Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Sex

Font Size

Aphrodisiacs Through the Ages

Can what you eat put you "in the mood"? Would-be lovers have been cooking up aphrodisiac appetizers for thousands of years. But do any of them really work?
WebMD Feature

You may have heard that oysters are an aphrodisiac -- but what about potatoes, skink flesh, and sparrow brains? These things were once considered aphrodisiacs, too. Almost everything edible was, at one time or another.

Aphrodisiac recipes have been cooked up throughout the world for millennia. In Europe, up to the eighteenth century, many recipes were based on the theories of the Roman physician Galen, who wrote that foods worked as aphrodisiacs if they were "warm and moist" and also "windy," meaning they produced flatulence. Spices, mainly pepper, were important in aphrodisiac recipes. And because they were reckoned to have these qualities, carrots, asparagus, anise, mustard, nettles, and sweet peas were commonly considered aphrodisiacs.

Recommended Related to Sex & Relationships

Are You a Sex Addict?

By Liz Welch Anna is sitting in a New York café, sipping an English Breakfast tea. Dressed in patterned tights and a black sweaterdress, the 20-something Smith College grad has auburn curls and big brown eyes. Pretty? Yes. Sexy? Sure. Sex addict? No way. But she's currently being treated for sex addiction, seeing a therapist once a week and attending daily support groups, after an affair last year almost ruined her marriage and landed her in sex rehab. "I always knew I focused too much on...

Read the Are You a Sex Addict? article > >

An aphrodisiac, as we use the term today, is something that inspires lust. It usually isn't meant to cure impotence or infertility, problems that are now handled by separate fields of medicine. But until recently there was little distinction between sexual desire and function. Any lack of lust, potency, or fertility would have a common cure in an aphrodisiac. Galen thought that a "wind" -- or as one 16th-century writer put it, an "insensible pollution" -- inflated the penis to cause an erection, so anything that made you gassy would also make you erect.

Galen's theories were not the only basis for concocting aphrodisiacs. Mandrake root was eaten as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for female infertility because the forked root was supposed to resemble a woman's thighs. This was based on an arcane philosophy called the "doctrine of signatures." Oysters may have come to be known as an aphrodisiac only by their resemblance to female genitals. Few old medical texts listed oysters as an aphrodisiac, although literary allusions to that use are plentiful.

Parts of the skink, a kind of lizard, were thought to be an aphrodisiac for centuries. It's hard to say why exactly, but three different ancient authors make the claim. Potatoes, both sweet and white, were once known as an aphrodisiac in Europe, probably because they were a rare delicacy when they were first transplanted from the Americas.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

couple not communicating
How to tell when you're in one.
couple face to face
Get your love life back on track.
couple having an argument
Turn spats into solutions
couple in argument
When to call it quits.
Life Cycle of a Penis
HIV Myth Facts
How Healthy is Your Sex Life
Couple in bed
6 Tips For Teens
Close-up of young man
screening tests for men
HPV Vaccine Future