To build a great empire you need a lot of people, so it’s hardly surprising that the most powerful civilizations in human history were all obsessed with the mysteries of baby-making. Each of these ancient cultures had its own methods to combat libido loss, though some of the aphrodisiacs employed by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Aztecs and Inca are questionable to say the least.
The Ancient Egyptians, for instance, had a thing for lettuce, and used the bland garnish to inject a bit of sauce into their love-making. In contrast, the Greeks and Romans believed the wrinkly green could sap the strength from a man’s groin, and would therefore only eat lettuce in combination with other libido-enhancing foods, lest their fiery chariot become extinguished.
When a man’s column crumbled, the Greeks turned to such sexual aids as celery, while the Romans are rumored to have drunk wine in which a mullet fish had drowned. The toxic secretion of a beetle known as the Spanish fly, meanwhile, was regularly applied to malfunctioning manhoods.
Interestingly, a similar irritant was used by the Aztecs, who considered the toxic temolin beetle to be an aphrodisiac. According to some Spanish chroniclers, significant numbers of Aztec men died in pursuit of sexual potency thanks to the use of this dangerous creature.
Keen to get in on the act, the Inca are reported to have rubbed a butterfly larva called musullu on their willies. Known for its caustic properties, this irritating grub was also used to burn away warts and tumors, so one can only imagine the discomfort it would have produced when applied to the loins.
Raising the bar (no pun intended), both the Aztecs and Inca turned to lethal animals for help in the bedroom. The former, for instance, created a tincture from a horned snake known as mazacoatl – or deersnake – which is said to have sent users into a fatal frenzy of fornication.
According to Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, any man who drinks too much of this lusty liquid “continually erects his virile member and constantly ejects his semen, and dies of lasciviousness.”
In a similar vein, the Inca created a deadly aphrodisiac from the highly toxic yanta-yanta bird. The fact that both mazacoatl and yanta-yanta were also used as poisonous murder weapons tells you all you need to know about the dangers of using these ancient aphrodisiacs.
Elsewhere, a Chinese love potion known as chan su contains the toxic secretions of cane toads. Sometimes referred to as ‘love stone’, the concoction is laced with deadly compounds called bufadienolides and was responsible for four deaths in New York in the mid-1990s.
Known to trigger heart attacks, bufadienolides can also reportedly cause painful erections that last for days on end. Known as a priapism, this persistent pocket rocket may sound appealing to those who can’t get it up, but is said to be excruciating.
As for whether or not any of these ancient aphrodisiacs actually work, it’s telling that despite going to such extremes in the name of reproduction, all of the aforementioned empires have disappeared.