Through the ages, herbs have furthered affairs of the heart. I’ve provided snippets of historical lore on some of the most significant.
Calendula: One favorite bit of lore is that calendula flowers were used to keep a lover faithful. All one had to do was to dig up some soil where their lover had walked, and use that soil for planting calendulas. From that day forward the lover would forever by faithful. Calendulas are the original English/Scottish Marigold. Though not native, they are widely naturalized from Europe and have been grown in the UK for centuries.
Rosemary: English folklore says if a girl places a plate of flour beneath a rosemary bush on midsummer’s eve, she will find her future husband’s initials written in it. Another bit of lore to discover your true love is to place a sprig of rosemary under your pillow. A dream will reveal their identity. Dried rosemary was laid in bed linen to ensure faithfulness and a bride who gave her groom a sprig of rosemary to hold on their wedding night would ensure his faithfulness.
Another belief regarding dreams: On Saint Agnes’ Eve (January 20), a woman seeking romance would mix thyme with rosemary and pray: “Saint Agnes, that’s to lovers kind, Come, ease the trouble of my mind.” The virgin martyred saint would then send a dream about her true love.
Rosemary came to Britain with the Romans and has centuries old use.
Violets are used in love spells and may be carried as an amulet to increase one’s luck in love. Combine them with lavender for enhanced effect.
Violets grow throughout the UK. But Lavender wasn’t cultivated there until the mid-sixteenth century. No herb smells more wonderful than lavender. I just planted more in the garden.
Wild Pansy (violas): Violas, heartsease, V. tricolor…have a great reputation as a love charm. Its three colors of purple, white, and yellow, each marked with a petal, have given it associations with the Holy Trinity, and the name Herb Trinitas, which figures in old books. The name pansy comes from the French pensée (thought). ‘Love in Idleness’ is another of this beloved flower’s names. In ancient days the plant was much used for its potency in love charms, hence perhaps its name of Heartsease. It is this flower that plays such an important part as a love charm in Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The pansy Shakespeare refers to are probably V. tricolor, the wild pansy or viola. ‘In A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oberon sends Puck to gather “a little western flower” that maidens call “love-in-idleness”. Oberon’s account is that he diverted an arrow from Cupid’s bow aimed at “a fair vestal, throned by the west” (supposedly Queen Elizabeth I) to fall upon the plant “before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound”. The “imperial vot’ress” passes on “fancy-free”, destined never to fall in love. The juice of the heartsease now, claims Oberon, “on sleeping eyelids laid, Will make or man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.” Equipped with such powers, Oberon and Puck control the fates of various characters in the play to provide Shakespeare’s essential dramatic and comic structure for the play.’
The wild violas, heartsease, grow abundantly throughout Britain.
Vervain: An ancient cure-all, sacred to the Druids, vervain was also thought to be a love charm. According to the Druids, the plant should be collected when neither the sun nor the moon is in the sky. And in exchange for removing such a valuable plant from the earth, honey combs should be left on the ground. It grows wild in England, sparsely in Scotland. However, vervain was grown in herb gardens in the Middle Ages (and later).
“The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the Hawthorne tree,
Will ever after handsome be.”
There is also an old belief that cowslip (primrose) flowers hold magic value for the complexion and making one beautiful. Seeking beauty is an age-old pursuit in love.
The wild white yarrow is the variety referred to here and elsewhere in my herbal posts. Yarrow, an ancient widespread herb, is used for medicinal purposes, but also in love charms, and in divining who the lover might be. I’m not certain exactly how, but the rhyme below was thought to be useful.
“Good morrow, good Yarrow, good morrow to thee. Send me this night my true love to see, The clothes that he’ll wear, the colour of his hair. And if he’ll wed me…” ~Danaher, 1756. (But the saying may be much older.)
Herbs might be worn as amulets or love charms alone, or inside jewelry, like a locket, or in small cloth bags hidden in clothing, woven into a woman’s hair, rubbed over her in an enticing oil… They were brewed into decoctions for her/him to imbibe, or to anoint the object of one’s love in his/her sleep. Herbs were hung overhead, tucked under pillows and in bedding. Women bathed in their essence… I say him or her but this sounds more like something a woman might do. There are many ways people thought herbs furthered romance and kept a lover true. I hope you find these suggestions interesting.