"Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower…maidens call it love-in-idleness…The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid, will make man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees." So claims Oberon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, echoing centuries of creepy crones, wizards and shady apothecaries all promising an elixir to call down Cupid. Surely, in our cynical, scientific, deterministic times, romantic ***image1***love has been discredited by screenwriters and behavioral scientists alike; the promise of a love potion has all but disappeared.
Not so! Love potions, herbs and oils are a booming business; love rituals, spells and other shenanigans intended to inflame the heart of the beloved (or at the very least catch his or her attention) abound. To be fair, many of the herbal ingredients recommended by holistic practitioners are more directly linked to sex: Foregoing romantic or magical attribution, the promised result is framed in such clinical phrases as "increases blood flow to the genitals" or "boosts overall energy including libido." Perhaps we find these medical descriptions comforting. Given the often catastrophic, unintended and harrowing results of love potion use described in myth and legend, perhaps a little increased blood flow is harmless enough.
Magic love potions range from what appear to be breath fresheners to concoctions including ingredients proven to have beneficial hormonal or circulatory effects. On the breath freshener side, for example, is this recipe from the online herbal magazine Chamomile Times:
1 tablespoon grated gingerroot
2-3 cinnamon sticks
4-5 black peppercorns
Simmer ingredients in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Add milk and honey to taste.
Sounds delicious. But where's the magic, the manipulation? Along similar but slightly more smelly lines, a 16th century Gaelic text recommends the following for the lovelorn ***image2***young woman: "Anoint thy face with goat's milk in which violets have been infused, and there is not a young prince on earth who will not be charmed with thy beauty." Oddly, the advice doesn't include the all-important step of washing the goat's milk off after the anointing. Charmed with thy beauty, sure, from a distance.
Herbal love potions, a multimillion-dollar a year business, have recently come under the watchful eye of not-so-romantic chemists. For example, Dr. Charles Sell of Britain's Royal Society of Chemists actually formulated a version of the potion described in A Midsummer Night's Dream. From the BBC account, the potion "starts with sparkling notes to ignite fiery love; with the bright effervescence of luminous Tangerine, combined with the zest of fresh Bergamot. Then the blend of spices such as White Pepper and Clove combine with the sparkling citrus bringing a sexy top to the fragrance, reinforcing its seductive character." Again, sounds appetizing. However, "Dr Sell admits he hasn't noticed any dramatic increase in amorous activity." (And, in fine lab coat form, Dr. Sell adds: "Of course, nobody should put a fragrance on eyelids and we would stress the hazards of doing that.")
Research does, however, show certain aphrodisiacal properties in a variety of holistic and herbal preparations. Herbs such as damiana, yohimbe, horny goat weed (seriously), maca and even old standbys ginseng and ginko have been studied for their effects and analyzed by organic chemists for their contents. Generally, these herbs work exactly like Viagra, by increasing blood flow to the extremities, including the genitals. As always, use caution when swilling herbal sex tea or secretly administering it to your partner.
One safer approach would be to work with an herbalist. Local curandero Tomas Enos, owner of El Milagro Herbs on Canyon Road, brings three years of apprenticeship with a curandera in Oaxaca and 17 years of his own experience and a PhD to the tricky business of love, herbs and metaphysics. Don't expect too much, however. Enos says, "I don't do the 'my lover left me and I want to get him or her back' kind of thing. If it doesn't come from the heart, it's just a neurotic or psychotic obsession." But on the libido front, Enos recommends cotton root bark, a wild-harvested item unavailable commercially, and oat seed "when it's in the milky stage, before it matures." According to Enos, the unique aspect of the curanderismo tradition is a session called the "limpia," Spanish for "cleansing." "It's an intuitive healing session, working with the person's energy," ***image3***Enos says. "It opens up the person so the herbs work better." Enos also makes an aphrodisiacal, edible chocolate body cream called Choco-Lick, for an entirely different kind of limpia ritual.
As for rituals of love, who better to ask than a witch? The popular conception of witchcraft and love involves "love spells" and potions intended to make someone fall in love. Is there any validity to this stereotype? Rowan, high priestess of Our Lady of the Woods, a local goddess-centered, earth-based religious organization (aka Wiccan Church) responds, "To a degree. It is perfectly valid to perform a spell to attract the right partner for you, but it is not considered ethical to manipulate a specific person to fall in love with you. You can do it, I've heard, but it is a lot of work and doesn't produce very satisfactory results. Even when it does work, the person isn't really much like themselves, and can be kind of annoying." (Clearly, we can get the exact same results just by dating.) Love spells and rituals are a part of Wiccan practice, but Rowan cautions, "The Wiccan Rede, in its entirety, reads, 'An ye harm none, do as ye will.'" Rowan also cautions: "Wiccans believe in the rule of three, which means that whatever you send out to the universe will come back to you three times." That's scary news if you're sending out possessiveness, manipulation and bad mojo. But there's good news, too: "If you send out love, of any kind, you will get three times the love back. You just have to recognize it when it shows up!" she says.
Potions, spells, herbs and unflagging effort may or may not summon the perfect beloved or make a specific person fall in love with you. But remember, if all else fails, you'll smell great while enjoying increased blood flow to your extremities.