sage.

As I got seriously into my research, looking for possible explanations for various plants’ aphrodisiacal reputations, a pattern presented itself. To make my list, the “O” list, a plant had to have one or more of three qualities that could affect our pleasure centers. But I also couldn’t ignore the importance of a fourth.

Quality #1: A plant is psychologically suggestive because of aroma or shape. Sometimes, just thinking that something is an aphrodisiac is enough to make it work as one. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck… The classic example is the banana. Good for you, and also good for a bit of sophomoric humor. The banana looks the part, so your mind can’t help but go there.

Quality #2: A plant affects brain chemistry by directly increasing blood flow to sex organs or contributing to other pleasurable sensations. I think of these are heat generators or warming agents. Celery, that otherwise benign plant, has benefits as a warming agent. It was so believed that celery was an aphrodisiac, that Casanova regularly ate this plant before hooking up with his mistress. He believed.

Quality #3: A plant’s hormones mimic human hormones – like a tonic to ignite your own hormones. Researchers are finding that some foods do stimulate the production of hormones that affect our libidos. As an example, the Kama Sutra of ancient India speaks of fennel as a sexual stimulant.  The Egyptians also regarded fennel as an effective libido booster, as did the Chinese. Even today, fennel soup is served in modern Mediterranean culture to strengthen sexual desire.

Quality #4: A plant promotes health and vigor. We know that good nutrition is linked to good health and high energy levels – which admittedly can help set the stage for an active sex life. On that basis alone, hundreds of healthy foods would have made the list for this book; however, I limited my plant list to ones that had an aphrodisiac history–arugula comes to mind. Its nickname is The Rocket and for good reason. 1st century A.D, Pliny the Elder cited that arugula increased libido, along with other health benefits. Arugula was thought to clear the mind while increasing power and energy. Virgil wrote, “The rocket excites the sexual desire of drowsy people.”

So what did Cleopatra use to get ready for an evening out? First she bathed in water steeped with saffron, then doused herself with lavender.

Plants with Benefits explores these wonders in nature, plants that can set a romantic stage, be it lore or illusion, fact or fiction. Come discover what others have known for centuries.

Helen Yoest lives in Raleigh, N.C., tending to her half-acre wildlife habitat, her husband, and their three beautiful children.  You can follow Helen on her popular blog, Gardening With Confidence or on Facebook.