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Feel the Love: Aphrodisiac Tonics + Cupcakes

Cultures all around the world have rejuvenating herbal tonics, taken to strengthen and support the body. Think of the spring tonics our grandparents knew and swore by. A number of these elixirs are also aphrodisiacs, employed to arouse our emotions and feelings of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, what better time to give them a try?

Botanical aphrodisiacs are often highly-prized and costly (ginseng, for example), but the romantic cocktails, cupcakes and sorbet (we got inventive!) below call for five main ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available in the U.S.

Aphrodisiac list to remember

Each has a cultural tradition of promoting health and well being while also supporting libido: Ashwagandha, native to India; damiana, found in Central and South America; horny goat weed from China; maca from Peru; and schisandra from China. All can be obtained as organic dried herbs or powders from Starwest Botanicals. Many are also available from Frontier Coop. Organic fairly-traded Ayurvedic herbs can be found at Banyan Botanicals, and if you’d like to try growing any of these plants yourself, Horizon Herbs can supply seeds. 


Book giveaway: This Valentine's Day create seductive elixirs at home!



» Click here for a chance to win both "Aphrodisia" and "Kitchen Medicine" by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.

» Or buy "Aphrodisia" here.


You may be inspired to try these treats for Valentine’s day but remember they can be enjoyed any time, alone or with a partner. Here’s to health and pleasure!

Evening Energizing Cocoa

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, a relative of the tomato, is one of the most important tonic and restorative herbs in Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life and medicine. In India,  ashwagandha root is traditionally boiled in milk as a drink. It has a slightly bitter taste, so we like to combine it with cocoa to make a relaxing and restorative evening drink, adding the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate to that of the ashwagandha.

Serves 2


½  to 1 teaspoons ashwagandha powder

2 teaspoons cocoa powder (or to taste)

¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

1 cup milk or almond milk per person

10 drops vanilla essence

honey or maple syrup  to taste


1. Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan.

2. Add milk and bring just to the boil, then remove from heat.

3. Add in the vanilla and sweetener to taste.

* * *

Damiana Iced Tea

Damiana, Turnera diffusa, is a tonic herb found in Texas, Central America and tropical parts of South America. Damiana is a tonic for both sexes, balancing hormones and supporting the nervous system as well as increasing libido.

Damiana tea. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Damiana tea. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Serves 2


2 heaped teaspoons damiana

1 heaped teaspoon mint

some rose petals


1. Put ingredients into a jug.

2. Pour boiling water on them, brew for 5 minutes.

3. Strain and chill.

4. Serve over ice.

* * *

Horny goat weed. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Horny goat weed. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Horny goat weed leaves. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Horny goat weed leaves. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Horny Goat Weed Liqueur

Horny goat weed, or Epimedium, is an herb worth trying for the name alone. It is grown as ground-cover plant in dry shade, and the species used as aphrodisiacs are Epimedium grandiflorum, E. sagittatum and E. brevicornum. The leaves, which can be used fresh or dried, have a pleasant mild taste and a mild stimulant effect. 

Makes about two weeks’ supply for one person.


A handful of dried horny goat weed leaves

A slice or two of orange

3 or 4 cardamom pods

1 tablespoon brown sugar

About a cup of whisky


1. Loosely fill a jam jar (roughly ½ pint size) with the dry ingredients



2. Pour in enough whisky to fill the jar and submerge the contents.

3. Put the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks then strain and bottle.

4. Enjoy a small liqueur glassful, sipped slowly, as and when you wish.

* * *

Maca Cupcakes With Vanilla Fudge Icing

Maca, Lepidium meyenii, looks a bit like a turnip and is a staple in the high Andes. Its strengthening and hormone balancing benefits are cumulative over long periods, though some people find it immediately stimulating. The powder smells like butterscotch, but blander and with a slightly bitter taste. Maca can be added to porridge, breads and cakes. Our favorite maca recipe is for these cupcakes. Matthew loves the combination of hard, sweet icing, a soft, light cake and sensuous strawberry melting in the mouth.

Makes 10 to 12 cupcakes

Ingredients for cupcakes

Maca cupcakes. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Maca cupcakes. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

½ tablespoon vinegar

1 tablespoon corn syrup or honey

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup milk or oat milk

1 cup white flour

2 tablespoons maca powder

1 tablespoon boiling water

½ teaspoon baking soda 


1. Warm vinegar, corn syrup, butter and sugar together in a pan.

2. When softened, beat until mixture becomes a creamy batter.

3. In another container, mix milk, flour and maca powder.

4. When well blended into a runny batter, pour over the cake batter.

5. Mix the two batters together to form a semi-liquid mixture.

6. Pour into 10 or 12 muffin cases.

7. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through.

8. Cool, and add icing, as below.

Vanilla Fudge Icing

Matthew Seal and Julie Bruton-Seal. Credit: Jen Bartlett

Matthew Seal and Julie Bruton-Seal. Credit: Jen Bartlett

For 10 or 12 cupcakes


1 teaspoon butter

1½ cups sugar

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

10 small, very ripe strawberries


1. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan.

2. Add milk and stir continually until it reaches boiling point.

3. Continue cooking until the mixture arrives at the soft ball stage (115 C, 240 F).

4. Cool a little, add vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

5. Spread on the cup cakes.

6. If the icing gets too stiff, warm it over hot water.

7. Decorate the top of each cupcake with a small, very ripe strawberry while the icing is still soft.

* * *

Schisandra Syrup and Sorbet 

Schisandra berries. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Schisandra berries. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Schisandra sorbet. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Schisandra sorbet. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Schisandra, Schisandra chinensis, berries are the fruit of a Chinese vine in the magnolia family and are known as “five flavor berries” for their complex taste. Besides their aphrodisiac effect, they promote overall health and vitality, improve memory and concentration and help protect the liver, support the endocrine system and act as a powerful antioxidant.

Serves 2

Ingredients for syrup

1 cup schisandra berries

3 cups water

1 cup sugar 


1. Put schisandra berries into a pan.

2. Add the water and simmer gently with the lid on for 30–40 minutes.

3. This stage is complete when the berries have given their brown-black color to the water.

4. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

5. When almost cool, put in blender and blend for a few moments.

6. Strain through a sieve.

7. Add sugar, and bring to a boil, cooking for a couple of minutes longer.

8. Allow to cool, giving a rich syrup

Ingredients for sorbet

1 cup schisandra syrup (as above)

Juice of 2 or 3 oranges, freshly squeezed

1 ripe banana


1. Mix the syrup and orange juice.

2. Peel and slice the banana and freeze it.

3. When frozen or nearly frozen, add the banana to the syrup mix.

4. Beat with a hand blender until creamy, then freeze again.

5. Serve in a chilled dish.

Top photo: Ashwaganda. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal write about herbs, food and health, and are the authors of "Backyard Medicine," "Kitchen Medicine" and "Aphrodisia: Homemade Potions to Make Love More Likely, More Pleasurable, and More Possible." They live in Norfolk, England. Their website is