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Recipe for Lust
By B.A. Nilsson

For centuries, people have attempted to stimulate sexual magic with food, drink and drugs—but which ones really work?

There hardly was time for the ramifications of sex to sink in before I heard about Spanish fly. This, for me, is the enduring legacy of Boy Scouts. Tent talk, or murmurs, long after lights out, when older kids delighted in tormenting us tenderfeet with the Facts of Life. Amazing. Frustrating, too, because girls were a different life form, unapproachable, sure to be repulsed by this base desire.

“Doesn’t matter,” soothed an Eagle Scout. “All you have to do is slip some Spanish fly into her drink.” He went on to describe a situation that involved this magic potion, bad timing and a stick shift.

Soon I discovered that every older guy I knew had heard this story, and I even found it on a Bill Cosby record. It’s recounted in Jan Harold Brunvand’s urban legends collection The Choking Doberman, and given even more detail on the urban legends Web site

It’s the sorcerer’s apprentice all over again, according to archivists Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, where magic spins out of control while playing on the “adolescent male fear of the (perceived) strength and irrationality of the female sex drive; the idea that even a ‘nice’ girl is really a ravening sexual beast just waiting to be awakened, and that if you do arouse this primal lust, it will be more than you can handle.”

Not so, I hear you insist. You can handle it. Tonight. Where to find this Spanish fly?

It’s actually a beetle—cantharides, the “blister beetle”—the ground-up carcass of which is irritating to the skin and thus was thought to tickle the urogenital tract in such a way as to provoke a sexual frenzy. “No medical or scientific test has ever shown Spanish fly to be deserving of its reputation as an aphrodisiac, however, and its indiscriminate use can result in serious medical problems,” the Mikkelsons conclude.

(And don’t confuse it with the South American beetle whose ground-up carcass produces cochineal, a red coloring agent you’ve eaten many times.)

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “An aphrodisiac is a food, drink, drug, scent, or device that . . . can arouse or increase sexual desire, or libido. . . . Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, the list of supposed sexual stimulants includes anchovies and adrenaline, licorice and lard, scallops and Spanish fly, and hundreds of other items.”

Do any of them work? Check the eBay listings under “aphrodisiac” and you’ll find dozens of items offered; likewise, the back pages of supermarket tabloids trumpet these concoctions in ads. Somebody is buying them, but they’re not sharing news of their success.

In 1989, the FDA found no scientific proof that any over-the-counter aphrodisiacs are effective, but, as the agency’s own Web site notes, these findings “clash with a 5,000-year tradition of pursuing sexual betterment through use of plants, drugs and magic,” and “people continue the optimistic quest for drug-induced sexual success.”

Men were using the bark from Africa’s yohimbé tree long before the days of viagra, and the gingko leaf extract that’s touted as a memory enhancer gives a general boost to blood circulation, which always helps get the necessary parts in working order. But there’s nothing on the radar that works as a magic potion upon an unsuspecting companion—at least, nothing outside of that touchy area of sleep inducement. There’s always good old booze, which fairly reliably helps relax inhibitions. But, as Shakespeare advised, “it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”

Some items were assumed to have aphrodisiacal qualities because they resembles genitalia. Antlers and asparagus, oysters and the astonishing-looking coco-de-mer (which grows on the fan-leaf palm in the Seychelles) are category favorites. And don’t overlook simple walnuts, a staple of ancient Roman fertility rites. Its Latin name, juglans, derives from “glans of Jupiter.”

For the most part, however, if you need stimulants at all, your best success will come from those substances that promote a sense of well-being.

A medicinal boost comes from foods like the ashwagandha, a pepper native to India and Africa, and an important part of Ayurvedic medicine. It has a steroidlike effect, which boosts testosterone—and which allies it with ginseng, one of the all-time classics thanks to its stress-fighting capacity.

When you’re out to sow wild oats, keep wild oats in mind. In addition to complex sugar chains, oats contain proteins and steroidal saponins (anabolic steroid precursors, for the technically minded. They won’t push the body past its natural limits), as well as a relaxation-inducing alkaloid content.

There’s an herb known to the Chinese as dong quai that’s especially useful for women. It contains plant sterols which have estrogen-like qualities—nothing as powerful as animal-based estrogen supplements, but enough to put you back in your game, perhaps, if you’re feeling low.

A tasty, healthful, relaxing meal promotes that elusive sense of well-being. It may be all you need, but try to work some pesto in there. Garlic was considered an aphrodisiac by ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and pine nuts are renowned the world over. For a sweeter blend, mix the pine nuts instead with honey and almonds, and you’ve got a 2,000-year-old formula rich in L-arginine, which stimulates male and female erectile tissue, and zinc, good for testosterone production.

More recently, green M&Ms began to be singled out for their lust-inducing properties about 30 years ago, thanks to some imaginative college students. Again, we turn to the Mikkelsons at “Why the green M&Ms were attributed with this power is unknown; perhaps it was because the color green has always been associated with healing and fertility.”

The search for a foolproof love potion will persist as long as we worship from afar; it’s the stuff of classic literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, to the present. But a never-failing formula was proposed 2,000 years ago by Seneca: “I will show you a philtre without potions, without herbs, without any witch’s incantation: If you wish to be loved, love.”

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Metroland restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit; your experience may differ. Food Rating Key: * * * * * An exciting, fulfilling experience; the food and service are everything they set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud. * * * * Way up there with really good food, definitely worth your dining dollar. Julia Child would be proud. * * * Average, with hints of excitement. Your mother would be pleased. * * A dining-out bogey; food probably isn’t the first priority. Colonel Sanders would be disappointed. * K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.

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