Valentine’s Day

There is possibly more to Valentine’s Day than roses.

I have come to realise this as I continue to research for my book about poisonous plants.

Love brings out the best – and worse in people, and plants have always been there if you needed some help. You may need an aphrodisiac to help things to get moving.  The most famous magical plant of all is the mandrake, and that has been also recommended as an aphrodisiac and it was included in love potions, and yet again it will send you to sleep if you take too much; so maybe it could be counter-productive.

One method of harvesting mandrake root suggests its connection with love;

‘Thus it is  said,  that one should draw there circles round mandrake with a sword, and cut it with one’s face towards the west and at the cutting of the second piece one should dance around the plant and say as many things as possible about the mysteries of love’

My plant isn’t even above ground yet, so not a lot of use for this year.

Mandrake 2

Mandrake – Mandragore officinarum

The painting of Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli was thought to be fairly innocent until David Bellingham noticed that the devilish satyr at the bottom right has his left hand resting on the seed case of a Datura, usually known as Thorn Apple.  It may have initially have acted as a stimulant, but then has the usual effect of inducing sleep. Poor Venus does seem to have a rather fed up expression…


Venus and Mars. The National Gallery

Maybe Mars should have eaten some chervil; it was said to be good for sexual over indulgence and for revitalising sexual virility. Some early sources suggest that Bindweed has similar properties; a good excuse to get outside and to start weeding.

Mars may have also have found it helpful to take some Butchers’ Broom, Ruscus aculeatus, which was said to be good for ‘men’s problems’; pound the roots in water or the stems in vinegar- and presumably drink the mix as the herbal doesn’t say what to do with it.

During the Elizabethan period tomatoes were only recently introduced into England. Nobody was at all sure what to do with them, but they knew they were of the solanum family, many members of which are poisonous. Tomatoes became known as ‘Love Apples’, an aphrodisiac, and were not to be commonly grown for food until the late 1800’s.

If you wanted to be left in peace to a good night’s sleep, there were anti- aphrodisiacs available too. Pliny mentions the ‘Eunuch’s Lettuce’ named because of its potency in reducing ardour.

If the having indulged, you found you had the problem of an unwanted pregnancy, most herbals included plants that could induce abortions, one of the most commonly used being Juniperus sabina. Gin was known as ‘Mothers’ ruin’ for a good reason. The problem with the abortifacients that genuinely worked was that the remedies were all very poisonous, and thus it was a very risky enterprise to use them.


Birthwort – Astrologia clematitis

And your problems may not have been over, even if you married.

Strabo wrote that if you suspected your Mother-in-Law of trying to poison you with Aconitum, you should take horehound as an antidote. I suspect that this is one that he didn’t try himself, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.


Monkshood – Aconitum napellus

And on that cheerful note –


……. But you can’t leave without the public safety notice.

All of the above plants are poisonous. Do not use them for medicinal or any other uses.

I am a garden historian, but a practical one. I resarch how gardening was carried out in the past, rather than just researching gardens. It can be very interesting. Some things that I learn seem to be rather unbelievable. Some other methods are still very practical. Visit my web site-

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Posted in Historic Gardener. Gardening-Horticulture

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