Most months I focus on a tasty and seasonal ingredient. But in February, I always feel the pressure to come up with a real showstopper of an aphrodisiac to properly acknowledge the season of St. Valentine. So this month, we’re talking horny goat weed.
I know, I have a hard time even saying it too. But this medicinal herb was NOT so labeled for a magical, time machine-like power that reverts your sexual prowess back to your frat party days. (The herb, or at least one of its 60 species, by the way, is also called Rowdy Lamb in some parts of the world.) I believe it was dubbed its slightly repulsive moniker for the appearance of its spiky flowers, which may appear to some who have been chewing more than their share of the plant, like the horns of goats.
Today the herb is most commonly distributed in pill form, but these pellets, which are considered quite effective in certain corners of the globe, come from a plant that grows wild in the mountains of China. (It has also been found growing wild in other parts of Asia and, on occasion, Europe.) Its place in Chinese medicine as a powerful aphrodisiac is centuries old. Today, many of China’s top doctors continue to prescribe the weed over man-made remedies like Viagra.
Those who recommend the natural “enhancer” explain that it can relax blood vessels and help promote blood flow. There is also some evidence that it can help regulate cortisol levels as well as testosterone and thyroid. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of conclusive information on how much of the herb you can safely eat if you prefer to take it in its natural rather than pill form. (Tablets will come with recommended dosing). In the US you can buy dried horny goat weed most commonly to drink as a tea. In certain parts of the country, you can grow it yourself but the plant has few culinary uses so unless you’re Mr. Green Jeans with a penchant for playing with weedy plants in your cookery, I’d stick to purchasing the wonder plant dried.
But since it isn’t exactly a super star of the recipe books like most of the ingredients I recommend, I had to stop and ask: is it really the wonder plant in the bedroom (ie, is this baby worth it to the culinary aphrodisiac world)? Horny goat weed’s centuries old reputation has, in recent years, inspired several Western researchers to “prove” the claims of traditional Chinese medicine. A 2008 study by the University of Milan found that horny goat weed’s main compound, icariin, does function in a similar fashion to Viagra, In the US, Dr. James Duke, a well-known horny goat weed proponent, conducted a study on a group of both healthy men and those who relied on Viagra that produced a result showing 60% of the healthy men reported improved sexual satisfaction using the supplement. Only 45% of Viagra users reported success when replacing the blue pill with the horny weed, but the results are high enough to make you go hmmmm?