How to Date Your Plants

A few weeks ago, the Times had a fun interview with writer-gardener Helen Yoest about her new book, “Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, and Veggies in Your Garden.” I emailed her this week to learn more about these racy plants.

Helen! I love the book. Are there any recurring party-talk jokes that people make when they hear about it? Or anything you’re sick of / amused by in that regard?

Helen Yoest’s “Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, and Veggies in Your Garden” is available now. • Powell’sAmazonIndiebound

The most common remarks are directed toward my husband… “I bet testing all these plants was a lot of fun.” Wink. Wink. My husband, Mr. Conservative, nearly blushes, or would, I’m sure, if he was capable of it. And I’m often asked if I tried all the plants to see if they worked. I will neither confirm or deny what I’ve been up to, but I will say this: I think a single banana separated from the hand (a bunch of bananas) is obscene, and when my teenage daughters ask for one, I secretly wish there was a vanity panel I could put over it. Kidding, of course. But now that I’ve examined these 45 plants, I can’t help but giggle at the sight of them and many others.

In the book, I have a picture of 2 bananas (page 18) lying together and they look like they’re relaxing after sex. How is that possible? It’s a banana. The mind plays some serious suggestive tricks on you.

But I’m really happy and pleased at all the playful responses. That tells me it was read in the spirit it was written. Because the biggie for aphrodisiac response is suggestion. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck you are going want to … duck. It all goes back to procreation. These are checks and balances to keep us going. What better way than to be playful? Why be so serious with your mate? The shape of a banana is funny, and now that you know its suggestive powers (see, it isn’t just you), it’s even more funny. Why not have fun with it?

On the scientific-study side, the Smell & Taste Clinic in Chicago supports several good-to-knows. Lavender tops the list. They found that lavender (in combination with pumpkin) increased penile blood flow by 40%. This is significant when compared to cheese pizza, which only showed an increase of 5%. Clearly, we should be adding lavender to our pizza.

Okay, I just did. What’s a memorable dish you made recently? Or ate?

One of the most memorable recent meals was also the simplest, and I wouldn’t have even experimented with the idea if I wasn’t on a kick to make a pesto out of all 45 (beneficial) plants. I call it Creamy Avocado Pasta Sauce. It will go live on my blog on Friday.

I didn’t anticipate the meld of flavors — avocado, lime, garlic, and cilantro — and I’d figured it would be something more along the lines of pasta topped with guacamole. What happened surprised me, though. I think some kind of magic happens when the hot pasta blends with the avocado to become the sauce. I equate it to when a beaten egg hits the hot pasta in a carbonara sauce. The sum parts are greater than the whole. So simple and yummy.

I know you live in Raleigh, North Carolina — what does your garden there look like?

I garden mostly for pollinators; I’m considered a wildlife gardener. I like the critters coming to my garden — the birds, bees, and butterflies. I’m organic, water-wise, and sustainable. Within my half-acre lot in the older part of Raleigh, I also have gardens (inspired by the book) called Love Gardens — containers and beds full of carrots, asparagus, lettuce, basil, mint, mushrooms, roses, and lavender, plus sage, figs, and passionflower. It’s wild and free, with structured boxwood borders to calm things down.

I hadn’t known about nutmeg’s hallucinatory qualities until reading about it in the book, although maybe I’m just behind. But have you ever had too much nutmeg?

No, but I’m tempted. What’s holding me back? I’m afraid I’ll get all worked up having a latte seasoned with nowhere to go ;-. Now that I think about it, this explains everything. Have you ever tried the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte??

(No!) Do you have any good gardening-disaster stories?

I’ve made every mistake — so much so, I felt qualified to write my first book, Gardening With Confidence: 50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity.

I’ve overlooked sun requirements (planting a full sun plant in shade and vice versa), I ignored plant tags that said the cute tiny tree would grow 25 feet tall, I’ve reached down to pull a weed (without gloves) only to grab the top of a fire ant mound along with the offensive plant. (In the South, you can’t be too careful with fire ants.) The best part of gardening is learning from your mistakes and not taking yourself too seriously. Plants will die and you didn’t necessarily kill them. However, gardeners are the eternal optimists. We sow seeds and plant dreams to take us through a lifetime. If we mess up one year, we believe we’ll have another one to make it right.

Have you ever been to the Spice Islands?

No, but I’d like to go. Have you seen this?: It is very good. It was hard to write the chapter on the Spice Islands after having so much fun with the other chapters in the book. Here was a book that was light and fun, but then when I began researching the islands, I learned of such a horrid history. I still felt it was important to keep the chapter in the book.

What’s your breakfast routine, if you don’t mind sharing?

COFFEE (page 46), with extra cream. Two cups. After an hour or so, I eat. I’m an egg eater, so I need to add my beneficial plants to this protein pod to get my daily charge — parsley, celery, carrot, mushroom — that sort of thing. And right after I eat my egg, I must nosh on a piece of chocolate (page 38). The only thing I avoid in the morning is garlic (page 64) because I have to temper things somewhere.

I love the spiced wine recipe! Would it be okay to post it here?

Of course!!! Here it is:

Hippocras (a spiced wine)
Serves 6

Ahh, the marvels of modern (ancient Greek) medicine. Back in the day, to keep things content, you may have been prescribed a cup of Hippocras, taken during the hour of the bat. So set your clock to the evening hours, and share some aphrodisiac sips over pleasant conversation. You never know where the night will take you.


1 bottle red wine (non-alcoholic wine or grape juice may be substituted)
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon cardamom
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon cayenne


Mix the spices together in a bowl and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the wine or juice and honey to just below boiling.

Turn off the burner and add the spices to the wine. Allow to cool.

Pour the mixture into an airtight glass container and set it in a cool, dark place for about a week.

Strain the wine and return to the airtight container.

Let the wine mixture rest for about one month before drinking.

Unopened, the spiced wine will keep for a year. After opening, it will last about four days.

(The hour of the bat! Amazing. Thank you.) I also love the flower-meaning guide at the end of the book. Although anemones, which are my favorite, apparently mean “forsaken,” which … well, anyway, someone could really spend a long time making or overanalyzing bouquets! I kind of want to do that now.

Sorry you are forsaken, but it happens occasionally. I grow anemones. They flower in the fall, and when they bloom, I often feel summer is forsaken.

I can imagine the Victorians putting together a bouquet of flowers to share unspoken feelings. You better be well versed, though. Imagine if a red rose wasn’t blooming and you sent a dahlia instead. Ye Gads! You might have some explaining to do.

It’s seems today, we could develop an app for that. Wouldn’t it be romantic to type in all your feelings for someone and the app create a bouquet for you? I think I’d like that.

(YES.) What’s an easy plant to grow at home in, say, New York City, with a decent amount of light?

Arugula, mint, basil, carrot, parsley, cucumber, sage, and garlic. You’ll notice I didn’t mention tomatoes. They have their own support group, so you might not want to begin there.

How has your life changed since researching for this book? Any different routines or new favorite default recipes?

I can’t look at of the plants in the book the same way. There are just too many interesting tales to tell. And yet, I’m not sure I want to tell the cashier when he is ringing up my avocados that they are grown on a plant the ancient Aztecs called the testicle tree. He might freak him out that a mom-like figure might be coming on to him.

Imagine your next cocktail party, though. Talk about an ice breaker. Stand next to the guacamole, and say, “Did you know that the ancient Aztecs locked up their virgin daughters during the avocado harvest?” Eyes twinkle.

I do seriously hope the book sparks a conversation about the plants and their stories. I know I can’t look at a stick of celery and not think about Casanova eating it regularly to stimulate his libido.

And I think I’m inspired to sprout the pit from the avocado I just finished… (From this tip on your website.)

Be patient, it really takes a while to sprout, but what a cool plant to grow indoors. In the summer, you can put it on the patio or balcony.

Helen, thank you!


Helen Yoest is also on Twitter.