Spirits Explained

The History of Love Potions

Greg Horton, ReserveBar Spirits Contributor


After drinking “Love Potion No. 9,” the protagonist of The Searchers popular song of the same name finds himself “kissing everything in sight” until he kisses a police officer, who is not amused. The lyrics don’t hold up well 58 years later, but the playful approach was meant to poke fun at a host of so-called aphrodisiacs and the human tendency to find a sure way to keep the urge alive.

Red wine has often been considered an aphrodisiac, as have dark chocolate, oysters, ginseng, tomatoes, and less palatable items like dried liver, camel hump, eels, musk glands, and shark fin. Turns out that researching the history and science of love potions has the opposite of the intended effect.


Do they work? The short answer is…sort of. Nutritionists will tell you that certain foods and beverages – dark chocolate and red wine among them – help the flow of blood, which is important for certain activities, but it’s only useful if you have circulation issues.

Other foods might have a psychosomatic effect in that they shift our focus and feed our sense of indulgence. As for hard science, the great killjoy of paramours throughout history, the answer is nope. Nothing has been proven to have a physiological benefit.

Still, the point isn’t to practice a form of sexual alchemy where we convert food into Viagra. If it worked, we’d know because every conceivable food group has been mined for aphrodisiac solutions. The word comes from the name of the goddess Aphrodite, and her connection to the sea has made for an easy mental leap to seafood as an aid to love.

Herbs were thought to be useful, as have eggs, meats, and a whole host of fruits and vegetables (you need only look at the modern use of emojis to understand why). With so many other potions, powders, and concoctions, we could just fill this space with a list.


Your brain typically has all the neurotransmitters you need to be in the mood, but everyone needs a little help sometimes. Overindulging at the table doesn’t help, so food and drink with a lighter weight and more intense pop of flavor are better than a half-pound cheeseburger and four beers. Oysters have been popular for this reason – so much flavor and intensity in such a small package.

The advantage of a cocktail in this scenario is that it can do the one thing we really need it to do as the moment nears — help us relax. It’s also possible that certain ingredients “trick” our brain into a romantic mood, chocolate being the obvious example.

Culturally and traditionally, specific foods and beverages are associated with love. Whether or not there is a scientific reason is irrelevant because if it helps us be in the moment, then it’s working for us.


There are no rules for making “love potions.” Many classic and craft cocktails can be modified with fruit, herbs, chocolate, or other aphrodisiacs to enhance the mood. Keep it light and not too boozy to enjoy the evening.

With so many lovely ingredients to pick from, we have picked two of our most popular cocktail builds to share with your significant other — whether it is for a date night or an even more romantic occasion.

Chocolate Espresso Martini

Fill a shaker tin with ice, and add the vodka, fresh espresso shot, chocolate syrup, and both liqueurs. Shake well until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and serve up. For a garnish, rim the glass with chocolate syrup and dust it with cocoa powder before adding the cocktail. If you want a more classic garnish, simply top the cocktail with 3 espresso beans to represent health, wealth, and happiness for your paramour.

Blackberry Sage Gin and Tonic

  • 1.5 oz. Sipsmith London Dry Gin
  • 3.5 oz. Topo Chico or other sparkling water
  • 1/2 oz. Sage simple syrup (see below)
  • 1/4 oz. Fresh lemon juice
  • 3-4 Large fresh blackberries
  • 2-3 Sprigs fresh sage

Prepare the simple syrup: add one part sugar to one part water in a saucepan. Heat to a slow boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add the leaves from sprigs of sage, and set aside the rest for garnish. Cover the syrup and allow the sage to steep for a minimum of 10 minutes. Steep longer if you want a more sage-forward taste.

Muddle the blackberries in a shaker tin with the completely cooled syrup and lemon juice. Add gin and ice to the shaker, and shake until chilled. Fine strain into a rocks glass filled with ice, and then add sparkling water. Stir gently with a bar spoon to mix thoroughly, and then garnish with fresh blackberry and sage leaves.

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