Chocolate: An Herb to Die For

We’re not the first civilization to treasure this divine concoction. The Mayans of Central America worshipped the cacao plant (Theobroma cacao), used its beans as money, and brewed them into a medicinal drink called xocolatl, mixed with wine and fermented corn. The later Aztecs of Mexico added chile peppers to make an aphrodisiac.

The explorer Cortez knew a good thing when he saw it, and took the cacoa beans back to the Spanish court, where passions soon ran high over chocolate–and not just because (with sugar and without chiles) it was tasty. Doctors prescribed the new drink for everything from tuberculosis to intestinal parasites and sexual dysfunction, and it was said to cure hangovers, shrink tumors, and strengthen the heart. Europeans couldn’t get enough of it, and in a few more decades (the 1850s), the chocolate bar was born.

More recently (and reliably), scientists have learned that chocolate has twice as many antioxidants as red wine, and that it may relax blood vessels and reduce the risk of blood clotting. Pass the chocolates, please, and hurry!