In his song “Nature Boy,” Nat King Cole sings, “The greatest thing you have to learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Nature is abundant with plants that help us learn to love and be loved in return—and not all of them are for the Viagra-kind of love.
The quest for romantic love is a part of the human condition. Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, recorded over a hundred stories of Native American tribes using plants as love charms to lure a potential suitor. For instance, the Iroquois considered asters, which are daisy-like flowers, to be love medicine. Perhaps asters were used like the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not daisy method of divining a suitor’s sincerity, or they could have been knotted into chains like dandelion-flower necklaces.
Several tribes used powdered seeds of Columbine to be sprinkled as a kind of love-dust. Other tribes marked a man’s palm with bloodroot, a native wildflower aptly named for the blood-red liquid which oozes from a cut root.
As a more drastic measure—and maybe a last resort for the desperate and restless—yellow dock root was boiled and splashed on the face and clothes to make one more appealing to a love interest. Though, anyone who has seen yellow dock root knows it makes a yellow-staining dye, and therefore, it seems the amorous seeker would be made quite obvious.
Contemporary use of aphrodisiac herbs include performance-enhancing herbs, such as yohimbe or Asian ginseng, which increase virility for men, or female tonics, which help maintain sexual function, such as an herb from India called shatavari, which means “she who has a hundred husbands.” The name conveys its efficacy.
For relaxing into a romantic relationship, damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca or Turnera diffusa) is a traditional herbal beverage, either as a tea or as a Mexican herbal liqueur. Supported by scientific studies, damiana is considered to be a mild antidepressant and nervine, which relaxes and calms the nerves so that a couple isn’t too stressed out to be interested in each other.
For marriage maintenance, old-timey Appalachian herbalists revived tired domestic partnerships with passionflower vine, appropriate for couples who’ve grown bored in a relationship, having lost the appreciation for the familiar. A recent clinical trial has proven passionflower as effective for anxiety as an anti-anxiety pharmaceutical benzodiazepine, which would likely help the relationship, as well.
More than just finding and keeping a romance, love medicine can foster a sense of togetherness, which is needed in building and maintaining all relationships. Since communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, kava kava, a Polynesian herb which means “talk talk,” could be of value. Kava kava has been traditionally used to ease communication and facilitate a win-win conversation when different tribes join together in conversation.
Most importantly, all love is built upon a compassionate, forgiving self-love. Cultivating self-love involves physically, spiritually and emotionally healing the wounds of the heart, so that one can be open to feeling love for others and allowing oneself to receive love. Reishi mushroom and hawthorn are used as herbal tonics to heal and support the heart on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. By nourishing the heart with antioxidants, and calming the emotional and spiritual mind which, according to Traditional Chinese medicine, resides in the heart, reishi and hawthorn prepare someone to learn to love and be loved in return.