Herbal Love Lore
When most of us hear the word "dill," we think of a pickle or other culinary use. Likewise, "rosemary" might conjure a savory dish or a cup of tea. But to those living in the Middle Ages, dill was something added to a bath to seduce a potential lover, and if you wished to dream of your spouse, you needed only to tuck a sprig of rosemary under your pillow before heading to bed.
The partnership between herbs and love spans history. While few today gather herbs for casting love spells or remedying a broken heart, it's still fun to learn about the long-held associations and even honor them — by including a sprig of rosemary in a card for remembrance or a sprig of mistletoe on a bedpost as a symbol of fertility and love, for example.
Here are just some of the many legends linking herbs and love through the ages:
Long a symbol of love in Italy, folklore states that a young man will fall in love with a woman from whom he accepts basil. While men would traditionally put basil in their hair to show their intentions to a woman, a pot of basil on the windowsill was a sign that the woman within was ready for a suitor. Romanians were more definitive; in Romania, a man who accepted a sprig of basil from a woman was accepting her marriage proposal.
In Elizabethan times, girls would sprinkle two bay leaves with rosewater and put them on their pillows, chanting a rhyme in order to see their future husbands in their dreams: "Good Valentine, be kind to me. In dreams let me my true love see." Bay leaves (sometimes referred to as "the glory of love") have often been added to baths to attract a soul mate.
Legend has it that a potential husband will be prompted to propose if he tastes borage in his drink.
Lore dictates that caraway seeds will prevent infidelity and enhance lust.
An arousing herb, cardamom has often been tucked under bedding or sprinkled in food.
Also historically thought of as an arousing herb, chervil has been used to promote lust.
Included in love sachets and in bedding to excite passion, cinnamon has been thought to enhance a love affair.
Placed in bedding or food or carried in a sachet, coriander has a reputation of strengthening love. In One Thousand and One Nights (a collection of stories from 14th century Asia), it's referred to as an aphrodisiac.
In Medieval times, dill was used in love potions, and a dill bath was used as a means of seduction. It might also be sprinkled around the house to strengthen and protect love.
Lore dictates that ginger will strengthen the love effect of other herbs and arouse a hesitant lover.
If it's spiritual love that's sought, jasmine flowers have long been symbolic.
Burning lavender flowers—or wearing lavender scent— has long been thought to attract the opposite sex. In the Middle Ages, women were told to sprinkle lavender between the sheets to protect against fighting with their husbands.
According to legend, wearing this plant assures devotion from your partner.
As Aphrodite's favorite herb, marjoram was once thought to represent marital bliss. In the Middle Ages, marjoram signified love and honor. Brides and grooms wore marjoram wreaths, and it was included in foods to nurture amorous affections. Lore dictates that if you anoint yourself with marjoram before bedtime, you'll dream about your spouse-to-be.
In a locket or sachet, marshmallow root, also known as althea root, was thought to invite a marriage proposal.
The ancient Greek goddess Persephone turned the nymph Menthe into a plant when she discovered that Pluto was in love with her. Pluto changed the spell so that she would give off a delightful smell when people stepped on the plant. Spearmint has long been considered a plant for enhancing love.
A symbol of sexuality for the Greeks, mistletoe was included as part of marriage rites and thought to enhance fertility.
In ancient Greece, brides wore wreaths of oregano—linked to Aphrodite—to represent a lifetime of happiness.
Rose was the flower of the ancient Roman goddess Venus (Aphrodite, the goddess of love). Scattered rose petals or burning rose incense has been reputed to enhance passion. And love sachets have long been made with rose petals and dried violet.
The remembrance herb, rosemary has been included in weddings (and bedding) to encourage fidelity since ancient times. In the Middle Ages, a rosemary branch was given to wedding guests as a symbol of love and fidelity. It was believed that a woman would dream of her future husband if she placed rosemary under her pillow.
It's best to know your savories! According to lore, summer savory is an aphrodisiac, while winter savory will decrease sex drive.
Legend has it that wearing thyme will bring a suitor!
Yarrow is another herb that would bring dreams of a future husband when placed under the pillow at night.