What would make someone think that something like a rhino horn could have any power as an aphrodisiac? Well, for one thing, a rhino horn does bear a resemblance to an erect penis. It's this resemblance to sexual organs that has often made people think they must have some sexual powers. Vegetables such as carrots, asparagus and cucumbers have all been associated with aphrodisiacs, even if their chemical makeup shows no relationship (although some have been shown to have chemical characteristics that could possibly contribute to improved sexual desire).
If it looks like a sex organ, it must do something...
You are what you eat...
Aside from resemblance to sex organs, people throughout history have made aphrodisiac associations with animals that are known to be virile and prolific reproducers. Rabbits, tigers, goats and bulls, for instance, have reputations for prolific reproduction, strength and/or virility. Historically, people ingested the sex organs of these animals to achieve an aphrodisiac effect and/or to enhance sexual performance. Cave drawings depicted hunters eating the testicles of animals they killed, and the belief is that they hoped to take on the characteristics of that animal.
What Aphrodisiacs Do
Experts say that aphrodisiacs can work in two ways: There are those that create sexual desire by working on the mind, and there are those that create desire by affecting parts of the body. For example, something that increases blood flow in the sex organs might simulate the feelings of sexual intercourse and have the effect of creating desire. Likewise, there are things that can make our bodies produce more of the chemicals associated with sexual desire. Something that lowers inhibitions in the mind, such as alcohol or marijuana, might also create (or allow) the desire to have sex. Sometimes, just thinking something is an aphrodisiac makes it appear to work as one.
There are also things that quell desire. These are called anaphrodisiacs.
Researchers are finding that some foods, herbs and other supplements do stimulate production of hormones or other chemicals that affect our libidos. What they don't know is whether those chemicals are produced in a high enough quantity for us to really notice the difference. There isn't much hard research in the area, primarily because libido is a somewhat difficult thing to study.
According to the FDA, aphrodisiacs have no scientific basis and are simply myth. While this may be true, many people swear by the effects of certain foods, herbs or minerals.