New Forest gypsies regarded NETTLES as a contraceptive, although they implemented the belief in a strange way. The man had to put nettle leaves inside his socks before intercourse! But, unlikely as it may sound, nettles have been regarded as aphrodisiacs, perhaps as flagellants. It was the seeds that “powerfully stimulate the sexual functions”, and nettles figured in a Greek remedy for impotence. PARSLEY beliefs are often connected with conception and childbirth in a very confused way. While acting as an aid to conception, in the Cotswolds area, it is contraceptive. Gerard noted that SPEARMINT acted as a contraceptive: “Dioscorides teacheth, That being applied to the secret part of a woman before the act, it hindreth conception”.
In spite of the name, CHASTE TREE (Vitex agnus-castus), was believed to be contraceptive. Certainly, Dioscorides said so, and Pomet’s comment on the name agnus-castus is equally explicit: “and the name of Agnus Castus, because the Athenian ladies who were willing to preserve their Chastity, when there were places consecrated to the Goddess Ceres, made their beds of the Leaves of this Shrub, on which they lay: But it is by way of ridicule that the Name of Agnus Castus is now given to this seed, since it is commonly made use of in the Cure of venereal Cases, or to assist those who have violated, instead of preserv’d, their Chastity”. But it was still used by Athenian women as a symbol of chastity in religious rites. And for that reason it became also a symbol of indifference.
SAVIN has been known through the centuries as an abortifacient and contraceptive, either by the simple matter of swallowing the berries, or by the decoction of the leaves, or, as in East Anglia, put into the teapot with ordinary tea. And its contraceptive properties were used with horses, too. It was said that a stallion would never cover a mare if there was any savin in the stable. WILLOW is a fruitless tree, and so would be used for contraception. Even in quite modern times, German women believed that drinking willow tea would make them barren. But Russian folklore has the opposite idea, for it was believed that willow branches put under the marriage bed would ensure a pregnancy.
Grigson reported that the seeds of GROM-WELL were being investigated for the contraceptive substance they contain (for they apparently can stop the activities of some hormones. But some of the American Indians had been using native species as an oral contraceptive for a long time. It has apparently been found in Hungary that large amounts of powdered FAT HEN will suppress the oestrous cycle. In other words, it acts as an oral contraceptive. French women were advised, to avoid a pregnancy, to take, in the first three days after her period, “neuf graines de hieve grimpant”, IVY, that is (Loux). American Indians, the Penobscot, for example, used AMERICAN PENNYROYAL for suppressed menstruation, still in use, often with sage. It is a Hoosier remedy for the condition too, as a form of birth control. The Hopi used the powdered dried root of JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (a teaspoonful in half a glass of cold water) as a contraceptive lasting a week. Two teaspoons of a hot infusion would bring permanent sterility!