Love, love, love … Valentine’s Day is upon us again with little red hearts and Cupids fluttering everywhere. Cupid is of course the Roman version of the Greek Eros, whose mother was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love and sexuality. It was from Aphrodite that the word Aphrodisiac is derived from. Valentine’s Day is especially a time when all things Aphrodisiac related seems to surface.
According to MerriamWebster.com an Aphrodisiac is, “An agent (such as a food or drug) that arouses or is held to arouse sexual desire,” or “…something that excites.”
Generally, an aphrodisiac is any substance that ignites the passion and increases the sexual appetite. So great is the interest in substances that might boost the libido and sex drive that entire species, of both botanical and animal origin, are being endangered because of this insatiable appetite such as the Rhino. Typically, however, the history of aphrodisiacs is centered on herbs, plants and spices.
The quest for aphrodisiacs are perhaps as old as the human race itself and records of people associating food, potions, scent or ritual with success in love are part of Man’s earliest documents. The first mention on record of aphrodisiacs comes from Egyptian medical papyri believed to date from between 2200 and 1700 BC. The earliest attempts at treating erectile dysfunction with tested drugs date back to Muslim physicians and pharmacists in medieval Islamic world from the 9th century to 16th century. Ibn Rushd was among the first to prescribe medication for the treatment of sexual and erectile dysfunction. (Ref)
The quest continues. Looking at what are considered Aphrodisiacs on the web Aphrodisiacs can be divided into agents that can be classified as “love-potions” – a drink, a substance combined with ritual supposed to have the magic power to make the drinker fall in love with a specified person, mood enhancers and psychoactive drugs, and substances that increase libido and sexual potency, and sexual stamina.
Every continent and culture has its fair share of reputed Aphrodisiacs. Since Viagra has been the focus of huge media attention and has created massive public interest in the availability of so-called aphrodisiacs and cures for impotence, this interest also had a knock-on effect which led to a resurgence of sales and general interest in herbal remedies, many of which are from Africa. With the renewed interest in Herbal remedies several traditional aphrodisiacs from Africa have received worlwide interest, prominent amogst them are Aframomum melegueta, Bulbine natalensis, Caesalpinia benthamiana, Citropsis articulate, Cola accuminata, Pausinystalia johimbe, Massularia acuminate, Mondia Whiteii, Sphenocentrum jollyanum and psychoactive herbs such as Catha edulis (khat), Nymphae caerulea and Sceletium tortuosm (kanna).
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” Hippocrates
They say two of the greatest pleasures in life are, food and sex, hence the timeless allure of aphrodisiac foods. Functional foods with an aphrodisiac effect will no doubt prove to be popular.
The term functional foods was first introduced in Japan in the mid-1980s and refers to processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (IOM/FNB, 1994) defined functional foods as “any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.” (Ref)
In this regard I think we will see a rise in popularity of functional foods derived from Mondia whytei. Mondia whytei is commonly know as Mkombelo, a Luhya name meaning desire, Ogombo in Dholuo (meaning to crave) is a renowned sexual stimulant for both men and women in Africa. (Ref)
It is estimated that over one tonne of mkombelo roots are consumed every month in the Kenyan town Kakamega alone. Men and adolescent boys were reported to be the main consumers, although there is a lot of ‘hidden’ consumption by women and adolescent girls (Ref)
Mondia whytei is a fast growing climbing plant widely distributed in tropical Africa from West Africa to eastern and southern Africa, extending from Guinea through Cameroon to East Africa. In Kenya its more prevalent in the remnant tropical rain forest of Kakamega and its outliers Malava, Kisero and Bunyala, scattered in Nandi forests and ranges, Chyulu hills, Mt. Kilimanjaro regions, Mt. Kenya ecosystem and some parts of Coastal regions especially Arabukosokoke and in Malawi, Uganda. It is also widespread in Zimbabwe but threatened in South Africa (Ref)
Although it is widely distributed, it has become threatened in several areas due to over collection for medicinal purposes. There many reported traditional uses of the Mkombelo such as a natural appetizer, enhancer of cerebral and peripheral blood circulation, treatment for anorexia, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, stomach ailments and impotence, treatment of hypertension, stroke, anemia, improved sleep, body warmth, asthma, enhanced urination, hang-over, mastitis, allergies, eases after birth pain, heartburns, bilharzias, stress and tension, measles, hepatitis, rickets, typhoid, stops vomiting, meningitis, pneumonia and improved vision, food and mouth diseases, enhanced memory, toothbrush, leaves for animal fodder and human vegetables. Other uses of the roots includes flavouring agent for food and drinks, stimulant for milk production in lactating women, contracting the uterus in women after delivery. It is also mixed with porridge to prevent baby rash. The fleshy bark of the narrow roots is eaten raw or occasionally in the dried state for simply for its good taste,and to freshen the mouth, leaving a persistent spicy taste in the mouth. It is a source of vitamin A, D, K and E, the minerals, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium and protein (Ref)
Besides this, communities like the Luhya use it for spiritual purposes as a sign of peace and a love potion. Among the Maasai community, where the herb is called Olmkonkora, it is thought to give power to leaders.
All of these have however, been overshadowed by the belief that the herb is a cure of impotence or makes one desire sex and it is mainly this belief that the herb enhances desire for sex together with its flavouring properties and ability to manage STDs seems to be the cause why there is a growing market for it roots in East Africa. Due to the high demand of the herb for such purposes, it has been classified in Eastern Africa and South Africa as one of the endangered species needing protection (Ref)
Recognizing the need for conservation of Mondia whytei and its economic value to the local communities through bioprospecting several projects have been launched. One such a project is the Kakamega Forest integrated conservation project in Kenya undertaken by the Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP). A total of 14,000 M. whytei have been planted by the forest adjacent communities on their farms. The farmers also plant endangered tree species such as Prunus africanus adjacent to the vine to support it. The formulation of the plant products was refined by ICIPE in collaboration with the, Pharmacology Department, University of Nairobi and the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).
A product developed from the powdered is known as Mondia Tonic and is packed in a 50 grams tin. There are also plans to develop sachets out of it, which could be dropped in a cup of hot or cold liquid or beverages. It is used for a revitalizer, appetizing agent, management of stress, depression, memory enhancer, clearer of hangover and for enhancement of strength and vigor.(Ref)
Recently the patented ‘Mulondo wine’ a drink flavoured by the roots of Mondia whiteii in Uganda has hit the national and international markets (Kyamuhangire, 2004). The mulando wine is also believed to be an aphrodisiac for both men and women. (Ref)
The aroma of Mondia whiteii root will also make it useful as a food-flavoring agent. The compound responsible for characteristic sweet aromatic fragrance of its root-bark has been found to be 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzaldehyde. Researchers from Kefri as early as 1998 tried to patent the compound of mondia flavouring properties but the Kenya Industrial Property Organisation that issues patents is yet to clear Kefri’s application. (Ref)
If all goes well with the projects, Mondia whiteii products might become a common sight in shops not just in Africa but world-wide.
Agya Appiah Bitters Ltd produces two main herbal alcoholic beverages – Waist and Power and Moshi Bitters – as well as mineral water Nsuo ye.
Aframomum melegueta – Grains of Paradise
“Awake , O north wind; and come thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat pleasant fruits.”
Song of Songs
Spices especially enjoyed a reputation through out the ages as aphrodisiacs and they have always been included in recipes for improving sexual potency, or to “spice up your love life.” The ritual of seduction almost always includes a romantic meal enhanced with heady exotic aromas of spices. In Africa an almost forgotten spice with a long track record as an aphrodisiac is Aframomum melegueta, commonly called Grains of Paradise.
Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae It is a herbaceous perennial plant native to swampy habitats along the West African coast, stretching from Sherbro Island in Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas in Liberia.
Africa has a reputation for spicy-hot food. However, Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is native to Asia and was introduced to Africa sometime in the first millenium AD. Chile Peppers are native to the American tropics. They arrived in Africa soon after Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World. Africa has always been linked to the Middle East and Asia via the Egyptian and Ethiopian civilizations which brought many crops to Africa even in prehistoric times. More non-native crops came to Africa in two long migrations, the first from Asia, the second from the Americas. But even before Africans had pepper from Asia and America, they had Grains of Paradise (Aframomum melegueta), also called Melegueta Pepper, Atare, alligator pepper or Guinea Pepper which is native to West Africa. In the 1300 and 1400’s, before Europeans knew of America or the sea-route to Asia, Grains of Paradise were exported from Africa to Europe. The African coastline in the present-day Liberia was known to Europeans as the “Grain Coast”, named for the trade of Aframomum melegueta. In Europe, Grains of Paradise were used as a substitute for the more expensive black pepper. They were also used in beer and spiced wines. Grains of Paradise are mentioned in some European cookbooks of the 14th and 15th century. Trade prospered until Europeans found their way around the Cape of Good Hope, making the East and all of its spices, including black peppercorns, much more accessible. As Black Pepper became more common, demand for Grains of Paradise declined and the spice became nearly forgotten in Europe and in most of Africa. (Ref)
Until a New York Times article “What Peppercorns Only Dream of Being” written by Amanda Hesser once again popularized grains of paradise. She wrote, “I put a few between my teeth and crunched. They cracked like coriander releasing a billowing aroma, and then a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper at the back of my mouth. The taste changes in a second. The heat lingered. But the spice flavor was pleasantly tempered, ripe with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, and with the kind of oiliness you get from nuts. They were entirely different from black peppercorns and in my mind, incomparably better.”
Aframomum melegueta however, is so much more than a simple condiment and really can spice up your love life. In Cameroon and Nigeria, researchers, discovered that a waterbased extract of grains of paradise significantly increased male arousal and sexual function. The seeds are also used to promote sexual rejuvenation in men entering the male menopause. (Forget the Harley – take up cooking with Aframomum) The fresh fruit are also used to enhance sexual stimulation and sensation in males and females. Author of “Spicy Healing” Uwe Blesching, recommends to try 250mg to 1gm of the seeds an hour before sexual contact or a range of 2.5 mg/kg – 10mg/kg twice a day to achieve results. The aframomum family consists of dozens of subspecies; and aframomum stipulatum has been noted to especially improve penile rigidity and endurance.
Apart from its culinary and aphrodisiac qualities, Aframomum melegueta also has the ability to stabilize the cell membrane of injured tissue sites thus reducing the need and speed for reconstruction. Furthermore, it has also been noted to have strong anti-oxidant properties enabling the body to more effectively scavenge free radicals common in injuries. There are several patents pending from the research done on the healing abilities of Aframomum melegueta. Some research has also found that Aframomum might successfully be used to treat diseases with inflammation as their hallmarks, like cardiovascular conditions, arthritis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. (Ref)
Traditionally it is also used to treat bone fractures, pain, fever, cholera, constipation, venom injuries, cancer, tumors, skin infections (measles, fungus, leprosy, yaws-tropical bacterial infection of skin/bones, inflammation), malaria, infertility, excessive bleeding after birth, balancing lactation, bleeding wounds, schistosomiasis and stomach ulcers.
It appears that we will hear a lot more about the Grains of Africa in the future and certainly no romantic meal should be without Aframomum.
Grains of Paradise is available from:
Yohimbe Tree – Pausinystalia johimbe
The bark of the yohimbe tree is one of Africa’s most famous aphrodisiacs. Yohimbe has been thouroughly tested with at least 60 clinical tests, receiving approval in the 1980s by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for impotence or erectile dysfunction. (Ref)
Pausinystalia johimbe is a tree native to the coastal forests of Central Africa and is distributed from South East Nigeria through Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville to the Congolese Mayombe. Its bark contains up to 6% of a mixture of alkaloids, the principle one being yohimbine which is also known as aphrodine, quebrachine or corynine. P. johimbe bark exploitation is a seasonal activity as the yohimbine levels are highest during the rainy season. Aphrodine is the source of its stamina-enhancing power. Essentially, yohimbine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, triggering vasodilation and an accompanying decrease in blood pressure.
P. johimbe is used extensively as part of traditional health care systems. Its many recorded uses vary from being used directly as an aphrodisiac to that of a local anaesthetic, a mild stimulant to prevent drowsiness, a hallucinogen, a treatment for angina, a hypertensive, a general tonic, a performance enhancer for athletes and as a remedy to increase the clarity of the voices of singers during long festivals, an ichthytoxicant, and as a tonic to increase the resilience of hunting dogs. (Ref)
In addition to its widespread local use, the species has been long exported to Europe for western medicine in both prescription and herbal markets. The most common use of yohimbine-based prescription drugs today is in the treatment of diabetes-related male organic impotence (Lawrence Review of Natural Products, 1990; Vaughan, pers comm.). Sexual stimulant products available over-the-counter often contain yohimbine. In the United Kingdom, yohimbine-containing drugs have become fashionable as one of the “herbal highs” reported in the British press and yohimbe-based products have become a common sight in “sex-shops” in world wide.
All P. johimbe bark is currently harvested from wild populations. Concerned over the fact that future supplies might be compromised by current levels of over-exploitation, due to recent advancements in the development of yohimbe-based remedies that led to an increased demand for the export market, Boehringer Ingelheim, a German pharmaceutical company which import P. johimbe bark directly from Cameroon through Plantecam, a subsidiary of Laboratoires Fournier, commissioned the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) to undertake a pilot study on the ethnobotany, ecology and natural distribution and sustainability of the species.
Their research found that the increased demand is generating considerable over-exploitation and local scarcity of the species. Although yohimbine occurs in not only both the branches and young stems, of the trees, but also in the leaves, the bark exploited is often collected from the main stem only, and to increase outputs, the trees are felled. It is estimated that as many as 98% of the trees exploited are felled. In the field it was explained that whilst the P. johimbe trees callused well after a small amount of bark removal, removal of large quantities of bark led to an attack by a stem borer which penetrated the unprotected stem, killing the tree. That is why many harvesters preferred to fell the tree, as “the tree would die anyway.”
Due to the destructive harvesting methods employed and the rapidly-growing market for aphrodisiac remedies, ICRAF have begun a research programme to investigate the potential of P. johimbe for domestication and inclusion into their agroforestry systems programme.
One of the remarks from the paper regarding the domestication of Yohimbe is especially of insight to the dilemma faced by most programmes for domestican of indigenous plants.
The greatest dilemmas with initiating a domestication programme for any forest product is whether to begin work that could provide material for a hypothetical future market that could no longer exist when the products reach maturity. In contrast, one could decide that the volatile nature of such markets makes the investment prone to risk and no action is taken inevitably leading to the extirpation of the species.
They conclude however that in the case of P. johimbe, along with the obvious biological urgency, the market seems secure enough in the short-medium term to warrant the development of cultivated systems. If the market no longer exists in the long-term, the species can be used for other purposes such as fuelwood, aside from serving a valuable ecological function.
In addition, as it appears that Fair Trade practices are currently not in place, they recommend that it is also essential that local communities benefit from the exploitation of such a high-value resource such as yohimbe. In Cameroon, and soon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the moves towards Community Management of forest resources with a view to sustainability should ensure that the communities managing such resources not only benefit from their exploitation, but are also paid a fair price for the resource.
In South Africa Bulbine Natalensis is known as Ibhucu (Zulu), and Rooiwortel (Afrikaans). It is an evergreen perennial with broad sharp pointed fleshy yellow-green leaves. It has clusters of star-shaped yellow flowers on long thin flowering stems, and is drought resistant.
In South Africa both Bulbine Natalensis and Bulbine frutescens is best known as a first aid kit to treat bug stings, mosquito bites, blisters, cold sores, mouth ulcers, pimples, cracked skin, to soothe sunburn, disinfect cuts, and to speed the healing of bruises. It is however, Bulbine Natalensis that has had a flurry of interest not Bulbine frutescens.
Bulbine natalensis has recently made headlines in the body building industry after Anthony Roberts wrote an article in the Iron Magazine, (Ref) highlighting that research has found that it outperformed Viagra, for libido enhancing and pro-sexual effects and that the same dose also raise testosterone and lower estrogen. Other anti-estrogens/test-boosters in the past that have lowered libido. With Bulbine Natalensis, however, there is a significant reduction in estrogen but it does not lower the libido.There are few herbs that actually boost testosterone, fewer that really lower estrogen, but none that do both exceptionally well – except Bulbine Natalensis.
In short, he described the effects of Bulbine Natalensis as “a perfect hormonal environment for building muscle, burning fat, and gaining strength; if you were 18, you’d be thrilled to have these hormone levels. If you were 37, you’d sell your soul to get hormone levels like this.” He concluded in saying that Bulbine Natalensis is “… poised to be very big for the natural testosterone booster market.” (Ref)
One company claiming to have the first nutritional supplement in the world to contain Bulbine Natalensis and trademarked it under the name Prolensis is promoting it for athletes looking to enhance their hormonal profile, support a healthy endocrine system, or improve their recovery, as well as for “those looking to improve their Libido or experience prosexual effects.” (Ref)
Since the growing interest suppliers have not been able to keep up with the demand for the raw material and there is concern that bogus products may be distributed due to the demand.
Growers: Muthi Futhi
Research: Effect of aqueous extract of Bulbine natalensis (Baker) stem on the sexual behaviour of male rats.
International Journal Andrology. 2008 Aug. Yakubu MT, Afolayan AJ. Yakubu MT, Afolayan AJ. Centre for Phytomedicine Research, Department of Botany, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa.
Fetch me that flower, the herb I show’d thee once;
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
(Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Leopard Orchid – Ansellia africana
The Leopard Orchid is the largest of the African epiphytic orchids and has a reputation of being one of Africa’s great love charms. It grows in trees in tropical and subtropical zones, extending from Southern Africa to West Africa. In winter it bears its beautiful spotted flower. It is however, not its exotic flower that carries the power, but it is the cane and roots. The Leopard orchid only becomes suitable for muthi (traditional African medicine) purposes after about ten years when it is said its power matures. The really large clusters of Leopard Orchids can be as old as between fifty and a hundred years.
According to inyangas (traditional herbalists) if you want to attract someone, you must chew some of the cane or roots at midnight, then spit it out while saying the name of the person you love. From that moment the person will start to think about you. It however, normally comes with a warning; “But before you employ such a powerful love force, think carefully is the person you want to attract is really the most suitable person for you.” (Ref)
If you are looking for a fragrant Afrodisiac, or perfumed love potion from Africa, try African Dawn. In formulating African Dawn I used only natural African ingredients to capture the romance of Africa.