Several years ago, when I still had an office job (as opposed to the job that now occurs whilst wearing my p.j.’s), one of the nurses at the doctor’s office where I worked loaned me a copy of Asheville, NC-based author Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. The book tells the story of two sisters, Claire and Sydney, the elder of which runs a thriving catering business. It’s quickly revealed that the secret to their success is owed in large part to the mystical plants, flowers and fruits they grow and cook with, part of a family legacy of magical gifts. When consumed, these edibles invoke a variety of emotions and reactions, permitting Claire and her clients to produce desired outcomes in a wide range of situations.
I was captivated by the idea of using plants and bits of horticulture to induce emotional, and not just purely physiological, states. Thus began my initiation into the world of herbal and plant medicine. Learning of plants’ abilities to aid in healing of all sorts has opened me to a green world heretofore unknown. It turns out that one of my closest friends has found herself under the plant-world spell, too. Nicole McConville isn’t just the editor with whom I’ve worked on five books, but she’s also an artist, an accordion player, a burgeoning photographer and a budding herbalist.
This past holiday season, Nicole and I met up for mugs of chai and some homemade gift exchanging. One of the lovely items she gifted me was a blend of homemade “Love” tea. I immediately knew I had to share it here. With my sights set squarely on February 14th, for today’s Small Measures, I’m offering Nicole’s herbal tea blend, intentionally crafted to impart feelings of love, happiness and bliss to whoever imbibes it. I’m also sharing my recipe for homemade Lavender Truffles, inspired by those available at my friends Jael and Dan Rattigan’s French Broad Chocolate Lounge (their Aphrodisiac Collection is ideal for Valentine’s Day!). A sip of tea, a taste of truffle and a bit of plant magic are poised to have their amorous effect on you and yours! — Ashley English
The full recipes continue after the jump . . .
Nicole’s blend consists of five ingredients, each selected for its reputed aphrodisiac qualities. Damiana, rose, cinnamon, strawberry and jasmine are examples of the Aristotelian adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In combination, the herbs create a tea that is at once floral, ambrosial, grassy and spicy. Here are Nicole’s notes on the individual herbs:
Damiana: Damiana leaves have a long reputation of possessing remarkable aphrodisiac properties. Damiana leads to greater blood flow and sensitivity in the erotic zones, especially the genitals, which in turn may help a person to experience greater sexual pleasure. It is also known to reduce nervousness, stress and depression, particularly of a sexual nature, and is considered a sexual restorative. NOTE: Damiana can be found at well-stocked natural food stores and co-ops or online through retailers such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Rose: Celebrated for its intoxicating scent and beauty, rose is also celebrated as a stress reducer, making one more receptive. NOTE: It is best to source rose petals that are organic or, at the bare minimum, are labeled for food use (not sprayed with pesticides). A well-stocked health food store or food co-op will have them, as well as reputable online retailers.
Cinnamon: Among the spices considered useful for producing “heat” within the body, cinnamon has been measured to increase appetite, both physical and sexual. NOTE: Use cinnamon chips to effectively distribute the flavor through the tea. A little harder to find, cinnamon chips can be found through retailers such as Mountain Rose Herbs or a good spice company.
Strawberries: They gained their reputation as an aphrodisiac due to their large number of tiny seeds symbolizing fertility. In the French countryside, there was once a tradition of serving newlyweds cold strawberry soup to help promote honeymoon romance. NOTE: Dried strawberries can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores. You want the kind that are dehydrated and easy to chop up into small chips.
Jasmine: Warming and relaxing, jasmine is celebrated as an aphrodisiac. NOTE: Jasmine can be purchased through any well-stocked food co-op or naturals retailer.
This tea is portioned out in relative parts to accommodate batches in a wide range of sizes. In other words, you can make a little — for just one pot at a time — following the proportions below, or you can make more to have on hand and at the ready (or for gifting to multiple recipients).
- 1 part damiana
- 1 part rose petals
- 1/2 part cinnamon chips
- 1/2 part dried strawberries
- 1/4 part jasmine flowers
1. Blend the herbs together in a small bowl in an amount that suits your needs.
2. When ready to make a pot of tea, place 1/4 cup of loose tea in a tea infuser or muslin tea bag. Pour boiling water over the tea and steep for several minutes.
3. Sweeten to taste with honey.*
*Here are some of Nicole’s notes on honey: Sticky, viscous and deliciously sweet, honey is one of the most seductive foods available worldwide, and as it is a form of sugar, it provides sustained high energy. In ancient times, it was traditional to present newlyweds with honey to help them enjoy their first sexual encounters. The use of honey as an aphrodisiac is also mentioned in the Kama Sutra.
I’ve long known of lavender’s tension-easing properties, but it was only recently that I learned about its aphrodisiac qualities. Lavender has been considered a “love herb” for centuries, purportedly used by married couples in tea, bath water and more to encourage marital fidelity. With its heady fragrance, relaxing qualities and amorous tendencies, lavender packs a serious punch in the love department. Add a bit of dark chocolate, and you’ve got yourself the stuff of happy times.
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons lavender buds
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 1 1/3 cups dark chocolate pieces (65–70% cocoa), roughly chopped
- cocoa powder
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper. Set aside.
2. Bring the whipping cream to a gentle simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the lavender buds and cover with a lid. Steep for 12 minutes.
4. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the whipping cream, discarding or composting the lavender buds. Whisk in the honey.
5. Place the chopped-up chocolate in a medium-size bowl. Pour the hot infused honey and lavender milk over the chocolate. Stir vigorously to fully incorporate the chocolate into the milk. Congratulations, you just made ganache!
6. Set the ganache aside to chill at room temperature for several hours. Alternatively, chill the ganache in the refrigerator until it firms up a bit, about 30–45 minutes.
7. Using a small scoop or melon baller (what I used), form the ganache into balls. It’s perfectly fine for the truffles to look a bit cobbled and not perfectly round. They’re called “truffles” after all because of their resemblance to the dark, rounded balls of fungi that grow in the soil around the bases of trees.
8. Place a generous amount of cocoa powder in a shallow bowl. Roll the truffle rounds in the cocoa. This is messy business, so keep your hands floured and enjoy the mess for what it is!
9. Transfer the cocoa-dusted truffles to the prepared baking sheet. Once you’ve prepared all the truffles, place them in a lidded container. Store in a cool, dry place (but not the refrigerator), and consume within 7–10 days.
What about you? Got any go-to plants, herbs or flowers that you reach for when a bit of loving energy is needed? Please do share. In my estimation, there’s no such thing as too much love! Happy Valentine’s Day, whether you’re pointing your arrow at a paramour, a best bud, a glorious parent or your own splendid heart!
Images and styling by Jen Altman