Soma, Crushed Beetle Wings and Other Ancient Aphrodisiacs

Some love bites mentioned in the Kama Sutra are lurking in your kitchen.

Published On Apr 04, 2021 | Updated On Mar 06, 2024


All human behaviour is fascinating but nothing intrigues as much as things sexual. Civilizations have changed and evolved as have human beings but the preoccupation with sex has remained constant through millennia.

From the very beginning when wise men started to contemplate the nature of existence, they recognized that at the heart of every action was desire and personified it as Kama deva, the Lord of Love. Ancient Indians freely explored their sexuality and developed the art of loving through repeated practice. Satisfaction in every sphere of life was considered the hallmark of a civilized society.

So everything related to love… behaviour, etiquette, aesthetics, food and the physicality of sex was enthusiastically investigated and codified. Alcohol as an aphrodisiac seems to have made its appearance first. Very early in the Rig Veda, there are 114 verses dedicated in praise of a drink called the nectar of the gods and said to be the elixir of immortality. Called Soma, it was a drink distilled from a plant and variously described as ambrosia, a hallucinogen, and aphrodisiac. Believed to make them invincible, it was said to have been consumed in copious quantities by the Gods Indra and Agni in particular.

The Rig Veda says:

“We have drunk Soma and become immortal;

We have attained the light, the Gods discovered.”

By the 3rd century when all things sexual got codified in the Kama sutra which has, besides its oft-thumbed pages on positions, an entire chapter dedicated to aphrodisiacs that help enhance poor libidos, augment ones that already worked, and many an aid to help in the act of seduction.   

The Kama sutra has many recipes for plant juices and crushed beetle wings that though bizarre, were believed to help (please don’t try them, they are for amusement value only!)


An aphrodisiac is generally described as a food or drink that has a positive effect on one’s sexuality. Every century has seen the quest for a love potion that would make humans more confident, strong and instantly attractive to the opposite sex. Do such foods actually exist? Did Soma actually work?

Researchers have tried long and hard to pinpoint exactly what this Soma was and in the absence of a reliable answer, was there other foods and drinks that had the same effect? Over the course of centuries, a number of other foods have popped up that may not have the exact same effect as on the gods but could help nudge one in the right direction.

On top of the list is alcohol. Called Sura or Madira and distilled from fermented grains, ancient Indians and modern ones too use alcohol as a means to lubricate a relationship. While intoxication may not result in the desired result, alcohol in moderation does certainly help.

One usually visualises a seduction scene with champagne and strawberries dipped in chocolate, none of them being indigenous to India.

Here researchers have found several foods that help topple the champagne myth. Basic and found in every kitchen, there are many Indian foods (researched and endorsed by Ayurvedic practitioners) that help increase vim and vigour. On top of this list is surprisingly, milk!

According to the Kama sutra, good old-fashioned milk and sugar are the champions of all aphrodisiacs. Milk is thought to dramatically increase strength and sexual vitality; a number of aphrodisiac recipes in the Kama Sutra are based on milk, sugar, and honey. Even today in India, brides give bridegrooms a mixture of milk and almonds on their suhaag raat—to help enhance performance and fertility.

Then there’s other stuff like saffron which again when mixed with hot milk is supposed to have a calming effect, help with sexual dysfunction and increase sperm motility in men. The Kama Sutra also mentions shatavari, which, surprisingly is wild asparagus, usually thought of as a western vegetable. In addition to its stimulant properties, it helps reduce fatigue.

And then there’s garlic! How can garlic possibly be an aphrodisiac? Considered to be “hot” spices, for centuries people have known that garlic along with root ginger helps enhance sexual performance. In fact, celibate monks, and widowed women were forbidden to consume these “hot” foods, as it would kindle a desire in them.

While there were many foods that were believed to enhance the sexual experience, Ayurveda the world’s oldest known healing system recommended a more holistic approach on how to improve stamina. Sexuality was not restricted to a few muscles alone, but good sex came about by well being; both of mind and body. Good sex necessitated being calm and stress-free and so many of the foods that are known to be aphrodisiacs are also ones that help one relax. So these ayurvedic texts laid great emphasis on what one ate so as to build stamina and endurance, strength and vitality.

While it is difficult to find a strong correlation between what one eats and what one may desire in bed, aphrodisiacs are more about imagination and freeing ones sexual spirit. Creating an environment that is pleasing, managing one’s stresses and anxieties, keeping one’s body healthy and developing good relationships, in the long run, will help more than eating figs and grapes.

Sandhya Mulchandani is the author of books like Kama sutra for Women, Erotic Literature from Ancient India and The Indian Man: His True Colours

Photo: Shutterstock