Lessons in love shared at Washington County library

February 04, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Valentine's Day might be a holiday perpetuated by confectioners and greeting card companies, but the link between chocolate and love is no mere sales ploy, herbal medicine expert Lissa Jean-Jacques Butler said Sunday.

Chocolate has long been considered an aphrodisiac because it contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical released in the brain when people are falling in love, Butler said during a talk on herbal aphrodisiacs at the Washington County Free Library's main branch.

"Emperor Montezuma of Mexico used to drink goblets of melted chocolate all the time, and he used to do that before he entered his harem," Butler said.

Research has shown the amount of the "love chemical" in chocolate might not be enough to produce noticeable results, but there also is a psychological component to chocolate that helps lovers get in the mood, she said.


The way chocolate tastes and the way it feels as it melts on the tongue also contribute to its aphrodisiac properties for many people, she said.

Chocolate also contains anandamide, a chemical that triggers feelings of euphoria in the brain, and caffeine, a stimulant, and it is high in antioxidants, Butler said.

However, to get the most health benefits from chocolate, it is important to find purer varieties with at least 70 percent cacao, she said.

Butler passed around a bowl of chopped cacao beans so the 18 people who gathered to hear her presentation could taste the bitterness of the raw substance.

Her presentation also covered other mild, easy-to-find aphrodisiac herbs such as damiana, a Mayan remedy for sterility and menstrual disorders, and shatavari, which is used in Eastern medicine to improve sexual functioning and fertility.

Ginger, which was used by King Henry VIII as an aphrodisiac, works by increasing circulation to the periphery of the body, Butler said.

"If you want to end up creating a romantic atmosphere at home, you can begin by cooking dishes with ginger," Butler said, passing around a homemade ginger candy.

Ginger also is useful for reducing nausea during the first trimester of pregnancy and relieving menstrual cramps, she said.

Honey, too, has a long history as an aphrodisiac, Butler said. In fact, the term "honeymoon" is thought to have originated in the tradition of drinking mead, a drink made from honey, to sweeten a new marriage, she said.

After the presentation, Butler offered samples of homemade chocolate candies she made with ginger, shatavari and damiana, and encouraged participants to consider making their own massage oils and other herbal body remedies.

"When it comes to aphrodisiacs, it all starts from the psychological; what you think of, what you can create," she said.

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