Pounding Tongat Ali. Photo Courtesy Medicine Hunter

Naturally Hot!
Better Nutrition
by Tracy Rubert

What’s your favorite way to unwind? I love to body surf. Also, hanging out with friends and walking our dog in the woods.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what one food would you want to have with you? Very tough choice. For day-in, day-out eating, I’d go with bananas. They contain dopamine, and they provide a lot of nutrition and pleasure. But I’d want sushi too.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure? I’m not guilty about any of my pleasures—sex, food, chocolate. Swimming in the azure waters of the South Pacific; practicing yoga; body surfing a great wave—that’s insane pleasure.

What motivates you to accomplish all you do? I love to do good, and I’m totally in love with this planet. If I can help to broaden people’s healthy choices and enhance the natural environment and the lives of native people from time to time, that’s great by me.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Chris Kilham (aka the Medicine Hunter) is bringing us a healthy dose of natural romance. An expert in medicinal plants—especially those that boost sexual health—Kilham reaches a wide audience. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and hosts Medicine Trail, a series of television specials on medicinal plants shot on location around the world. He has appeared on a number of other radio and television programs as well, including NPR, 20/20, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Kilham is the author of 14 books, including his most recent, Hot Plants, which is an exploration of “hot” botanicals.

Q: Are Chocolate and oysters truly aphrodisiacs?
A: Chocolate is a love drug. It contains compounds that mimic the brain’s natural chemistry when we fall in love. It has phenethylamine and the cannabinoid anandamide, and it boosts serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and dopamine (our inner reward compound). It’s a dream food in terms of what it does inside our brains. Oysters, on the other hand, are high in zinc—the deservedly named sexy mineral due to its importance to healthy sexual function.

Q: What are some other aphrodisiac plants and foods?
A: Maca is the King Kong of herbs in this category. Maca is an equal opportunity sex booster. So is Rhodiola rosea and the Amazonian tree bark catuaba. Schisandra berry from China is a potent sex plant. And Tongkat Ali root from Malaysia is a great aphrodisiac. On the food side, onions and garlic are sexually stimulating, and this is why they are often forbidden in monastic communities. Asparagus provokes sexual sensation by stimulating the urinary tract due to a compound called asparagine. Hot chile peppers greatly enhance circulation and are first-rate vasodilators. So they get circulation going everywhere, including in the nether regions.

Q: How do these plants compare with drugs such as Viagra?
A: Most sex-enhancing plants (See: Hot Plants) greatly enhance libido as well as function. Viagra and other drugs, such as Cialis or Levitra, do nothing to boost libido. But they do produce a firm erection, and rather quickly. They can also cause heart attack and blindness. Herbal sex enhancers generally take longer and work less dramatically. The only real contender out there to go up against Viagra is tongkat ali. There are good erectile function studies on this. It increases nitric oxide in the blood like Viagra, but is infinitely safer.

Q: Which plants and supplements improve erectile function in men?
A: Rhodiola rosea, Panax ginseng, yohimbe bark, tongkat ali root, and Eleuthero all help to enhance erectile function. They all have a long history of safe use, and they are supported by science. Avoid yohimbe if you have high blood pressure, though.

Q: What is the most unusual plant or food you have found that increases sexual health?
A: The famous frog blender drink is the easy winner in this category. In Lima, Peru there’s a market called La Parada. It’s huge and chaotic and has endless twisting alleys and open places, and it’s filled with herbs and strange items like dehydrated alpaca fetuses. There’s a stand that makes a sex-and-brain-enhancing blender drink, which contains Maca root, honey, egg, yacon, a bunch of herbs, and a whole, freshly massacred, stir-fried frog. It all goes into a blender and then gets strained. It has a very powerful taste. Does it work? Honestly, I have no idea. By the time we get around to drinking frogs, a lot has happened.

February 2011