Updated: Jan 20
During the Middle Ages, how to induce desire in one's mate was top of mind for many people. The answer? Read on…
According to the 11th-century Constantine the African in his epic De Coitu, a study of sex and fertility, semen was a form of blood, a product of the ingestion of food. All sorts of foods could induce sexual desire, said Constantine, but the most effective were those that produced wind, that were nourishing, and were moist and warm. The one food that encompassed all these traits was the chickpea. As such, this modest legume became the most sought-after aphrodisiac of the Middle Ages.
But other foods contained several of these characteristics as well. According to one researcher, fresh meat, brains, egg yolks, pepper, and wine could “generate semen and draw it out.” And to “impede, repress, and thicken semen and extinguish lust,”cold foods such as cucumber, melon, lettuce, or fish would do the trick.
But it wasn’t just food that was believed to light a medieval man’s fire.
Historian Dr Eleanor Janega says that during the Middle Ages, the scent or taste of a woman’s body was considered quite seductive. She reports that kneading dough down the naked female body and then baking it into bread, or covering the naked flesh with honey and then using that honey in cooking, were much-approved methods of inducing desire in one’s mate.
Although contact between food and the female form was ostensibly a key ingredient for sparking lust, some of that contact seems a little far-fetched, not to say unpleasant.
Take, for example, the practice described by the 10th-century bishop Burchard of Worms. In his penitential guide, he stated that any woman who inserted a live fish into her vagina, left it there until it died, and then cooked it and served it to her husband for the purpose of increasing his sexual urges, must serve two years of penance. (Although he mentioned this practice in great detail, modern scholars believe that most likely, this practice was actually a fetish of the Bishop and not actually practised.)
According to historical blogger Nicol Valentin, to stir up erotic feelings, in the 14th century, a woman could cook up a rare roast beef wrapped in saffron-spiced pastry, turnips and asparagus cooked in herbal wine, and present a dessert of roasted chestnuts in cream.
Quails cooked in a pomegranate wine sauce were other medieval recommendations; in fact, eggs from just about any bird were considered an even more effective aphrodisiac than the adult birds themselves.
Seafood, for those who had access to it, was also believed to be potent, the most highly prized being boiled crab, steamed or boiled clams, baked porpoise, or wine-marinated stewed eel, a favourite of Henry VIII.
And here are a few recipes from the 12th-century Medicina de Quadrupedibus, a medicinal text that outlines how to use the various parts of four-legged animals:
To arouse a woman for sexual intercourse, take the testicles of a deer, dry them, grind them to dust, do a part of this in a drink of wine. That will arouse a woman with the lust for intercourse.
To arouse the desire of a woman, mix the gall of a buck goat with incense and with the seed of nettles; rub the penis with this before going to rest.
To carry out the desire of a man, take the gall of a boar and rub the penis with this and the testicles, then he will have great lust.
So apparently food itself (perhaps enhanced by a little well-chosen music) was all that was necessary to get the romantic urges flowing. And, at least for some, rubbing the roast along the female form could only improve one’s chances.
DID YOU KNOW?
Many medieval thinkers believed aphrodisiacs affect the sexes differently, partly due to their physiological views of the sexes.
During the Middle Ages, male babies were presumed to be the product of delivery from a healthy, well-nourished mother, with external genitalia that was fully formed at delivery.
Female babies were believed to be incomplete male babies, delivered by mothers suffering from malnutrition or psychological trauma.
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