The octopus appetizer at Amara in Inman Park spices up Valentine’s Day with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. CONTRIBUTED BY SHAWN O’NEILL

Ayurvedic herbs can spice things up for Valentine’s fun

You’re late for work because you couldn’t find your car keys. On the way, you spill coffee on your new white shirt. The office is tense — the day’s headlines are daunting and divisive. By noon, you have to pick up your sick child from school and somehow manage to snag a doctor’s appointment. By 5:30, you’re finally on your way to pick up groceries, the doctor’s prescription, then home. That’s when it hits you: Isn’t it Valentine’s Day?

Somehow you’re just not feeling it.

“The stress most of us feel in our daily lives can make it hard to feel anything but worn out,” says Anna Russ, a former biotech/oncology researcher and now proprietor of Anna Apotheca, an Atlanta-based lifestyle company that specializes in Ayurvedic medicine and education. “Love — and sex — are vital parts of our physiology, all part of the balance of health. Ayurveda focuses on keeping that balance through preventative measures using adaptogenic herbs, spices and lifestyle choices.”

Ayurvedic practices began in the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago and focus on the prevention of disease. “In Western medicine, the focus is on treatment, not prevention,” says Russ.

Shannon Salter Sliger will offer Ayurveda-inspired Balance Bowls at her soon-to-open restaurant concept, Sama. CONTRIBUTED BY RAFTERMEN PHOTOS
Photo: For the AJC

“Unlike a prescription or quick fix, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of lifestyle,” says Shannon Salter Sliger, whose soon-to-open Buckhead restaurant, Sama Food for Balance, will offer “balance bowls,” cold-pressed cocktails, smoothie bowls, an espresso bar, a meditation studio and a shop featuring products that promote balance in the home and body. “To really feel the ‘internal fire’ of vitality, a person should consider life changes, not just adding something to their diet.”

But Russ and Sliger agree that there are a few herbs and spices that can kick things up a notch for Valentine’s fun. “The spices in chai tea are an easy way to enhance the libido,” says Sliger, who will offer proprietary blends of herbs and spices at Sama (which, accordingly, means “balance” in Sanskrit). Nutmeg is known in Ayurveda as “women’s Viagra,” increasing blood flow and circulation; cloves enhance attraction and boost overall libido; cardamom balances energy and blood flow and ginger warms and boosts circulation, too. Added to black tea, these spices are common in most pantries and easy to find on local menus.

At Amara in Inman Park, chef Bhavesh Patel cooks with these spices often, since they are common in most Indian cooking practices. Amara’s popular octopus appetizer has ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Some Ayurvedic remedies, however, use lesser herbs and spices that might not be as familiar.

Russ recommends two renowned Ayurvedic herbs known for their rejuvenative and aphrodisiac effects. Shatavari, or asparagus racemosus, is derived from the roots of “wild asparagus” and is used in dried root or powder form as a rejuvenative tonic for the female reproductive system throughout a woman’s life. For men, ashwagandha, a plant in the nightshade family, is one of Ayurveda’s most highly acclaimed, “smart” adaptogens, increasing or decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol, depending on the body’s needs. “It has the ability to energize the body when it needs it during the day, and calm overactive nerves for restful sleep at night,” says Russ. It can be purchased as a dried herb, extract or powder.

Both herbs can be found locally at Sevananda and Health Unlimited or online at mountainroseherbs.com.

For Valentine’s Day, Russ recommends a “his and hers” chocolate bark of bittersweet chocolate, cacao nibs, organic coconut flakes and toasted pistachios with lavender and shatavari for women, and a pinch of cayenne pepper and ashwagandha for men.

“Most people just need to find some balance,” says Russ, “and there is no balance in extremes.”

Recipe: His-and-Hers Chocolate Bark

Anna Russ of Anna Apotheca recommends this easy-prep chocolate bark as an Ayurvedic enhancement for Valentine’s Day.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao), chopped 

1/4 cup unsweetened flaked, organic coconut

3 tablespoons roasted, salted pistachios, chopped

1 and 1/2 tablespoons cacao nibs

For her:

Add a pinch each of lavender and shatavari

For him:

Add a pinch of cayenne and ashwagandha

Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, stirring occasionally, until most flakes are straw-colored, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. 

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. 

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. 

Spread melted chocolate on baking mat in an even layer about 1/8" thick. Scatter toasted coconut, pistachios, cacao nibs over the chocolate. On one half, scatter lavender and shatvari; on the other half scatter cayenne and ashwagandha. 

Let chocolate cool completely, then break into pieces. Bark will keep for about a week stored in a cool place in an airtight container between layers of parchment.

More ways to trick out your Valentine’s Day:

Aphrodisiac dishes to spark Valentine’s Day romance

5 places to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Atlanta

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