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Aphrodisiac Plants Used in Ayurveda: Complex Formulas, Ancient and Modern

  • Ayurveda
  • 17:32 reading time (ish)
  • 3334 words

Written by Wakefield Matthew Clark


In this article we take a historical glimpse at plants and formulations used in Ayurveda as aphrodisiacs. We also compare traditional use with modern formulations.  

The author is not recommending the use of any of the plants mentioned in this article, which is merely a report on research findings. The nature of any reproductive issues and many plants used as aphrodisiacs means that they are best used in consultation with a qualified herbalist.

The South Asian medical tradition of Āyurveda (‘knowledge of life-span’) acknowledges three primary, historical authorities, namely Caraka, Suśruta and Vāgbhaṭa, the ‘great three’ (bṛhat  trayī). The earliest formulations of the compendia (saṃhitās) of both Caraka and Suśruta date to the early centuries BCE; these medical texts attained, after additions, their current form in the early centuries CE. Vāgbaṭa’s Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdaya (‘heart of medicine’) largely synthesises the treatments detailed by Caraka and Suśruta and was probably composed around 600 CE. It became one of the most widely referred to medical texts in Asia. Later Āyurvedic authorities built generally on the treatments contained in these texts, which included oleation, fomentation, emesis, purgation and other treatments.

Since 2004, Dr. Matthew Clark has been a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London), where he taught courses on Hinduism between 1999 and 2004. He has spent many years in India, which he first visited in 1977, visiting nearly all important (several hundred) pilgrimage sites and trekking around 2,000 miles in the Himalayas. He first engaged with yoga in the mid-1970s and began regularly practising Ashtanga Yoga in 1990. Since 2006, Matthew has been lecturing world-wide on yoga, philosophy and psychedelics. He is currently the managing editor of the Journal of Yoga Studies and is one of the administrators of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies.

His publications include The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (2006), which is a study of a sect of sādhus; The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (2017), which is an exploration of the use of psychedelic plant concoctions in ancient Asia and Greece; and a short book on yoga, The Origins and Practices of Yoga: A Weeny Introduction (revised edition) (2018). In June 2021, he published another short book, Therapeutic Experiences and Psychedelics: Soma/Haoma and Complex Plant Formulas in Asia. Matthew also writes songs, plays guitar and records as Mahabongo.

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