Love potions are powerful stuff—if they work, that is. They're incredibly popular in pop culture, depictions of witchcraft, and have their roots in history as far back as Biblical times. The idea of a love potion is idyllic: give the object of your desire a little vial to ingest, and they will become yours forever. However, the reality of these love potions was a little more complicated and a lot more disgusting than that. Up there with gross foods from colonial America, aristocratic France, and even the 1950s, the ingredients in some of these ancient, medieval, and even more modern love potion recipes range from the icky, like insects, to the straight-up horrid, like crushed bones and menstrual blood. Be sure to venture into this article on an empty stomach.
Love potions were generally ingested, which makes the ingredients of this medieval-era "love cake" potentially disgusting. If someone wanted to make a person fall in love with them, they would bake a cake while not wearing any clothing, and then rub the dough on every single orifice in order to absorb their sweat into the cake. Yes, this included armpits and privates. They would then feed the finished cake to their crush, who would fall head over heels in love, thanks to the power of sweat.
As popular as animal remains were in potions, human cadavers were more taboo, but still utilized. These included bone smashed into a powder, hair, and the menstrual blood. The potions allegedly worked best if there were ingredients from both romantic parties involved.
One specific recipe called for the spleen and bone marrow of a murdered boy, so sometimes these things got pretty specific. The use of menstrual blood in numerous love potions hints at the fact that it was mostly women who used love potions, and some ended up being convicted of witchcraft as a result.
Animal products of all sorts were used in love potions all across the world. According to History Answers, recipes called for:
"sparrow heads, deer heart, the droppings of a stork, fat of a snake, brain of a sparrow, testicles of a donkey, bones from a left side of a toad which has been devoured by ants, blood and heart of a pigeon, and...bat’s blood in beer."
The most popular animal used in potions was the Spanish Fly, or the Blister Beetle. Usage of Spanish Fly dates back to Hippocrates. According to Latin chroniclers, the ingredient was considered a powerful aphrodisiac, and was crushed and put into numerous potions, which were incredibly popular at the courts of Roman Emperor Augustus. However, Spanish Fly is actually quite dangerous, and can cause permanent kidney and liver damage.
It seems the more complicated the recipe, the more effective the results. One 17th century French potion required various love potions to contain a mixture of Spanish Fly, herbs, and menstrual blood.
Spanish flies were considered a common aphrodisiac, used by women to create love potions for their husbands. Sometimes, if the potions were found to be ineffective, women would turn to simply eliminating their husbands so they could eventually remarry for love.