February's Health Genie: Romantic Valentines
Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.
Dear Health Genie,
I want to make a romantic Valentines Day for my significant other. What are some foods, flavors or fragrances that are appropriate for the occasion?
There are so many herbs, spices and foods that have been considered romantic for various reasons. Use a few of these and let your stunning personality do the rest.
Chocolate contains alkaloids, a category of phytochemicals often attributed to various plants’ effects on the nervous system. One of chocolate’s alkaloids is caffeine, which makes our hearts beat faster and stronger. Two other alkaloids contained in chocolate are theobromine and phenethylamine. Theobromine is thought to have a mood-elevating effect, similar to caffeine, but gentler. Phenethylamine is a central nervous system stimulant that our bodies create more of when we are in love. Both alkaloids are thought to increase brain serotonin. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that plays a role in our experience of positive feelings. Serotonin levels have been shown to be higher when we fall in love. From a culinary perspective, high-quality chocolate melts in your mouth and has a unique bitter flavor.
Honey, like chocolate, melts in your mouth, has a unique flavor and gives you a surge of energy when you eat it. Many cultures have associated it with love. In medieval times, couples drank mead, also known as honey wine, to promote romance. In ancient Persia, newlyweds drank mead together every day for one month, known as the honeymoon, to promote a successful marriage. Honey is rich in B-vitamins which support positive mood. B-vitamins are also required for testosterone production. Boron, a mineral found in honey, is important to women’s health and thought to promote healthy metabolism of estrogen. Walnuts, pistachio and most nuts are also rich in boron. You may want to try serving a honey-sweetened walnut or pistachio baklava made with a little bit of rosewater.
Eating chili peppers causes increased sweating, heart rate and circulation. Capsaicin, the most researched constituent in chiles, increases nerve sensitivity and stimulates release of endorphins - the hormones most famous for making us feel good. I suggest using recipes that combine spicy with bitter, sour, fruity, nutty or sweet to increase the complexity of the flavors in your meal. Chiles are best enjoyed between those who share an enthusiasm for the spiciest of foods.
Avocados were considered an aphrodisiac as early as 200 B.C. by ancient Aztecs. Nutritionists now consider them a source of some of the beneficial fats that may keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range and support the heart and circulation. Current research suggests that oils and minerals contained in avocados support men’s health. Avocados provide a nice balance to spicy ingredients like chili peppers.
Cardamom originated in India, but it has become popular in Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Turkish cuisine. It is quite aromatic and has been used to make aphrodisiac perfumes and love potions. For the best flavor, purchase whole green pods and separate the seed by peeling or crushing them just before use.
If you haven’t cooked with cardamom before, tread lightly, particularly with the green variety. The slightest trace in the right dish or warm, sweet and spicy drink will taste interesting and pleasantly encourage good digestion and circulation.
The scent of rose has been said to put the emotions at ease. Edible extracts of rose have a delicate flavor and have been said to elevate one’s mood. There is little scientific explanation for how rose influences us, but it has a strong history of use across cultures.
If you are going to cook with rose water, buy a true distilled rose water or rose hydrosol not a synthetic fragrance or water with a synthetic fragrance added. If you are considering rose oils for cooking, select rose otto, not rose absolute. The latter is suitable for aromatherapy applications, but not food. Add rose water to a dessert; it works well with chocolate, honey, cordials and cakes.
The Health Genie
- Haas, Elson, MD. 2006. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, California, USA.
- Hoffman, David, FNIMH, AHG. 2003. Medical Herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, USA.
- Rose, Jeanne. 1976. Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Body Book: The herbal way to natural beauty and health for men and women. Perigee Books, New York, NY, USA.
- Time Magazine Health & Family. 2011. Do They Work: 5 Popular Aphrodisiacs. February 14, 2011. Accessed Jan 2013. http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/14/do-they-work-5-popular-aphrodisiacs/