Aphrodisiacs

Antiaris toxicaría > UPAS TREE Antirrhinum majus > SNAPDRAGON Aphanes arvensis > PARSLEY PIERT APHRODISIACS

Many plants have been claimed as such, upon what grounds beggars the imagination. Who, for instance, would have thought that PURSLANE (Haining), or NETTLE ever enjoyed such a reputation, even as a flagellant? (Leyel. 1937). The seeds, so it was claimed, powerfully stimulate the sexual functions, and they figured, too, in a Greek remedy for impotence, when an ointment was made from the roots of narcissus with the seeds of nettle or anise (Simons). On the other hand, "to avoid lechery, take nettle-seed and bray it in a mortar with pepper and temper it with honey or with wine, and it shall destroy it ..." (Dawson). In other words, exactly the opposite of the aphrodisiac claim. Another unlikely claimant, also ambivalent, is LETTUCE. The Romans certainly thought of it as promoting sexual potency (R L Brown), and the Akan belief, from West Africa, was that Min, a sky fertility god, was associated with a plant assumed to be some kind of lettuce, believed to stimulate procreation. The reason is that the juice of some of the lettuces is milky, resembling either, in the female aspect, the flow of milk, or in the male aspect, semen (Meyerowitz). By Gerard's time, he asserts that the juice "cooleth and quencheth the naturall seed if it be too much used ...". Women were wary of lettuce, for it would cause barrennness, so an old superstition runs. It probably arose because it was thought that the plant itself was sterile (M Baker.1980). It is recorded that women in Richmond, Surrey, would carefully count the lettuce in the garden, for too many would make them sterile (R L Brown), but what the maximum acceptable number was is not revealed.

CYCLAMEN was reckoned aphrodisiac, a reputation that it enjoyed since ancient times. In fact, it became the very symbol of voluptuousness (Haig). Gerard repeated the belief, and recommended that the root should be "beaten and made up into tro-chisches, or little flat cakes", when "it is reported to be a good amorous medicine to make one in love, if it be inwardly taken". GARLIC in this category is difficult to understand. Chaucer's Somnour, who was "lecherous as a sparwe", was particularly fond of it: "Wel loved he garleek, onyons and eek lekes". And it had the same reputation in Jewish folklore (Rappoport). PARSLEY wine had this reputation, too (Baker. 1977), but a good many of the superstitions pertaining to this herb are connected with conception and childbirth - "sow parsley, sow babies" and so on. Surely it was nothing more than sympathetic magic that led Gerard to recommend ASH seeds to "... stirre up bodily luste specially being poudered with nutmegs and drunke". WALNUT is mentioned as an aphrodi siac in Piers Plowman, probably on the strength of its being an ancient symbol of marriage, the nuts being of two halves (I B Jones). NUTMEGS were reckoned to be aphrodisiac at one time, standard ingredients in love potions, and widely used. They still are, apparently, for Yemeni men take them even now to enhance their potency (Furst). Even TOBACCO leaves were thought at one time to be aphrodisiac (Brongers), and in 16th and 17th century Europe, potions for perennial youth were made from it, and in medieval times DEADLY NIGHTSHADE was included, for hallucinations caused by drugs derived from this very poisonous plant could take on a sexual tone. Large doses are liable to result in irresponsible sexual behaviour, hence the aphrodisiac tag (Rawcliffe).

At least with CUCKOO-PINT the reason is obvious enough. Its method of growth, the spadix in the spathe, stood for copulation. This is the reason for all the male + female names, and for the sexual overtones in a lot of others. The 'pint' of Cuckoo-pint is a shortening of pintel, meaning penis; a glance at the plant will show why. Recent name coinage carries on the theme, for Mabey.1998 has recorded Willy Lily, as ribald as any of the older ones. Even SUMMER SAVORY (or JASMINE (Haining) ), was claimed as an aphrodisiac, but that belief rested on the derivation of the generic name, Satureia, which some thought was from 'satyr' (Palaiseul). Leland said that VERVAIN was a plant of Venus. In other words, it was used as an aphrodisiac, or as an ingredient in some kind of love philtre (Folkard). Lyte recommended WILD SAGE seeds drunk with wine, and so did Culpeper. HOGWEED is another unlikely candidate for inclusion here, but, so it is claimed, it has been shown to have a distinct aphrodisiac effect (Gerard). Even LOVAGE had this reputation, surely only as a result of misunderstanding the name, for Lovage has nothing to do with love. TOMATOES, too, owed a one-time reputation of being aphrodisiac to etymological confusion. The original Italian name was pomo dei mori (apple of the Moors), and this later became pomo d'ore (hence Gerard's Gold-apples). It was introduced to France as an aphrodisiac, and the French mis-spelled its name as pomme d'amour. So the tomato eventually reached England under the name pome amoris - love-apple, which name went back to America with the colonists (Lehner & Lehner). VALERIAN also was supposed to be aphrodisiac (Haining), and there is a record of Welsh girls hiding a piece of it in their girdles, or inside their bodices, to hold a man's attention (Trevelyan).

PANSIES were once thought to be aphrodisiac. Shakespeare, of course, knew this. Oberon's instructions to Puck were to put a pansy on the eyes of Titania. And the plant was dedicated to St Valentine; all this accounts for the numerous "love" names, of the Jump-up-and-kiss-me type (see Watts. 2000),

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