In Ancient Times, These Ingredients 'Spell'ed Love
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FINDING opportunities for romance may, in the modern age, be as simple as browsing through bios on an app and swiping right. In ancient societies, however, the lovelorn had to rely on more roundabout means. And among these roundabout means was invoking the power of magic. 

The ancients had plenty of love spells, charms and potions to dish out — if you had the stomach for it. Depending on which witch doctor or practitioner of the magical arts was approached, either the One Who Loved or the One Who Was Loved might be required to ingest anything from powdered orchids (lucky!) to crushed earthworms/beetles (not-so-lucky).

While these love spells and potions spanned many cultures, geographies, practices and generations, we’re compiling a few of the most well-documented ones here, to mark Valentine’s Day. Do note, it isn’t advisable to try any of these — they’re more likely to summon up an upset tummy than the love of a lifetime. Disclaimer issued, let’s get acquainted with ingredients from the best known ‘love-inducing’ recipes.

Asparagus — Used as an aphrodisiac.

Apple Seeds — To be pounded along with a fragment from the tip of your fingernail and a drop of your blood, then added to a cup of wine (over which a spell has been recited seven times) and given it to the person you love.

August-Born Swallows — Gentle Readers, please skip this one. Italian physician Pietro Bairo wrote, in his 1561 tome ‘Secreti Medicinali’, that these swallows must be put into a big pan — while alive — then baked until shrivelled, powdered, and gifted to a couple so they may enjoy more delightful kissing. We’d say ‘No, thanks’ to a gift like that.

Barley — To be mixed with a little blood and worn around a woman’s body to work as a contraceptive spell. 

Bat’s Blood — Common ingredient listed in recipes for love potions.

Blister Beetle — Better known as ‘Spanish Fly’. The emerald green insect would be crushed, then mixed with herbs and dispensed as a tonic. As one modern report notes: “It could cause feelings of warmth to course through the body, but this was normally due to inflammation rather than desire.” Ferdinand II of Aragon was said to be a fervent believer in the power of Spanish Fly tonics, and when he married his much-younger second wife, Germaine of Foix, used this and other ‘elixirs’ to improve his virility. Ingesting these substances may have led to the king’s decline in health and subsequent demise in the early 16th century.

Crow’s Heart — Another entry from ‘Secreti Medicinali’ (we wonder if Pietro Bairo had something against birds) advised wearing a crow’s heart in a pouch around the neck to heighten love between a married couple.

Carrots — Fed to both men and women on their wedding night, in Ancient Greece.

Chocolate — An aphrodisiac since the days of the Aztecs.

Cup — A ‘good drinking cup’ that someone may have at home. Over the cup, the person would have to repeat certain magical words (most likely, different names for the goddess Aphrodite) seven times. Thus, the loved one’s heart would be reached, and the person’s affections reciprocated.

Earthworms — To be crushed and mixed with periwinkle, as advised in the 13th century tome ‘The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus: Of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones and Certain Beasts’.

Fish Blood — Part of an elaborate (and disgusting) spell that involved writing one’s wishes with fish blood on an ass’ skin, then wrapping it in vetches (a type of plant), and … we’ll just leave it at that.

Grey Crowned Crane — The eggs of this Ugandan bird were to be mixed with certain herbs and consumed for a long-lasting romance. (The Grey Crowned Crane mates for life.)

Gingko — Common ingredient listed in recipes for love potions.

Ginseng — Common ingredient listed in recipes for love potions.

Herbs — Common ingredient listed in recipes for love potions.

Honey — Usually listed in conjunction with other ingredients, such as herbs, vinegar, rum or wine.

Lizard Neck — Ingredient listed in certain love spells.

Maca — Also known as Peruvian ginseng. See, ginseng.

Orchids — Specifically, the variety known as ‘Satyrion’. The Ancient Greeks powdered up these orchids and added it to wine. The wine would evoke passionate love in whosoever drank it. The overuse of this orchid plant led to it becoming extinct for a while. 

Pigeon's Heart — Ingredient listed in certain love spells.

Rum — Vital ingredient in ‘mama juana’, a Caribbean aphrodisiac.

Rooster's Right Testicle — To be worn around one’s neck as a love charm.

Snake’s Fat — Ingredient listed in certain love spells.

Swallow’s Head — Ingredient listed in certain love spells.

Vinegar — Part of a spell that involved mixing it with herbs and honey and applying it to one’s head before bedtime. This prayer — addressed to 15th century saint Luke the Evangelist — was to be recited as well: “St Luke, St Luke, be kind to me, in my dreams let me my true-love see”. Your prospective beloved would then appear in your dream.

Wine — Usually red. Part of several love spells and potions across cultures.

Yohimbe Tree Bark — Would be steeped in hot water and drunk as tea, for aphrodisiacal benefits. If only Ferdinand II of Aragon would have known.