Can you really grow a better sex life?

Fiann Ó Nualláin explores the ethnobotany of seduction and the use of aromatherapy to set mood while looking at food to enhance romance for the gardener and his or her beloved, this Valentine’s weekend.

Can you really grow a better sex life?

As a teenager if I wasn’t squandering my Saturdays flicking through the albums in Freebird Records, then I was scanning through the titles on the bookshelves in Greene’s or the Winding Stair bookshop in Dublin.

Sometimes a name would catch you, sometimes a cover. Other times you took a chance on randomness. A few duds but some fantastic finds.

I think back to books I picked up that were something akin to divine intervention or at least I thank god for them.

One such was the Perfumed Garden by Shaykh Nefwazi translated by Richard Burton.

I pulled it from the shelf thinking it was about fragrant plants and I could get it for my dad who loved growing aromatic things, but when I opened it up it was an Islamic sex manual — so I got it for myself.

The version I found had no pictures — just all text. More anthropology than titillation, however, it set me up for thinking about sex differently to my mates.

Later I found or sought out Burton’s other translations including the Hindu Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga.

The thread of all those books is courtship as a poetic and respectful endeavour and sex as a spiritual reward, as well as sensual pleasure.

However, they also gave insight into the ethnobotany of seduction — into the use of aromatherapy to set mood as well as foods and herbs to enhance experience, or to excite a response.

Last week I blamed Van Gogh for getting me hooked on the visual beauty of trees and ultimately gardening, and this week’s confession is that those Burton translations played a formative role in my interest in ethnobotany and medicinal botany.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and there will be a plethora of bullshit articles and talk radio segments on spicing up your love life — you know the sort — eat asparagus because it looks like a penis and they had it at Roman orgies — giggle, giggle.

That doesn’t do it for me.

I would rather read how asparagus is loaded with potassium and vitamin A which both nourishes and boosts the sex drive in both sexes and that the folic acid content produces histamines in our bloodstream that boosts the intensity of an orgasm.

Okay, so that’s tomorrow’s romantic meal sorted — a starter of asparagus soup followed by steamed asparagus in asparagus sauce followed by asparagus spears dipped in chocolate.

In some parts of the world this is the week to plant asparagus but in Ireland it is best to wait until March.

I will do a more in-depth feature on growing asparagus in a few weeks.

In the meantime just know that it can be a fussy plant to grow.

It does badly on any soil not in the range of 6.3 to 7.5 pH.

It takes three years to establish and it does need protection from wind, frost, damp and the neighbour who also read this article.

However, once established it will yield a good crop for more than two decades. Well worth the investment.

I once did a radio show where I spoke about the benefit of strawberries to female arousal and the interviewer asked me if you ate the strawberries or rubbed them in? Whatever floats your boat is the answer there — but not the answer everywhere.

Long peppers (chillies), for example, do receive a lot of press in the Kama Sutra — usually as an external application to the penis.

If you are brave enough or reckless enough to put your penis or anyone else’s near a long pepper, only vinegar will quell the horrific burning sensation (don’t ask).

But do cook with them for a beneficial impact upon the circulatory system and a warming nature that leans towards a mild aphrodisiacal property.

This is the perfect time to germinate some chilli seed, which require a long growing season to produce and ripen, so the earlier you start the better.

Seeds need around 20C to shoot, so put them in a propagator or warm windowsill. They can take up to two weeks to germinate.

Seedlings that are up and showing vigour by the approach of March can be potted on to grow in a greenhouse, tunnel or conservatory.

Mist regularly as the humidity is akin to home and keeps off red spider mite.

I do love fennel, as much for its ornamental value as for its multi- medicinal values.

Fennel contains oestrogen-like substances which increases female libido and more importantly, has an effect on sensation, but also has a moderating effect on male orgasm response, prolonging intercourse.

Sure, add a course of fennel to tomorrow’s asparagus extravaganza. Best not sown until May as it seems to bolt when started in cold temperatures.

However, this is the week to get onions and garlic sets in place and they can boost your love life too.

Onions have a long history as a health food to rejuvenate the circulatory and reproductive systems, hence the tradition in regions of France to give onion soup to newly weds for the first honeymoon breakfast and they were also forbidden to the ancient Egyptian priests, in case they stirred the mind and body from the celibate vow.

Garlic has a much more powerful dilating action on blood vessels and can contribute to stronger erections and greater vaginal and clitoral sensitivity —intensifying sexual experience and offering stronger orgasms to both partners.

And there is a story of how in Victorian Britain women were not allowed into the orchid houses at Kew gardens in case the sight or proximity of the plant (whose genus name means testicle) might over excite them, or offend.

History often makes humanity look ridiculous and reveal men as pompous asses. For a time in the 16th century artichokes were reserved only for men as the cooked vegetable was said to increase or restore libido.

Maybe I’m missing something, but gender fluidity aside and while fully respecting same-sex relationships, it makes me wonder what’s the point of a population of horny men surrounded by a multitude of disinterested women. No wonder there were a lot of sword fights in the 16th century.

Anyway, the scientific validation for artichokes is quite interesting — their aspartic acid content actually neutralises any build-up of excess ammonia in our bodies.

Excess ammonia is one of the prime causes of fatigue and sexual disinterest.

To grow some rejuvenating globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) select a free-draining site, but do water in dry weather.

A good manure or home compost mulch in spring will boost yields and dividing every three to four years will keep the plant producing abundant flower heads rather than tough leafy growth.

Aphids and slugs can be a problem — but garlic spray to the ready.

They are perennial performers and can be grown in the ornamental border to save space in the productive garden.

One plant that’s a must for the eager grower is beetroot — a long- lauded antidote to fatigue and scientifically proven stamina- boosting vegetable.

Apart from the blood-enriching pigments, the tryptophan and betaine contents promote wellbeing and a certain friskiness, but for me their aphrodisiacal value is validated by their naturally high amounts of boron, a trace mineral involved in the production of human sex hormones.

The Lupanare area (red light district) of Pompeii was littered with frescoes of beets — the Viagra of the ancients.

This is not a bad weekend to sow some beetroot, which prefers moist, fertile soil in a sunny location. Best to successional sow a little at a time into a 2cm drill, give about every 10cm between each seed an keep rows around 20cm apart.

Beetroot is ready to pick usually 90 days after sowing or once the roots hit golf ball to tennis-ball size — any larger and they lose flavour, tenderness and some of that loving feeling they inspire.

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