There were many foods and beverages consumed in ancient Greece that we might not be anxious to try today, like cheese and garlic added to wine, but no more unusual than at least one of the foods that were considered to be aphrodisiacs. When we think of bulbs, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't "aphrodisiac;" yet, they were highly prized for their reputed positive effect on the libido.
What's an Aphrodisiac?
An aphrodisiac is defined as something (like a drug or food) that arouses or intensifies sexual desire. The name is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
From ancient times, there have been foods that were believed to increase sexual prowess and desire, and food historians tell us that ancient Greeks were not immune to promises of improved performance and stamina, and heightened pleasure.
Hippocrates (c.460-377 B.C.E.), the father of medicine, is reported to have recommended lentils to keep a man virile well into old age, a practice followed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), who cooked them with saffron. Plutarch (c.46-122 C.E.) suggested fassolatha (a bean soup, the national dish of Greece) as the way to a strong libido, and others believed that artichokes were not only aphrodisiacs but also ensured the birth of sons.
In her book "Πολύτιμες Αρχαίες Αφροδισιακές Συνταγές" (Prized Ancient Recipes for Aphrodisiacs), author Lena Terkesithou sheds light on the ancient Greek quest for virility (since the earliest references to aphrodisiacs were for men). Among the foods noted as aphrodisiacs of the times are:
- Edible bulbs: Ancient Greeks believed that certain bitter edible bulbs stimulated passion. They were cooked in various ways, and eaten with “aphrodisiac salads” containing honey and sesame seeds – two other foods considered libido-boosters. Perhaps the ancient recipe was similar to this recipe for marinated bulbs that we make today.
- Garlic: From the most ancient of times, garlic was believed to have magical and therapeutic properties, and was also considered an aphrodisiac. In the times of Homer, Greeks ate garlic daily - with bread, as a condiment, or added to salads. It was the main ingredient in a garlic paste (a forerunner of today’s skordalia?) containing cheese, garlic, eggs, honey, and oil.
- Leeks: Ancient Greeks considered leeks to be an aphrodisiac, probably because of their phallic shape. (They were also used as a diuretic and laxative.)
- Mushrooms: Truffles were considered exceptional aphrodisiacs. They grew below the surface on sandy shorelines and were rare and very expensive (just as they are today).
- Onions: Like garlic, the ancients ate onions regularly. In addition to their perceived therapeutic benefits, onions were believed to be an aphrodisiac.
- Satirio: Satirio is a type of wild orchid and was referenced as an excellent aphrodisiac by Dioscorides (c.40-90 C.E.), the 1st-century founder of pharmacology, as well as by Plutarch in his Precepts of Health (Υγιεινά Παραγγέλματα).
- Stafylinos: This was a plant that grew from seed in the wild that was believed to heighten sexual desire, so much so that it was known as a "sex potion."
Is It or Isn't It?
Mint: Hippocrates believed that frequent eating of mint diluted sperm, hindered erection, and tired the body. There was, however, the diametrically opposed opinion that mint was a very effective aphrodisiac. It is reported that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great (c.356-323 B.C.E.) not to allow his soldiers to drink mint tea during campaigns because he believed it to be an aphrodisiac.