Love Charms

Fenland girls used YARROW as a love charm, by pinning it on the dress, and then taking every opportunity to get as near as possible to young men, in order to declare their love by means of the flowers. If a girl found that the man she was interested in ignored the hint, then she was likely to wait for a full moon, go to a patch of yarrow and walk barefoot among them. She would then shut her eyes, bend down and pick a bunch. If she found next morning that the dew was still on the yarrow, then all was not yet lost - it was a sign that he would soon come courting in earnest. If the flowers were quite dry, on the other hand, she could wait till the next full moon and try again (Porter. 1969), or look elsewhere, of course. VALERIAN, once supposed to be aphrodisiac, was used by Welsh girls. They used to hide a piece of it in their girdle, or inside their bodice, to hold a man's attention (Trevelyan). A Breton charm was for a man to put HOUSELEEK in his pocket, and to make a girl smell it, and it would have her running after him (Sebillot).

There was a belief in ELECAMPANE as a love charm in Guernsey. It had to be gathered on St John's Eve, dried and powdered, and mixed with ambergris. Then it had to be worn next to the heart for nine days, after which the person whose love it was wished to obtain had to be got to swallow some of it (Mac-Culloch). Quite similar was a native American charm, using RUSSIAN TARRAGON. Winnebago men chewed the root and put it on their clothes. The effect was supposed to be secured by getting to windward of the object of desire and letting the wind waft the odour (Youngken). Such a procedure doubled with a hunting medicine. The same procedure was adopted by young Menomini men, using DUTCHMAN'S BREECHES They would chew the root, breathing out so that the scent would carry to the girl. He would then circle round her, and when she caught the scent, she would follow him wherever he went, even against her will. Another charm was to try and throw the plant at the girl, and to hit her with it (H H Smith. 1923). HEMLOCK was used in Ireland; ten leaves, dried and powdered, mixed in food or drink (Wilde.

1902). THORN-APPLE (Datura stramonium, or virtually any of the genus) seeds, in both the old and new worlds, were administered in various ways as love potions (Safford), and the roots were used, too, according to Haining; he says they were burned at the Sabbats in order to excite (and also to overcome) women for sexual motives. CINQUEFOIL appears in a witch philtre for love or hate, composed of adders, spiders, cinquefoil, the brains of an unbaptised baby, and so on (Summers). That charm, with only cinquefoil, makes an unlikely appearance with the Pennsylvania Germans. "To gain the admiration of girls, carry cinquefoil in your pocket" (Fogel).

At one time, CARAWAY was an essential ingredient in love philtres (so was CHICORY seed), because it was supposed to induce constancy (Clair). It was thought, too, to confer the gift of retention (including retention of husbands - even a few seeds in his pocket would prevent the theft of a husband (Baker) ). CORIANDER is another spice that had this reputation. Albertus Magnus (de virtutibus herbarum) includes it among the ingredients of a love potion, but then coriander was one of the many plants that were supposed to be aphrodisiac (Haining). If the identification is correct, HEATH SPOTTED ORCHID was used in a gypsy love philtre. The roots were dried and crushed, and then the girl mixed this with her menses, and the result introduced somehow into the man's food (Leland. 1891). Another doubtful identification is WATER GERMANDER, involved in a French belief. It was said that if a woman wanted to make a man love her, she had to put a piece of this plant in his pocket without his knowing it (Sebillot). One of the odder examples of a love charm concerns BLADDER CAMPION. The inflated (bladder) calyx snaps when suddenly compressed. That fact was used as a charm, according to Coles. The degree of success depended on the loudness of the pop.

The American GINSENG was used by some of the Indian peoples as a love charm. For instance, Meskwaki women wanting a mate made their potion from the roots, mixed with gelatine and snake meat. The Pawnees combined it with other plants, such as wild columbine, cardinal flower and carrot-leaved parsley in their version of the love charm (Weiner). The Ojibwe apparently used FROG ORCHID in a love charm, but no details were given (Yarnell). The American plant BLOODROOT formed another Indian love charm. A man would rub some of the root on the palm of his hand, and then contrive to shake hands with the girl he wanted, in the belief that after five or six days she would be willing to marry him (Corlett). African-Americans in the southern states of America would chew CROWN VETCH and rub it on their palms. That would give a man power over any woman with whom he later shook hands (Puckett). MANDRAKE roots were the most famous of charms. Amulets made of them were worn by Palestinian men and women (Budge) as fertility charms (see MANDRAKE). AMBOYNA WOOD (Pterocarpus indicus) had some reputation as an aphrodisiac at one time, and was certainly used as a man-attracting charm (C J S Thompson. 1897). In Haiti, WHITE BROOMWEED (Parthenium hysterophorus) was used. You take seven small bushes, tie them together and throw them into a river, while saying the correct prayer, and this would give you the love of the girl you want (F Huxley).

John the Conqueror Root was a love charm favoured by men. It was a dried root with a sprong or spike growing out of it, an obvious piece of phallic symbolism. It was carried in a little chamois leather bag, or one made of red cloth. What the root was, was kept secret by those who sold the charm, but it is said to have been BOG ST JOHN'S WORT (Valiente). PEARLWORT was said to have the power to attract lovers, for girls in the Scottish Highlands drank the juice, or at least wetted their lips with it, and if they had a piece in their mouth when they were kissed, the man was bound for ever (Grigson. 1955). Pearlwort may seem an insignificant little plant to be used in this way, but this was, according to most observers, the mystical plant Mothan, very important in Gaelic speaking communities.

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