Love potions have been around since ancient times, if not sooner. The concept of the love potion is simple. Concoct a magical potion, give it to the object of your desires, and she or he will fall in love with you. Some recipes called for very innocent ingredients. Medieval Europeans used roses or honey in some brews. Aztecs used chocolate as an aphrodisiac. In the Dominican Republic, there is a love potion from mixing red wine, rum, and honey. However, not all love potions and their ingredients sound so romantic or delicious. Love potions across time and from around the world have had some very insane ingredients, like menstrual blood, ground beetles, animal organs and parts, and bone marrow from a murdered boy. Read this list at your own risk.
1. Spanish Fly – Perhaps the most legendary aphrodisiac is Spanish Fly, a type of blister beetle. This emerald green insect has been the main ingredient in love potions since the time of the ancient Greeks. Commonly, the insect is ground up and mixed in with other ingredients to create a potion. According to this article, “Reported sexual excitement after taking Spanish fly stems from its ability to irritate the urogenital tract, causing a rush of blood to the genital area. And that’s the upside. The dangerous downside: Spanish fly is a poison that burns the mouth and throat, and can cause urinary infections, scarring of the urethra and, in some rare cases, death.”
Ah, urinary infections, all in the name of love.
2. Animal Corpses – Many love potions and spells in Medieval Spain and the Balkans called for parts of dead animals, such as a sparrow head, stork droppings, and donkey testicles. Some ingredients were more specific, such as the bones from the left side of the toad—but it only worked if that side had been consumed by ants!
3. Words Can’t Even Describe This One… – In Medieval Europe, ground bones, pubic hair, and menstrual blood created one of the most disgusting love potions of the time. If some of the ingredients came from the intended love target, the potion was all the more powerful in binding the potion-maker and their love target. However, some recipes with these ingredients were very specific, one even calling for the spleen and bone marrow of a murdered boy!
4. For the Married Ones – Love potions weren’t always for the unmarried and forlorn. This potion from the The Boke of Secretes of Albertus Magnus of the Vertues of Herbes, Stones and Certaine Beastes, a 16th century book on medicines and potions, was intended for a wife and husband to increase their romantic desire. The potion calls for ground periwinkle flowers, wrapped with earthworms, mixed in with leeks. The mixture was effective if it was used in the meats consumed by the married couple.
5. The Heart of a Snake – One 14th century, English recipe from a compilation of texts, MS Sloan 1315, cataloged at the British Library in London, calls for the burnt heart of a snake ground into powder and sprinkled into the object of the potion-maker’s desire. But beware, this potion only worked on the fairer sex! If a woman tried this recipe on their white knight, it was destined to fail. I wonder if the medieval medicine man who created this recipe thought the heart of the snake would only work on women, because it was the biblical Eve tempted by the serpent to take a bite from the Garden of Eden’s forbidden fruits… Hmm…
6. Water That Bathed A Dead Body – In northern Pakistan, among the Yusufzai Pukhtun of Swat, leatherworkers create leather goods, as their name suggests, but they also act as messengers and guards for elite males in their society, set bones, and help with butchering animals. Their dead bodies also make for a potent love potion. Supposedly, in Pukhtun culture, water that has bathed a leatherworker’s dead body is a traditional love potion still used today. According to this article on JSTOR Daily, the tradition goes:
“Mounted on a wild pig, an animal which is anathema to the Muslim Pukhtun, the witch makes her way into the village graveyard and exhumes the corpse of a newly dead male leatherworker. She hangs his body from a tree, washes it, and sells the water to women who will give it to their husbands or lovers in their tea. Sometimes men are also reputed to use this potion, but only to enchant a homosexual lover, never to use on a woman.”
7. Extinct Plants – The ancient Greeks used one ingredient in their love potions so frequently, they caused the plant to go extinct! Satyrion, or satirio, was an orchid the ancients believed had aphrodisiacal powers. Grinding this plant up into a powder and mixing it into wine or goat’s milk made the consumer amorous. The Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, claimed in his book, Enquiry into Plants, that satyrion gave him the strength to endure seventy consecutive sexual performances! If Theophrastus’ claims are marginally true, it’s little wonder there’s no satyrion left!
8. Strange Concoctions – In medieval Japan, yujo, or courtesans, created an aphrodisiacal potion from eels, lotus roots, and charred newts. The yujo swore by this concoction for heightening the pleasure of sexual encounters for their patrons.
9. Datura Plants – Across India and other places in the world, the datura plant, also called thorn apple, Jimson weed, and angel’s trumpet, was a common ingredient in love potions, because it increases sexual desire. This plant is also a lethal hallucinogenic. One Indian recipe calls for “ten datura seeds, ten peppercorns, and on elong pepper, all crushed together and mixed with honey.” This plant also bears many interesting names. It’s scientific name, datura metel, means “plant of the gods of love.” In ancient Sanskrit, the plant was called unmata, meaning “divine inebriation.”
10. Love Cakes – Another common love potion in the Middle Ages involved baking a cake, but not just any cake! This was a “love cake.” The first step was stripping naked, because for the spell to work, you’d have to bake the cake in the nude. The second step was taking the dough and rubbing it against your armpits, breasts, and genitalia to soak up that sweet, sweet sweat. Once the dough was imbued with the baker’s sweat, the cake could be baked and served to their love target. Once their love target took a slice of that cake, they were destined to fall in love!
Please don’t try any of these love potions on the unsuspecting! There’s easier—and more sane!—ways to win someone’s love, like, oh, a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, a candlelit dinner. But if this disgusting list proves anything, people have always come up with creative ways to try and win the affections of their romantic target. What do you think? What love potion or ingredient on this list made you feel the sickest? Which one did you find the most interesting? Please leave your answer in the comments!
Aphrodisiacs: Love potion #9 or nothing sublime? by Deb Levine, M.A.
Datura as an Aphrodisiac on The Herb Museum
Gunnhild, Mother of Kings: A Viking Witch Queen Slandered by the Sagas by Dee Dee Chainey
Love Potions: A Brief History of Aphrodisiacs by Alexandra Malmed
LOVE POTIONS THROUGH THE AGES: A Study of Amatory Devices and Mores by Harry E. Wedeck
Magical Charms, Love Potions, and Surreal Tricks by Carrie Griffin
Real-Life ‘Love Potions’ Are Coming, But Are they Ethical? by Erene Stergiopoulos
Spanish fly, holy bread and mashed worms: history’s weirdest aphrodisiacs and love potions by Emma Slattery Williams
What’s in a Love Potion? by Matthew Wills
Yes, Love Potions Were Real, And They Were Disgusting by Cleo Egnal