An Accidental Aphrodisiac

I swear I didn’t start out looking for aphrodisiacs. Believe it or not, I was looking for a recipe for gruel. I’ve seen it mentioned in so many historical novels (as well as that song in the movie Mary Poppins) that I just had to find out what it’s really like. Nobody ever wants to eat/drink it. Is it really that bad?

I looked at a few recipes in old cookbooks, and gruel did look pretty boring, but I didn’t have time to make it, and in any case there are more interesting foods for invalids.

Such as asses’ milk.   Sea Holly illustration from Wikipedia

Really? Maria Rundell, the author of the 18th C. cookbook in question, follows the suggestion of genuine asses’ milk (which may give you gas—try taking it with a spoonful of rum) with a couple of recipes for artificial asses’ milk.

Here’s one:

Boil together a quart of water, a quart of new milk, an ounce of white sugar-candy, half an ounce of eringo-root, and half an ounce of conserve of roses, until half be wasted. (I assume this means boil it down to half the original volume…?)

Here’s another:

Boil two ounces of hartshorn shavings, two ounces of pearl-barley, two ounces of candied eringo-root, and one dozen of snails that have been bruised (um…what?), in two quarts of water to one. (Half the original volume again, right?) Mix with an equal quantity of new milk, when taken, twice a day.

I would have loved to try one of these, but I don’t have hartshorn or eringo root, and if I have snails, I won’t waste them making asses’ milk—I’ll cook them in garlic butter and eat them with French bread. I didn’t even know what eringo-root was.

Well. Turns out it’s the candied root of sea holly, and it’s…an aphrodisiac. (Among other things—it was believed to be good for all manner of ills.) Still, what an entertaining find.

Under a Christmas Spell - NOV 2013 -  undone

Just recently, I found a story to put it in. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a sequel to my two Christmas novellas from last year, Under a Christmas Spell and Under a New Year’s Enchantment, which feature an incubus and succubus—very special people (NOT demons) who can send erotic dreams. These two novellas will be out soon in an anthology, Improper Christmas Nights, in the UK and Australia…not on my side of either pond, alas.

Improper Christmas NightsThe WIP is also about a succubus, Lettice Raleigh, who is playing a dangerous game sending erotic dreams to Lord Hadrian Oakenhurst. Here’s an excerpt. (The Marquis of Staves is Lord Hadrian’s father, and his brother, Lord Valiant, is the incubus hero of Under a Christmas Spell.)

“Weakness of character and constitution go hand in hand,” the Marquis of Staves pronounced.

Lord Hadrian was about to retort—the more he annoyed his father, the better―but then he had a more entertaining idea. “Precisely, which is why I intend to look for some sea holly today.”

Miss Raleigh’s eyes widened, and a smile teased at her mouth. “Sea holly? Whatever for?”

In the vivid flesh, her lips were even more entrancing than in his dream. “Loath as I am to admit to any accompanying character flaws, I do suffer from a weak constitution,” Hadrian said.

She narrowed her eyes at him. He didn’t blame her, for he was perfectly hale and hearty.

“What the devil are you talking about?” the marquis demanded. “There’s nothing wrong with your constitution.”

“No?” Hadrian stifled a grin. “You’ve always said I lack manly vigour.”

“Nonsense,” his father said predictably. No one but he was permitted to criticize his progeny. “All my sons excel in—” He stopped, as Lord Valiant, that most potent of the potent, instantly came to everyone’s mind—even Miss Raleigh’s, judging by the twitch of her lips.

“Perhaps the family’s share of manly vigour was dealt out unevenly by the Almighty,” Hadrian said. “Val certainly makes up for my lack of it.” Not only had Lord Valiant been disinherited and banned from Staves Court forever for debauching an innocent whilst still at Eton, but he had also made a point of flaunting his shocking reputation.

Lord Staves purpled. One of these days his rage would result in an apoplectic fit. “How dare you mention his name in this house?” he shouted. “He is dead to this family! Dead, do you hear?”

“But not to his new wife, one hopes,” Hadrian said.

“Now, now, Lord Hadrian, don’t agitate your father,” Miss Raleigh said with that same faint smile. She was cooing again. He should dislike it. He should certainly disapprove, but it had the opposite effect on his cock.

Surely she hadn’t developed an interest in him. That would make the next several days abominably awkward. He was adept at fending off unwanted advances, but something about Lettice Raleigh was different from other women.

She smiled more widely, a twinkle in her dark eyes. “You are perfectly correct about the restorative effects of sea holly. I always have a supply of the candied root ready to hand.” The tip of her tongue touched her upper lip. “It’s excellent for boosting a man’s…vigour.”

His was already boosting a little too well, thank you very much.


So, leaving Lord Hadrian and Miss Raleigh to their fun… I’d love to hear about other old-fashioned aphrodisiacs. Or fun old-fashioned recipes. Has anybody out there in Embracing Romance land actually tried gruel?


Now for our trivia question: Eringo root is the root of what plant? Fill in your answer here.

Follow Barbara Monajem:

Barbara Monajem started writing at eight years old. She has wandered from children’s fantasy through mystery to paranormal and historical romance. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

18 Responses

  1. Maggi Andersen

    Amazing the stuff you find when researching, lol. Love the excerpt!

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Maggi. Yeah, you never know what will be lurking there to jump out at you. 🙂

  2. Elaine Simmons

    Years ago, a friend recovering from a stomach bug, brought a bowl of gruel to work and let me taste it. I think it was mostly chicken broth slightly thickened with some cornmeal and it tasted wonderful. Thanks for reminding me. Kind of similar, I suppose – my mother’s family had this dish, a cousin to “mush” and probably developed from necessity during hard times – called “shack” for reasons unknown. This is made by rendering the fat from .salt pork or fat back, and then browning corn meal in the grease. When the corn meal is a nice color, add water and cook until the consistency of chicken gravy. My mother loved this and asked for it up until she died. During my childhood, it was often made at fish fries with chopped onions browned as the fat is rendered. My favorite way to enjoy was without the onions and served over a slice of plain white loaf bread.

    I know this has little to do with your search for a gruel recipe but it brought back pleasant memories. If you ever write about poor, depression era white people surviving hard times, this could be a go-to dish.

    Hope you are well and congrats on your continued success..

    • Barbara Monajem

      Hi, Elaine! Great to see you here. As far as I remember, the gruel recipes I saw were a small amount of oats in some kind of broth, so it’s similar to what you mention. Thanks for the info about ‘shack’ — I may just try making some one of these days. 🙂

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Ella. I guess I need to finish writing it! 😉

  3. allybroadfield

    LOL! Interesting finds like that are one of the reasons I love writing historical romance. My research usually yields much more interesting facts than the one I was searching for. Looking forward to reading this one when it’s done.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Ditto, Ally. I just never know what treasure I’ll stumble into! 🙂

  4. Sandra Owens

    Loved this post, Barbara. I had to laugh when I read the asses’ milk one. I think I’ll pass, thank you. 😀

    • Barbara Monajem

      I would probably try it if I knew where to get it. (But I’m not *really* hoping somebody will immediately provide me with a source, LOL)

    • Barbara Monajem

      New Orleans, maybe? Not that I’ve ever seen asses’ milk there, but you might find the soap that washes away your sins. 😉

  5. Pamela N Red

    Wonderful excerpt. People have been using herbs for health and vigor since the beginning of time. One you may have also heard of is Horny Goat Weed. It can be found in pill or tea form now days but people used to gather it in the wild.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Horny Goat Weed is a fabulous name! I looked it up — it seems to be good for many conditions. Thanks for mentioning it. 🙂

  6. sjmn60

    “Bruised” snails, lol! Wonder how one did that. This is the ‘different-est’ recipe I’ve ever read.

    • Barbara Monajem

      That’s one of the reasons I like going through old cookbooks. I never know what strange things I will find. 🙂