The Norfolk food of love
Of course love isn't just for Valentine's Day, but what better time to raid your store cupboard for a romantic feast designed to get the pulses racing? STACIA BRIGGS finds out how to make her own aphrodisiacs with the help of two Norfolk experts.
It's a relationship that it's easy to take for granted, but our love affair with food may well hold the key to romance of a different kind.
Norfolk herbalist Julie Bruton-Seal and husband and editor Matthew Seal have spent the past 10 years researching aphrodisiacs, many of which can be found in most kitchen storecupboards.
From chocolate to honey, vanilla to figs, oats to nutmeg and ginger to chilli, there are a host of ingredients which are said to offer a sensual side to many dishes alongside more exotic-sounding herbs, spices and barks such as schisandra, shatavari and tribulus.
The couple have recently published a book, Make Your Own Aphrodisiacs (�7.99, Merlin Unwin Books) which lifts the lid on the ingredients which can bring a touch of passion to your plate.
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'We have spent years looking at ingredients which give love a helping hand, in fact it was our first book idea,' said Matthew, who with Julie has written a clutch of books which harness the power of nature for health and wellbeing.
'Most of the chocolate you buy for Valentine's Day won't have enough cocoa in it to act as an aphrodisiac and roses are so expensive, but what could be more romantic than making the one you love a meal full of natural aphrodisiacs? The mere act of making the person you love something is an aphrodisiac in itself, so anything extra you can add is just a bonus. And this stuff works!'
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In their cosy kitchen, Julie and Matthew have prepared Denise, the photographer, and I a feast of romantic concoctions; from heart-shaped cream cheese desserts to cupcakes, syrups to chewable Cnidium, a seed which was the most popular aphrodisiac when tested by the couple's willing friends.
We begin by trying Athol Brose, a traditional Scottish dish often made with alcohol but in our case, with oats, ginseng, vanilla, honey and cream.
'Ginseng invigorates the mind and the whole body and so it's great to add to this dessert because when it's added to sensual food it is a fabulous aphrodisiac,' said Julie, a practising herbalist, who lives with Matthew in Ashwellthorpe.
'We use a tincture, which is chopped ginseng root steeped in vodka. Of course alcohol is thought by many people to be an aphrodisiac, but that's a different story! We prefer to use something a little bit more subtle so you don't get a hangover!'
Deliciously creamy, the subtle bitterness of ginseng is neutralised by vanilla, cream and honey. Denise and I wolf it down in a distinctly unromantic manner.
Next up is Horny Goat Weed tea (this being the ingredient that everyone is most interested in due to its somewhat literal name), made by steeping dried epimedium leaves in hot water for five minutes.
Tasting like a flavoursome herbal tea with a slight hay fragrance, epimedium is a slow-burner: you have to take it for a few days before you'll enjoy the results: 'but it's worth the wait!' laughs Matthew.
Epimedium is, apparently, a common ground cover plant that can be found in many gardens, proof it seems that love can come for free.
Matthew and Julie were careful to use ingredients which are easily sourced – even the most exotic-sounding herbs and spices can be found online or in health food shops while others such as chilli, ginger, cardamom and oranges may already be in your cupboards.
Next, Denise and I try a teaspoon of Cnidium, a powerful Chinese seed which is said to have almost immediate effects (if, I hasten to add, you are in the right mood and the right setting!).
Somewhat nutty and like a combination between celery and dill, the seeds are warming on the tongue and leave the mouth somewhat tingly and a bit numb.
Coeur a la Cr�me is next, a soothing cream cheese concoction with a loving hint of vanilla, and then the most delicious aphrodisiac of all we tried, cupcakes with maca, a rather unappealing looking root crop which resembles a turnip but tastes like butterscotch.
'Inca warriors were given maca to increase their marital ardour and it's often known as Peruvian ginseng,' said Matthew. 'It goes without saying that we've had lots of willing volunteers prepared to try the aphrodisiacs – people are absolutely fascinated by them!'
Schisandra syrup is made from berries which are the fruit of a Chinese vine and is taken as a tonic for endurance and stamina in the bedroom. Sweetened with a sugar syrup, it has a strangely appealing flavour, somehow sweet and sour at the same time with a hint of bitter saltiness.
Although most natural aphrodisiacs have a fairly subtle effect, occasionally they misfire, as in the case of the Indian man who ate too much mace on his wedding night.
'He'd been told that mace was an aphrodisiac but hadn't thought to ask about the dose,' laughed Matthew. 'Although it is an aphrodisiac, it also helps you sleep. He took too much and slept for three whole days and missed his wedding night entirely!'
Julie and Matthew's next book will continue their series which has seen them pen Kitchen Magic and Hedgerow Magic. Garden Magic will take readers on a tour around their own gardens to see which plants can be used as remedies.
'People have really tapped into the potential of what they can forage and then use in their own kitchens to make their own remedies and tonics,' said Matthew.
As for the aphrodisiacs, I am now in possession of a stash of herbs and seeds which render me somewhat of a dangerous weapon to the opposite sex.
I promise to use them wisely.
Make Your Own Aphrodisiacs is available at book shops and online at www.hedgerowmedicine.com, where you can also find details of the herbalism courses run by the couple.