Herbs and Drugs used as Aphrodisiacs
Aphrodisiacs in the form of herbs and plants have seen wide use by men in ancient Greece. There are many examples of this and plants associated with Aphrodite including basil, myrtle, rose, and rosemary. Basil was known to represent hate and misfortune in ancient Greece, however, it was also believed to be a strong love charm. Interestingly, basil was associated with mourning in Greece, while it signified love in ancient Rome. Myrtle was used in funeral rites to counteract the smell of death and was also associated with love. “It was the sacred plant of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus” (D’Andrea, 60). Also, rose was associated with Aphrodite and was the flower of Venus in Rome. “It’s color gave rise to the myth of Aphrodite and her lover Adonis from whose blood the rose grew” (D’Andrea 70). Finally, rosemary was a “symbol of love and death” (D’Andrea 73). At funerals, rosemary was made to be held by the dead and was also “worn by young couples at their marriage ceremonies” (D’Andrea 73).
Other plants used as aphrodisiacs include terebinth, donax, clematis, xiphium and ormenos agrios, among others. Animals could also be as aphrodisiacs and usually specific parts of the animal were used, either to be worn or to be eaten. These included wearing the right testicle of a donkey in a bracelet, eggs, the brain of a crane, the tail of a deer, the flesh of lasvicious birds, and the salpe-fish. Men believed that by wearing or eating these animals and plants that it would increase their sexual drive and stamina. Arugula was also believed to increase sexual desire in men as well as have a special aphrodisiac effect, along with bulb plants. Mandrake, oleander, and the cyclamen plant were also known aphrodisiacs and were used in love potions.
There were also rituals to “increase a man’s potency” (Faraone 19). These rituals included rubbing something on or hitting a man’s testicles. Creams were employed and "were believed to encourage erections or to increase their duration” (Faraone 19). Faraone mentions a joke by Aristophanes in which he mentions a couple using a special wine in a similar way. Faraone also states how Theophrastus describes one herb (which is not mentioned) that was able to produce 12 erections in a row. Also, “magical recipes recommend rubbing the penis with various herbs, oils, and liquids to encourage erection and to increase women’s desire” (Faraone 19). So, it seems that aphrodisiacs were widely used, especially by men.
Satyrion describes the “general name for aphrodisiac plants from the orchid family” (Faraone 20). By using this herb, men believed that their sexual potency and stamina would increase and that using satyrion would result in erections and an increase in lust. The use of this herb was usually administered by the person planning to use it and was believed that the erections it produced would happen more often and last longer. Faraone quotes Pliny in which he discusses the “effect of increased proximity”, “They tell us that sexual desire is aroused if the root is merely held in the hand, a stronger passion, however if it is taken in dry wine that rams and he-goats are given it to drink, when they are too sluggish, and that it is given to stallions from Sarmatia when they are too fatigued in copulation because of prolonged labor" (Faraone 125). When satyrion is taken in small doses, the “effects are hard to distinguish” (Faraone 125) and when taken in larger doses, because it is considered an irritant, it could cause pains, cramps, and insomnia. The emotional effects of large doses also included “irritable, phallic men” (Faraone 125). Also, when taken with wine, satyrion could cause a male to perform 70 acts of sex in a row.