What’s a “nice lady gardener” (her words) doing, writing a book about naughty plants?
Helen Yoest admits she blushed when her publisher first suggested she tackle aphrodisiacs from the garden. “I wasn’t really embarrassed — it’s up my alley — but I was talking about sex with a complete stranger,” said the Raleigh, N.C.-based author, garden stylist and blogger (www.gardeningwithconfidence.com).
Yoest, a “happily married” mother of three, thinks sex is “funny,” so she decided to walk on the wild side of garden writing, exploring the history, lore and prowess of nature’s sexiest bounty. The result is “Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden” (St. Lynn’s Press, $17.95). In it, Yoest shares the juicy attributes of nearly 50 plants, along with growing tips and a recipe for each (accompanied by mouthwatering photos). We chatted with her about “Female Viagra,” the plant that made the ancient Aztecs lock up their virgin daughters, and erotic menu ideas for Valentine’s Day.
Q: How did you research the book?
A: Everything from Google to the Bible and the Qur’an, and documents about what was found in the tombs of the Egyptians. It was not a deep search — the book is playful — but we did try to hunt down and verify whether something was fact or fiction.
Q: Did you do field tests with your mate?
A: My husband never even read the book. He doesn’t even know what I’ve been up to.
Q: How did you choose which plants made the cut?
A: A plant had to have one or more of three qualities that could affect our pleasure centers. Some plants are suggestive because of aroma or shape — just thinking that something is an aphrodisiac can be enough to make it work as one. Some plants warm the body — especially the lower part — by increasing blood flow. Some plants stimulate the production of hormones. And I couldn’t ignore the importance of a fourth quality: a plant’s ability to increase a person’s overall health and vigor.
Q: What’s a plant you left out because you couldn’t verify its aphrodisiacal powers?
A: The potato. It came up on my radar. At one time, it was very rare — only the rich had it. Once the rich have something, it becomes an aphrodisiac. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had included it, for all the history and lore.
Q: Tell us about a finding that surprised you.
A: The avocado. It’s a sexy plant to me. But when we look at it on the shelf, we don’t see it the way the Aztecs saw it — the way it hung in pairs on the tree — they called it the Testicle Tree. It was so powerful a suggestion that they used to lock up their virgin daughters during harvest time.