Weekend Aphrodisiac: Radishes

The ancient root of love
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This weekend's aphrodisiac is the radish.

In the previous (first) edition of Weekend Aphrodisiac, we talked about bear. It was harrowing. Three weeks have passed, though, and I feel ready again to open the 684-page Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive substances for use in sexual practicesby Christian Ratsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling. (Foreword: "No one is advised in any way to use any of the substances or preparations that are discussed in this work.")

As the anthropologist-ethnopharmacologists write, "Radishes, mainly for their seeds, have been considered an aphrodisiac since antiquity." In early Indian iconography, the god Ganesha is often holding a radish "in a tantric context." Here is one rendering: 

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I had never noticed the radish. Now when you see Ganesha, though, you can point it out to friends and potential lovers (everyone). You'll seem smart and cultured, which might turn them on, even if they haven't eaten an actual radish.

Speaking of Ganesha, there is a whole chapter on elephants as aphrodisiacs. For another day.

Radishes in this vein seem to date back to Egyptian pharaohs. Pliny the Elder later wrote in Natural History that "Democritus [pre-Socratic philosopher] thinks that as a food radishes are aphrodisiac." Then in ancient Rome, radishes had a godly quality, and a golden radish is said to have been left by Apollo at the site of the Oracle of Delphi. Ratsch and Müller-Eberling also write that radish is sometimes mixed with honey as an oriental aphrodisiac, and that in Japan, "the radish is considered an erotic food in any form and preparation."

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They also include formula for a topical radish ointment for the penis, to enhance erections, which is attributed to Maimonides:

Mix together a liter each of carrot oil and radish oil; a quarter liter of mustard oil; and a half a liter of living saffron-yellow ants. Place the oil in the sun for four to seven days. It is ready, then, to be used. ... Nothing comparable has ever been prepared for this purpose.

And it seems no discussion of radishes as aphrodisiacs is complete without mentioning the probable origin of cultural tie between radishes and sexuality -- their appearance. That is, as Ratsch and Müller-Eberling note, it "correspond[s] to the male member, though not in its color." The phallic form "led to its use as a mechanical stimulant." There are like-minded accounts of radishes put to use in ancient Athenian punishment of adulterers. 

...Anyway. Is this turning out to be as bad as the bear

Others theorize that the sharp taste is what conjures eroticism around the radish. If that's more comfortable to you as a notion this weekend, as you sprinkle radishes-for-two over an intimate meal, go with that.

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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