Walk into most convenience stores, and you’ll see an array of sexual performance-enhancing pills, with images of rhinos and bulging muscles and underlined words like “harder” and “fuller.” While the functional mushroom industry may take a different approach (more minimal branding with trendy muted color palettes), there is still an entire industry dedicated to selling you medicinal mushrooms that will improve your sex life.
But are these claims true? Are there mushrooms that have aphrodisiac qualities? To what extent can they help you increase your sexual drive?
Cordyceps, which you may have already heard about from Planet Earth’s zombie ant clip, is a parasitic fungus with huge (pun intended) aphrodisiac associations. Like many other “superfoods,” cordyceps is boasted to be a cure-all – from immunity-boosting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to improving energy levels and vitality.
In the bedroom, cordyceps is associated with increasing sperm count in men and sex drive in women.
Reishi is another mushroom that has been used throughout history for its aphrodisiac properties. It is associated with improving both male and female fertility, increasing overall vitality and energy, and has even been known by the nickname “Magic Mushroom of the Bedroom.”
Chaga, another well-known functional mushroom, has been associated with increased testosterone levels and stamina.
Truffles are associated with being an aphrodisiac for women, partly because it releases a smell similar to pheromones produced by mammals.
The use of cordyceps dates back to traditional Chinese medicine. One writing from a Tibetan physician in the 1400s described Yartsa Gunbu (cordyceps) as “a faultless treasure of an ocean of good qualities,” including increased semen and sharpened five senses.
This use of cordyceps for its vitality-boosting health benefits emerged from Himalayan farmers, who initially observed their animals increased energy and strength after consuming the mushroom while grazing (1).
Other historical uses of mushrooms as aphrodisiacs include the Ancient Romans, who associated truffles with Jupiter, a god known for his impressive sexual drive. Chaga is used to cure ailments and improve the nervous system health has been dated back to even as early as 1100 a.d.
Of course, we should always take broad claims for cure-all superfoods with a grain of salt. While over time, taken in partnership with a health-supporting diet, some supplements can improve aspects of your health; there aren’t always controlled studies to back up these claims.
For example, the Maca root is well-known for its positive effects on balancing hormones and regulating menstrual and menopause symptoms in women. However, recent lab studies have shown that the root has no impact on women’s hormones but affects the psychological symptoms instead (2).
So, what about the mushrooms we discussed? Is there any backing to these claims?
A study on cordyceps’ effects on rats revealed that the fungi positively impacted both sperm count and quality when taken as a supplement over six weeks (3). Likewise, a study on reishi’s impact on rats found that the mushroom had an “antidepressant-like” effect on the subjects (4). Chaga’s sexual health improving properties are also backed by a scientific study that showed that chaga could increase testosterone levels over time (5).
Many other claims, like truffles’ aphrodisiac qualities for women, don’t have scientific studies to back them up. Whether that’s because women’s sexual health is not studied as often as men’s or because these claims don’t stand up to scientific measurement is unclear. Regardless, it’s necessary to keep these things in mind when assessing the next supplement you want to implement.
It’s also worth mentioning that the absence of lab-approved studies on traditional medicine doesn’t necessarily mean these claims are false. Indigenous cultures thrived on remedies they created through a complex and rich relationship with the land they lived on. While there are many benefits to studying the effects of these remedies in a controlled, measurable environment, those studies can also miss out on the more complex reality of our body’s relationship to nutrition and our environment.
We recommend assessing these supplements’ potential benefits and risks based on your own personal wellness. If you have an ongoing health issue like diabetes or if this is your first time trying out functional mushroom supplements, be sure to factor in potential side effects before starting a new supplement, and consult your doctor or nutritionist as needed. Otherwise, try supplements alongside a balanced diet, and see the results for yourself!