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Various kinds of nutritious and palatable food, sweet, luscious and refreshing liquid cordials, speech that gladdens the ears and touch that seems delicious to the skin, clear nights mellowed by the beams of the full moon and damsels young, beautiful and gay, dulcet songs that charm the soul and captivate the mind, use of betel-leaves, wine and wreaths of flowers and a merry, careless heart; these are the best aphrodisiacs in life. (1)

The quest for an aphrodisiac that will promote the male's ability to give and receive sexual pleasure is as ancient as humanity and spans every culture. Apples, pomegranates and quinces are mentioned in Ancient Greek literature for their aphrodisiac potential. (2) In Biblical times milk was employed as an aphrodisiac (3) and garlic is cited in the Talmud for similar properties. (4) Aphrodisiac use among pre-Columbian Aztecs and Incas was meticulously documented by the Spanish (5), while the Ananga Ranga Sutra, a medieval Indian treatise on the erotic arts, contains an entire pharmacopeia. The Chinese used panax ginseng as well as chan su, containing the skin and glands of the bufo toad and Arabs favored Ambra grisea, derived from sperm whale intestines. (6) Live blister beetles are consumed as aphrodisiacs in South East Asia and triatomids in Mexico (6). Viagra (named after the Sanskrit word for tiger), is a latecomer in the millennia-old search for enhanced virility.

According to Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, virility is defined as, "The quality or state of being virile: as a : the period of developed manhood b : the capacity to function as a male in copulation ." (7) Princeton University offers, "The masculine property of being capable of copulation and procreation" as well as, "the trait of being manly; having the characteristics of an adult male." (8)

By these definitions, virility covers the arenas of both potency and fertility. Potency is the capability of copulation and fertility is the capability of procreation, which depends upon quantity and quality of sperm as well as the ability to engage in copulation. It is possible to be potent but not fertile and vice versa. Ayurvedic Vajikarnana (male aphrodisiac) therapies cover the arenas of both potency and fertility, as explained in Charak:

Vijikarana is that which produces lineage of progeny, quick sexual stimulation, enables one to perform the sexual act with women uninterruptedly and vigorously like a horse, makes one charming for women, promotes indestructible and infallible semen even in old persons.(9)

However, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the potency aspect of virilisation or Vajikarana, leaving the major topic of male fertility for a later discussion.

Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotency, is a common condition worldwide. Although not life-threatening in itself, ED is a major factor in lowered quality of life and decreased happiness, both factors which are crucial to the definition of ayush or true longevity. In addition, ED may be an early warning of the onset of arterial disease. (10) A literature review in the International Journal of Impotence Research suggests that approximately 5-20% of men have moderate-to-severe ED.(11) A variety of chronic disorders are associated with elevated rates of ED. These include depression, diabetes and cardiovascular and neurological disease.(11) An estimated 10 to 20 million American men have some degree of erectile dysfunction. (12) A study in France in men aged 40 years and over demonstrated that one man in three (31.6%) suffered with mild or moderate ED, (13) while another epidemiological study indicated that the prevalence of ED among men 50-76 years old in rural Central New York State was between 21.3- 46.3%.(14) The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases with age, and doubles for each decade. It has a close relationship with being obese with a BMI of above 30.(15) This finding echoes teachings on obesity in Charak Samhita. "Among the over-obese...Due to non-abundance of semen and the passage having been covered with fat, there is difficulty in sexual intercourse."(16)

The Sushrut Samhita offers the first discussion of impotence in the medical literature of the world. (19) Sushrut classifies the causes of impotency as mental, dietary, virile, due to penile injury or disease, congenital and self-induced. Causes of mental impotency are twofold: depression and sexual trauma. Dietary causes are due to an excessively pitta provoking diet that dries up saumya dhatu or the watery principle. Virile impotency results from sexual excess. Diseases such as syphilis, as well as physical trauma, may result in incurable impotency due to penile injury. Sahaja impotency arises from congenital causes while self induced impotency is a result of prolonged brahmacharya. (17) Modern biomedicine classifies ED similarly into psychogenic and organic. Although erectile dysfunction was once considered to be mainly psychogenic, current evidence suggests that up to 80 percent of cases have an organic cause. (12) Organic causes may arise from vascular, neurological or hormonal issues as well as from penile injury. (18)

A thirty-seven year old man of vata prakruti presented complaining of ED of sudden onset. It began when he was in the Far East and had a severe episode of malaria with a six week fever. He was inclined to blame the quinine medication he had taken, which has, however, historically been used to treat impotency. (19) Although many medications are implicated in ED, these are mainly anti-hypertensives and psychiatric medications. It should be noted however that quinine has a strong preponderance of the bitter taste. He also reported having a lot of sexual contacts as a young man as well as suffering from adrenal fatigue related to extreme work stress. His childhood involved some sexual trauma related to his father's immature relationship to sexuality. This patient presents an interesting problem-solving exercise. Sudden onset of impotence at a young age is typical of psychogenically caused ED. (18) However, he also had potential causes of virile impotence, as well as the history of prolonged fever. Pulse examination revealed severe vata provocation and ojokshay (depleted ojas) with vata also invading ojas. Both quantitative and qualitative changes in ojas were involved in his condition, and probably resulted from a combination of factors: excess work and stress, childhood trauma, depletion of shukra dhatu, prolonged fever, and excess consumption of bitter taste in the form of quinine.

A fifty-nine year old kapha prakruti male complained of mild symptoms of ED. He associated the onset of these symptoms with the consumption of bitter herbs such as Vidanga and Daruharidra (which he found otherwise extremely helpful for a parasitic condition.) He suffered from BPH and hypothyroidism (both aspects of kapha syndrome) and was slightly overweight but not obese. With his age and gradual onset of ED symptoms, he is a classic candidate for vascular-caused ED (18). Using a combination of daily Ashwagandha and regular Tai chi exercises, he was able to regain an acceptable level of sexual functioning.

Nowhere is yukti, or rational application of chikitsa more essential than when dealing with erectile dysfunction. Some remedies involve the use of endangered species such as whales or amphibians and some, involving cardiotoxic toad venom, have proved fatal when misused. (20) Ayurvedic texts offer time-tested aphrodisiac recipes based upon herbs and foods which are safe and nourishing. Sushrut's Vajikarana remedies centre upon urad dal, sesame, Vidari, Pippali Kapi Kacchu, and Amlaki as well as building foods such as wheat, rice and barley. One remedy uses powders of Pippali, urad dal, rice, wheat and barley, made into cakes and fried in ghee. Another involves Vidari mixed in ghee and honey and a third recommends that wheat and kapi kacchu be boiled in milk and then cooled and taken with ghee. Ayurvedic 'power balls', made from tahini, almond butter, honey, Vidari and Ashwagandha, are a modern version of ancient aphrodisiac super-foods. Sushrut also recommends urad dal soup with Kapi Kacchu. Charak mentions urad dal, Vidari, and Kapi Kacchu, and also places emphasis upon Gokshura and Ashwagandha as outstanding Vajikarana herbs.

Ananga Ranga Sutra chapter VI contains several interesting vajikarana prescriptions. The Second Vajaikarana, "Take the fruit of Amlaki, dry and with ghee, jaggery and honey...even an old man will become a young man." The Third Vajikarana includes powder of kapi kacchu, Gokshura, cucumber, and Shatavari taken in milk. The Seventh Vajikarana is Rose mixed with milk, sugar and honey and the eighth involves Triphala paste left overnight in an iron vessel and then mixed with licorice decoction and taken with ghee and honey.

Vajikarana herbs such as Ashwagandha, Gokshura, Vidari, Kapi Kacchu, licorice, Pippali and Amlaki can be combined in appropriate formulas taking the patient's prakruti and vikruti into account. A combination of ghee and honey or a cup of warm cow's milk would be good anupans. Men's Support contains many of the herbs mentioned as the chief Vajikaranas, including Gokshura, Ashwagandha, Kapi Kacchu, Vidari Kanda, Amlaki, Licorice and Pippali. This formula, taken with Ashwagandha, will promote male reproductive health and have beneficial effects in ED.

Ayurveda was the first form of medicine to describe erectile dysfunction and its famed Vajikarana recipes remain as valuable today as they were a thousand years ago. The remedies for ED offered in Ayurveda do not only address issues of virility but also strengthen ojas and improve general health.

  1. Sushruta, Chikitsa Sthanam, xxvi 2. tr K.L. Bhishagratna Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies vol xxx 1981))

  2. Aphrodite's ΚΕΣΤΟΣ and Apples for Atalanta: Aphrodisiacs in Early Greek Myth and Ritual C. A. Faraone Phoenix, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 219-243

  3. Judges 5:25 See Rosner F. Mandrakes and other aphrodisiacs in the Bible & Talmud Korot. 1980<> Jun;7(11-12)

  4. Yoma 82a See Rosner op. cit.

  5. Jan G. R. Elferink, Aphrodisiac Use in Pre-Columbian Aztec and Inca CulturesJournal of the History of Sexuality Vol. 9, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 2000), pp. 25-36

  6. Paola Sandroni Aphrodisiacs past and present: A historical review Clinical Autonomic Research Volume 11, Number 5/ October 2001

  7. LMerriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 07 May. 2008.

  8. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 07 May. 2008.

  9. Charak Samhita, Chikitsasthanam, Ch I,v. P.V. Sharma, Chaukambha Orientalia, Varanasi

  10. Wirth A, Manning M, Büttner H, Metabolic syndrome and erectile dysfunction. Epidemiologic associations and pathogenetic links. Urologe A. 2007 Mar;46(3):287-92

  11. Kubin M, Wagner G Fugl-Meyer AR . Epidemiology of erectile dysfunction Int J Impot Res 2003 Feb;15(1):63-71

  12. NIH Consensus Conference on Impotence. JAMA 1993;270:83-90

  13. F . Giuliano Prevalence of Erectile Dysfunction in France: Results of an Epidemiological Survey of a Representative Sample of 1004 Men. European Urology , Volume 42 , Issue 4 , Page 382

  14. K. Ansong Epidemiology of Erectile Dysfunction A Community-based Study in Rural New York State Annals of Epidemiology , Volume 10 , Issue 5 , Pages 293 - 296

  15. CA Derby et al, Modifiable risk factors and erectile dysfunction: can lifestyle changes modify risk? Urology 2000 56: 302-306

  16. Charak, op cit Sutrasthana ch. XXI v 4.

  17. Sushrut Samhita, Chikitsa Sthanam, Ch XXVI v3. Tr. K.L. Bhishagratna Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies vol xxx 1981

  18. Thomas a. Miller, Diagnostic Evaluation of Erectile Dysfunction American Family Physician Jan 1 2000

  19. J Shah, Erectile dysfunction through the ages BJU International 90 (4) , 433-441 doi:10.1046/j.1464-410X.2002.02911.x

  20. Barry TL, Petzinger G,et al, GC/MS comparison of the West Indian aphrodisiac "Love Stone" to the Chinese medication "chan su": bufotenine and related bufadienolides J Forensic Sci. 1996 Nov;41(6):1068-73

  21. Sushrut, op cit, XXVI v 4-21.

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Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.

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