Planet Mars

Herbalist Brigitte Mars speaks the language of love.

Valentine's Day falls just in the nick of time -- 'tis the season when our gonads traditionally get fired up for spring, the season of procreation: You know, the birds, the bees, all that good stuff. But in the age when fast cars creep along the highway, bridled and bound by their own excess, so do we -- which must be why the lure of the aphrodisiac has become so great. We're all looking for quick fixes -- just look at all the restaurants planning love meals this week, where every course is spiced with wicked herbs touted to turn you on, just like that.

But hold it right there. Before you make your reservations, here's some advice from career herbalist Brigitte Mars, a Boulder fixture who's been studying and teaching the botanical world's bodywise secrets for some thirty years: While she admits that there's nothing wrong with a sensual meal to get you and your sweetie in the mood, Mars insists that our bodies need to be properly prepped before we're truly ready to indulge in naughty enhancements.

"I don't recommend using herbs as a Band-Aid," Mars says. "Sexual energy is extra energy -- if you're eating a diet that's congesting your arteries, and you're smoking and drinking, your body starts conserving energy by being less sexually active." So, although you've probably never considered beans sexy, perhaps it's time to reconsider: In Asian medicine (based heavily on natural concoctions), she notes, the kidneys govern sexual vitality, and the kidneys like to be warm. And what nourishes the kidneys? Beans, especially black, adzuki and -- how convenient -- kidney beans. Or nuts. And seeds. High-protein birdfeed. Peck away.

Thankfully, some of the more traditional edible indulgences also get the thumbs-up from Mars: "In general, fruits aren't considered aphrodisiacs when the weather is cold," she continues. "But because of their color, shape and succulent sweetness, I think of mangoes, dates, cherries and figs, especially when shared with your beloved. Chocolate contains phenylethamine, a chemical produced by the brain when we're in love. In fact, a lot of people like chocolate because it's easier to get than true love." Traditional aphrodisiacs such as eggs, oysters and caviar are all high in protein and therefore highly nutritious, she adds, and it's better to stoke up on all that good stuff before you even consider taking herbs to enhance sex. So be forewarned: Even if you do turn to herbs, they'll do you no good if paired with six martinis, two-inch-thick steaks, a brandied double latté and a gallon of ice cream.

Start, instead, by looking in your spice rack for cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. "They're all warming," Mars confides. "Years ago, I remember my mom saying, 'Your father and I only make love when we go on vacation,' so I started cooking them cinnamon French toast and rice pudding with cinnamon, things like that. I think my mom once winked at me like, 'It's working.' But maybe it was just because they were so happy to have me cooking for them." The word vanilla derives from the Latin for "little vagina," and the flavoring itself can serve as a sexual tonic, Mars reveals. "It was banned by the Puritans; therefore, it must be good."

She adds that Asian ginseng, as advertised, can remedy fatigue and increase stamina, and the same goes for the appropriately named Horny Goatweed, or epimedium. Garlic is great -- if you both partake -- and collard greens will give you some zip; licorice root nourishes adrenal glands, and tribulus, or puncture vine, also stokes your friends the kidneys. Finally, although the vaunted Central American herb Damiana improves nerve sensitivity and can be good for performance anxiety, according to Mars one must be careful about imbibing too much of the commercial liqueur that contains it. "If you drink too much, that's a problem," she warns. "As Shakespeare wrote, 'It provoketh desire but taketh away performance.'"

 
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