Herbs: The Herbal Histories of Love

Know the herbs of romance.

| February/March 1994

Plants have been intertwined in the history of human love affairs since Adam ate an apple. From love potions and aphrodisiacs to kisses stolen under mistletoe, herbs and flowers have played many seductive roles in private lives. Here are some snippets from the lusty side of horticulture.

A Goddess Spurned

Menthe [a nymph of the underworld] was surprised by Proserpine in the arms of her husband. The enraged goddess metamorphosed her rival into a plant that appears to contain, in its double smell, the coldness of fear and the ardour of love. We cultivate this plant under the name of peppermint, and we owe to it the drops that bear its name.

—The Language of Flowers, Anonymous, 1835

On Love and Lust

The seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that myrtle leaves “eaten by man and wife together causeth love between them.” John Gerard, who flourished half a century earlier, referred in his herbal to no fewer than thirty plants that could be used to promote lust. For example, burdock, or “burre docke”, eaten raw with salt and pepper “or boyled in the broth of fat meate is pleasant to be eaten: being taken in that manner it increaseth seed and stirreth up lust.”

Plants of Romance

Herbs and flowers sometimes offer historical hints in their names.

Southernwood (Artemisia abrota­num) has been called lover’s plant, lad’s love, and maid’s ruin.

Johnny-Jump-Up (Viola tricolor) is also known as heartsease, tickle-my-fancy, and love-in-idleness.

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