What Are Aphrodisiacs, and Do They Really Work?

For hundreds of years, folklore has claimed certain foods can ignite arousal. Before modern medicine, people believed plants and produce shaped like body parts were meant to aid as natural remedies (called the doctrine of signatures). For example, eggplants and mandrakes were thought to enhance vitality and fertility. Oysters, figs, peaches, and sea cucumbers have myths linked to sexual arousal as well.

While these stories may fuel our curiosity and excite our taste buds, science isn’t so quick to encourage snacking on oysters or biting into chocolate-covered strawberries to enhance sexual pleasure.

Food can work with the body to increase health and vitality.

“Many of the currently popular aphrodisiacs—such as strawberries, chocolate, and oysters—have very little evidence of being effective, and are more likely marketing ploys due to their links with romance,” Giuseppi Aragona, MD, recently told Insider.

Yet, as we continue our quest to spice things up in the bedroom, it’s the scientific research about food and its effects on our health that can lend truth to the power of aphrodisiacs. Because food can work with the body to increase health and vitality—and certain herbs improve blood flow, balance hormones, and help to elevate mood, when taken over time.

So, whether you’re looking to indulge with a lover or just want to experience a bit more pleasure in your life, here are five scientifically-backed aphrodisiacs to eat and enjoy.

1. Maca

First up, Maca is a root native to Peru, containing copper, vitamin C, and potassium. This nutrient-dense food has supported overall well-being for thousands of years, including offering mental health and sexual wellness benefits.

Studies show that maca can reduce anxiety and depression, increase libido, and even have subjective effects on sexual performance for those with erectile dysfunction and postmenopausal women. As Maca is often ground into a powder, it’s perfect for adding to smoothies, teas, and tonics. You can also bake Maca into desserts for a truly decadent experience. 

Where to Shop | For pure maca root powder, try Apothékary ($17) or Moon Juice ($34). We also love Anima Mundi’s organic, wildcrafted Adaptogenic + Libido Booster maca ($12.50).

2. Rose

For centuries, roses have been a symbol of love. The flower—a nervine (nerve tonic)—calms the central nervous system and can help uplift moods and reduce anxiety. When applied topically or inhaled, rose increases our “feel-good hormones” as well—serotonin and dopamine. Studies show rose oil may work as an aphrodisiac to help those experiencing decreased libido or erectile dysfunction.

Where to Shop | Add a few drops of Wooden Spoon Herbs Rose-Colored Glasses ($29) to bolster your mood and emotional well-being. Diffuse this Goddess Euphoria oil blend from Saje Wellness ($26) or add a few drops to a carrier oil to create a sexy massage oil. We also love this Arouse: Stimulating Serum from Rosebud Woman ($75). With aphrodisiac herbs, like maca and rose, it stimulates arousal.

3. Cacao

Perhaps the myths about chocolate are true! Cacao is chocolate at its most pure form, and it contains anandamide, a chemical found in the brain that can heighten a sense of joy and feelings of blissfulness. Cacao is also the most bioavailable source of magnesium, which is an important mineral for healthy hormonal function. When our hormones are balanced, so is our sex drive.

Where to Shop | Anima Mundi’s ethically harvested Organic Cacao ($9.75) can be added to everything from coffee to mole. The Bliss Cacao Elixir from Joyà ($40) is also a great libido-enhancing bedtime beverage. But an all-time favorite for arousal? Sex Dust from Moon Juice ($38). This blend of organic libido-enhancing herbs ignites creative energy in and out of the bedroom.

4. Ginseng

For thousands of years, the Ginseng plant has been used to increase immunity, decrease stress, and help with sexual arousal, including increasing libido. This rooted plant is grown in Asia and North America and has ginsenoside properties that can help regulate the nervous system and hormone functions. A recent study also noted that Korean red ginseng might help with sexual complaints from postmenopausal women. 

Where to Shop | We love this Golden Glow blend (£17.50) made with maca, turmeric, and ginseng; it offers the body an overall herbal wellness boost. You can also try adding a few drops of this Ginseng Vitality Herbal Blend ($21.95) to your morning beverage or evening drink to help in increasing sexual desire.

5. Reishi

Last but not least on the list, the reishi mushroom has many benefits, including for sexual health. This powerful plant has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to support kidney and liver function—which are believed to be the center of sexual wellness. We also understand reishi to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and it is even thought to increase libido and fertility naturally.

Where to Shop | For reishi, we recommend visiting your local Chinese grocer or medicine store. But if you’d prefer to shop online, we love this pure organic Reishi Mushroom Powder from Sun Potion ($53)—add it to warm water, soups, coffee, or smoothies. Four Sigmatic’s caffeine-free Reishi Elixir ($38) supports stress relief and increases sexual desire. For the ultimate immunity booster, we love Goldmine’s Super Shroom Immunity Support ($28), which includes reishi and other nervous system-supporting mushrooms and herbs. And for overall balance, Wooden Spoon Herb Mushroom Magic ($29) is a well-rounded tincture of functional adaptogens.

Remember, there are many natural ways to spice up your sex life, aphrodisiacs or otherwise! Tantric sex can help promote intimacy between you and your partner through mindful touch, while sex toys can invite playfulness and pleasure into the bedroom. CBD is another great option for pleasure enhancement as well—from CBD lubes to ingestibles. We recommend starting with these herbal CBD gummies from House of Wise ($50)—a mix of hemp-derived CBD with Maca, Ashwagandha, and Horny Goat Weed—for a truly pleasurable experience. 

Do you have favorite foods for increased wellness or sexual pleasure? Share with us in the comments below!


Courtney Jay is a writer at The Good Trade. She is also a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, and sustainable fashion advocate. You can find more of her writing and take one of her online yoga classes on her website Coincide.