In Arabic, there is no link between the Greek goddess of Love, Aphrodite, and substances that arouse and enhance sexual desire or prowess. Instead, the term that is usually encountered is muqawwiyya, ‘strengthener’.

Most of the Arabic erotic manuals contain lengthy sections on aphrodisiacs, which come in the guise of particular substances  — mainly vegetables and fruit, alongside animal parts such as lion’s fat, wild donkey’s testicles and bull’s penis — that increase sexual potency, or electuaries (potions), ointments, poultices and enemas. Among the vegetables and condiments that are most often cited by authors, one may cite the following: aniseed, fennel, pepper, ginger, spikenard, musk, and mastic.

In terms of effect, aphrodisiacs tend to be phallocentric for the most part in that they aim to increase the size and/or stamina of the penis. Even when women are the subject, it is because of the enhanced sexual pleasure provided to men through, for instance, tightening the vagina or enhancing its fragrance.

Several authors, such as  the Persian-born scholar Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (better known for his groundbreaking work on astronomy) , devoted an entire book to aphrodisiac potions. The following is an example of a concoction with a plethora of other beneficial effects according to the author, the famous Tunisian physician Ibn al-Jazzār (d. 980), who included in his book Zād al-Musāfir wa Qūt al-Ḥāḍir (‘Provisions for the Traveller and Nourishment for the Sedentary’): “<it> strengthens the potency, is beneficial for the soul, warms the body, expels flatulence from the stomach, removes cold from the kidneys and bladder, and increases one’s memory; it should be taken during the winter, it warms the limbs, is good in many ways, and is one of the royal electuaries…: Take Chinese cinnamon, sweet costus, Indian nard, saffron, seed of horse-finnel, ginger, leaves of dry mint, leaves of mountain-origan, pennyroyal and rind of cinnamon, of each seven mithqāls*; Indian spkenard, long pepper, white and black pepper, asarabacca, seed of roman nettle, seed of caraway, clove, galingale and secacul, of each four mithqāls; hulled sesame, shelled walnuts, peeled pistachio, shelled sweet almonds, seed of pine nut and sweetmeat, of each ten mithqaals. Pulverise these ingredients, strain them thoroughly, collect and knead them with skimmed origan-extract until they are [well] mixed together. Store this in a vessel smooth at the inside, fumigated with Indian aloewood. Take the amount of one walnut** before and after the meal.“ (G. Bos, Ibn al-Jazzar on Sexual Diseases and Their Treatment, London: Wellcome Foundation, 1997, pp. 245-6)

1 mithqāl = 4.64 grams

** 6-7 mithqāls 

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