The mere thought of aphrodisiacs is romantic, conjuring up images of love potions, sorcerers, and uncontrollable passion. Shrouded in a mist of myth and magic, the names of certain herbs are repeated over and over throughout history and across cultures. Science has finally begun to catch up to folklore in providing an explanation for the sexually stimulating effects of some herbs, but for others the ancient knowledge of what works still outstrips our more logical thinking.The way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but the way into his bed might be found before the meal, via his nose. Neurologist Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, reported at the March 1998 American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting the results of his studies relating certain scents to changes in blood flow to the genital areas of men and women. The most dramatic results were achieved in men with a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie, which increased the blood flow to the penis by as much as 40 percent. A combination of black licorice and donut scents increased penile blood flow by 32 percent. (None of the scents tested had as significant an impact on women.) The smell of pumpkin pie includes the spices ginger, cinnamon, and clove -- all warming, spicy scents. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) essential oils are both considered to be aphrodisiacs with energizing properties.Scent is a simple way to set the mood for romance, whether applied as a perfume or diffused through a room. Our sense of smell is primal. The nerve endings in the nose are barely separated from the limbic system of the brain, the "old brain" that serves as the center for our basic instincts -- including sexual desire. What better place to start a romance than at a juncture between the present moment and the beginning of time?The essential oils of coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and cardamom (Eletteria cardamomum) are derived from the seeds of the plants and have long-standing reputations as aphrodisiacs. Coriander's use as an aphrodisiac dates back as far as ancient Egypt. It is interesting to note that the seeds of the two plants share properties of aiding in digestion and sweetening the breath, being especially effective in mitigating garlic odors. Both essential oils have spicy aromas and blend well with a wide range of other oils. Coriander has a light sweet edge to it, while cardamom has a warm floral undertone. Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) and jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) essential oils are predominantly sweet floral scents with warm, sensual, euphoric properties. Promoting a sense of calm and relaxation, these oils have the potential to transport lovers far from the routines of daily life. Their intense fragrances suggest a tropical paradise and simultaneously soothe away inhibiting anxieties or distractions.Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) and neroli (Citrus aurantium) essential oils are warm, rich, sweet, and slightly exotic. All are intensely sensual. Musky clary sage, noted for its euphoric properties, is also harmonizing, centering, and calming. Patchouli, likewise, has a balancing, grounding component in its earthy fragrance that helps to ease anxiety. Neroli may not be a good choice for a casual night of fun. Its scent and effect run deep; lending support to love and sexual-emotional connection. Rose maroc (Rosa centifolia) and rose otto (Rosa damascena) have similar properties. Harmonizing, comforting, and romantic, they are reputed to be particularly appealing to women. Though rose otto has a more profound and rich floral fragrance, it is rose maroc that is associated with passion. Both rose essential oils blend well with clary sage, lavender, and ylang ylang.Aura Cacia's recipe for Aphrodite's Amorous Blend combines two drops neroli, three drops each of rose absolute (Rosa centifolia), jasmine absolute, and sandalwood (Santalum album) with four drops ylang ylang. For perfume, add oils to one-half ounce jojoba oil; to spritz sheets, hair, or clothes, add to one ounce of alcohol instead and pour into an atomizer.Sensual massage allows aphrodisiac essential oils to be absorbed as well as inhaled and, of course, includes the erotic element of touch. Try Aura Cacia's Venus Massage Oil: Combine one ounce sweet almond oil, three fourths ounce apricot oil, and one eighth ounce wheat germ oil. Swirl together five drops each jasmine absolute, rose absolute, and bergamot (Citrus bergamia) with ten drops sandalwood and six drops clary sage essential oils. Add the essential oils to the base. Sensuous Body Massage Oil is a simpler blend, combining four drops each of sandalwood, lemon, and jasmine absolute essential oils with one ounce of sweet almond oil.Herbal aphrodisiacs that are ingested tend to have a common denominator of enhancing circulation, though some have other properties that are not fully understood.Ginger is a warming, soothing circulatory stimulant. Cinnamon is warming and generally stimulating. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), an herb popularly known for its ability to promote brain function through better circulation, may, when taken regularly, increase blood flow to the penis.Yohimbe (Pausinystalia johimbe) is one of the best-known herbal aphrodisiacs. It generally improves circulation, but also acts specifically on the sex organs, bringing blood closer to the surface and constricting the veins to keep it there. Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe, is an alkaloid that has received FDA approval as a treatment for male impotence. A synthetic version is also available. The list of people who should not use yohimbe is long, including anyone with heart or kidney trouble, psychological disorders, low blood pressure, diabetes, or ulcers, as well as pregnant women and the elderly. To avoid becoming aroused but severely nauseous, the herb should be consumed with 1,000 mg of vitamin C. It should not be taken with the amino acid tyramine (found in cheese, liver, red wine, and various medications) or with other over-the-counter remedies, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Dosage recommendations should not be exceeded. Potency wood or muira-puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides) is similar in effect to yohimbe, but milder; however, caution should still be observed regarding side effects. Additionally, some individuals are allergic to this herb. Damiana (Turnera diffusa syn. T. diffusa var. aphrodisiaca) increases circulation, but it also contains alkaloids that have a testosterogenic quality and act as a nerve stimulant for the sex organs. Additionally, damiana acts generally as a mild stimulant and an antidepressant, which may lower inhibitions and produce a sense of gentle euphoria.Wild green oats are known to boost the effectiveness of other herbal aphrodisiacs. As Deborah Mitchell notes in Nature's Aphrodisiacs (Dell, 1999), "once oats are in the body, they release testosterone that has become bound to other components. Bound testosterone is much less effective at stimulating sex drive centers in the brain." Oats have also proven to be effective in their own right. Several studies cited by Esmond Choueke in Aphrodisiacs: A Guide to What Really Works (Citadel, 1998) support the libido-enhancing properties of wild green oats (Avena sativa). A study by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in California showed that "50 percent of women taking Avena sativa had an increase in the number of orgasms they experienced and in the amount of vaginal lubrication produced in response to sexual stimuli." Licorice's (Glycyrrhiza glabra) dark mystique may also be linked to its effect on testosterone levels. Mitchell cites the phytoestrogen sterols present in licorice that inhibit the conversion of testosterone to dihydrostestosterone, thus elevating testosterone levels in the body.Before embarking on your journey of love, thoroughly acquaint yourself with the herbs you are using. As herbal aphrodisiacs often affect the hormonal balance of the body, many should not be used during pregnancy. It is always recommended that you familiarize yourself with the potential side effects and cautions associated with a remedy you intend to use, but the number and range of side effects found in herbal aphrodisiacs make this precaution more crucial.