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Lettuce Was an Aphrodisiac in Ancient Egypt

Update Date: Jul 17, 2013 03:35 PM EDT

Lettuce was used for sexier purposes in ancient Egypt, according to researchers.

Egyptologist Salima Ikram of the American University of Cairo said that a distant relative of the cos lettuce was actually eaten as an aphrodisiac and used as a sacred sex symbol in ancient Egypt.

Ikram, who specializes in ancient Egyptian food, said that the salad leaves were carved on the walls of tombs dating back to 2,000 BC.  She said that lettuce leaves were supposedly the Egyptian god of fertility Min's favorite food.

Min, who is often depicted with an erect penis in ancient Egyptian wall paintings and hieroglyphs, was called the 'great of love' in a text from the Edfu Temple.

Ikram said that people believed that Min's lettuce diet helped him "perform the sexual act untiringly," according to Smithsonian.

She said that around 2,000 BC, Egyptians ate the leafy vegetable as an aphrodisiac.  However, while Min's role has changed over the past 3,000 years, his association with the lettuce remained.

Researchers believe that the first depiction of the god with his favored lettuce appears around 1980 BC in The White Chapel of Senusret.  However, Ikram says there might be earlier examples.

Researchers said the god of fertility is sometimes depicted with a long ribbon around his forehead. This is supposed to signify Min's sexual energy.

"One of the reasons why [the Egyptians] associated the lettuce with Min was because it grows straight and tall-an obvious phallic symbol," Ikram told Smithsonian.

Researchers said the lettuce was thought to be sacred to Min because of its straight growth and because of the milky liquid that runs out when it is cut.  Anthropologists say this could have been viewed as a symbol of mother's milk or even semen. 

Ikram said that the ancient Egyptians actually threw away the green leaves and, instead, used the seeds from flower buds. She said that the seeds were pressed to extract their natural oils.  The oils were then used for cooking, medication and mummification. 

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