By Kirsten Cowan
CEO, Angelica & Peony
Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some herbal allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).
Herbs to stoke the flames: Yang Tonics
Many herbs traditionally considered aphrodisiacs in the Chinese materia medica are in the Yang tonic category - they stoke the energetic fires of the body and reinforce the basal energy that governs sexual function and especially libido. Herbs in this category are generally warming, and include a few foods you might be familiar with. You might recognize some of these herbs advertised as aphrodisiacs or 'herbal viagra' but it's not a good idea to indiscriminately guzzle them. Overuse of yang tonics in search of super potency can be overheating and lead to side effects such as headaches and dryness.
Notice what's not on this list? Rhino horn. It's never been considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese Medicine, and is not used by TCM practitioners.
Yin Yang Huo, known as Horny Goat Weed, might be one of the most well-known Chinese libido enhancers. It's been shown to increase erections and ejaculations in studies with rats, and seems to mimic testosterone in the body.
Dong Chong Xia Cao or Cordyceps. Cordyceps is a type of fungus that grows in the body of a caterpillar. It has been used in Tibet for millenia and is renowned as an aphrodisiac. "People of both sexes usually take one piece of [cordyceps] with a cup of milk to enhance their sexual potency and desire." (Source)
Cuscuta Seed or Tu Si Zi. The tiny seeds of this parasitic vine are used traditionally especially for issues like premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.
Other herbs that benefit the Yang and might be found in your kitchen include walnuts, fenugrek seed and black cardamom seed.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal medicine is a continuum from foods, which one can use to gently maintain and restore balance, all the way to toxic substances that can only be taken for a short period to deal with serious illness (how I would categorize most Western drugs). So your kitchen is filled with aphrodisiacs! Renowned libido enhancers include lamb, especially the kidneys, walnuts, warming spices such as fenugrek, fennel, cardamom, black pepper, garlic and ginger.
Shrimp is another famed aphrodisiac; 'some Chinese herbalists believe that if one consumes too much shrimp without sexual intercourse, one may develop nosebleeds due to excessive fire built up in the body." Take that under advisement! (Source)
A simple shrimp stir-fry with ginger and garlic is an easy yang enhancing meal, or try spiced dairy or coconut milk as in this ayurvedic recipe, with fenugrek, cardamom and black pepper for a spicy drink that will give you a boost.
These dietary additions are great to support you when you feel a little 'off your game' or to enhance the effects of customized treatment you're receiving from a practitioner.