THE LOVEWORT FLOWER ("SYLPHION", "JEYGIFT", "LOVE'S FENNEL")

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - REPRODUCTION - MYTH/LORE

Lovewort is a large, perennial, Sarvonian flowering plant which produces a resin used to prevent or forestall conceiving in human females. Its stalk can also be candied and its leaves used as a salad or potherb.

Sketch of the Lovewort
View picture in full size Image description. A sketch of the lovewort plant, described by Dalmac Brandivere. Image drawn by Bard Judith.

Appearance. The mature plant stands a good ped or more in height. A thick emeraud stalk, at least a thumb's width or more, rises from a swollen whitish base. Wide dark green leaves, faintly streaked with purple and crimson spring directly from the stalk, overlapping it slightly where they join. Near the base these leaves may be the size of a platter, while near the top they are closer to the size of a woman's or even child's hand. They are lined with a faint tracery of veins, similar to a butterfly's wing, which are slightly raised and show a brighter concentration of colour.

The top of the stem becomes a graceful finial of pale green leaves cupped together in a rough spearshape. In early autumn these leaves expand, wilt, and droop outwards to reveal the bud and subsequent late-autumnal flower of the Lovewort, a rich purplish-red, flat head with many small florets. This flower is significant as it marks the plant's maturity, and the various usages (which see) of the plant must be regulated by its appearance.

The root system is basically one large, deep taproot, emerging from the bulbous base (of which perhaps the bottom third is buried in the soil, and may be the size of a child's foot ball...) The taproot can be as thick as one's wrist where it joins the base, and tapers to a finger's thickness near the bottom. Large specimens of Lovewort in a long growing season of moderate or warm climates can have taproots as long as the plant itself – a ped or more! Understandably, they are difficult to remove from the earth, and as they recur annually otherwise, care must be taken when planting for cultivation. Fortunately, though they are hardy, they do not spread widely (see Reproduction) and keep nicely to their own corner of the soil!
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Territory. The Lovewort grows naturally through much of central and northern
Sarvonia. Like most plants, it cannot tolerate permanent frost, but can survive in the short growing season of the Northern Wilds (cold and dry), which run from about the Tandala Highlands up past Eight Winds Bay. It does not care for wet weather, whether cold or hot, and so cannot be found in the Northern Bleak climate zones. It thrives in the Temperates, Central Balmy, and Brightlands areas, or from Nyermersys down through the Santharian kingdom to nearly Bardavos. Usually found inland and on dry, loose soil, rather than on coastal areas, marshlands, or clay. It seems to thrive in sunlight rather than shade, and prefers rich soil to build up the highest concentration of sap (and thus resin). Return to the top

Usages. There are mainly medicinal and culinary uses for the Lovewort plant, but also a couple of others:

Reproduction. Lovewort is a perennial, which will continue to send up its stem and flower as long as the root is in the ground. Each blooming season marks one year of life for the plant, and the thick base and root system remain safe in the soil, even when there is a thick blanket of snow on the ground. It is frost-hardy – indeed, the edible base is tastier after the first frost – and only the stem and leaves wither each winter, to sprout up again in the spring. Watch for the finial to begin to droop and the flower to emerge in all its crimson glory, for that is the sure signal that autumn is upon us!

It dies off naturally after about six to eight blooming seasons if not harvested completely (that is, the base and root removed from the ground). It is not difficult to gauge the plant's final year of life, since, in the last autumn the flower bud is replaced by a sort of corm, or miniature bulb, born at the top of the plant in the same place, and protected by the finial of leaves. The root and base will begin to wither with the first frost, along with the stalk and leaves, and the corm will drop to the ground and be naturally buried by the detritus of its mother plant. In the spring, a new young plant will bud from that bulb, if it has survived the winter.

Clearly, Love's Fennel is tough but not prolific, merely content to replace itself rather than reproduce widely. In the cultivated form, it can be moved either as a young plant when the taproot is still short, or the autumn in which it drops its corm. The corm can be collected, split carefully, and used to produce two or three 'cloves' similar to garlick, which can be planted as desired. 
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Myth/Lore. We know very little about the lore pertaining to this plant save what we have already mentioned: that at one point it was used for a wood varnish (we have specimens of ancient jewelry boxes finished with sylphion resin in the Compendium's Cabinet of Curiosities), that subsequently it was used in food preparation as a sweet spice (we have primitive receipts which contain references to 'silfion', 'sylfium' and even 'asaelphion'), and that a woman whom we know only as “Sylphia the Wisewyf” supposedly discovered its ability to prevent pregnancy. We suspect a confusion of cause and effect here, as the resin already has its name (in varying but clearly similar forms) in the aforesaid receipts. Due to the secrecy and reticence of past generations of writers, and to the tendency of the female oral tradition which preserved the main information about Lovewort's abilities for us to this day, we can speculate no further with any certainty.

However, for the sake of completeness, and for mere enjoyment, we offer you this very old fragment of a 'ballad' which mentions Sylphia. It may have been a teaching rhyme for women, to pass on information 'in public' as it were, a memory aid, or merely an early attempt to actually write down a piece of oral tradition. Words in brackets were missing or eroded, and are our best guess at what may have been originally there, in the spelling of the time.

'Who ys Silfia, what ys she,
That al our swaynes commend hir?
Holy, fayre, and wyse ys she,
For Jayril (Jeyriall) grace did lend her.

She doth best know how to (make / bake)
Yn ovens deep and gentyl,
Keep the loaf ere yt ys rysen,
Till tyme be right to fymble.

Then to Silfia, let us synge,
For hir swete tears excell (yng)
Brynge hir praises morn a (nd nyghte),
To kepe us from ( our swellyng.) '

We can surmise that if 'Silfia' is merely code for 'sylphion', then we can see not only the hints of its purpose (keeping the 'loaf', or child, from 'rising' or developing) but also an instruction for how to receive the medication (sweet tears that should be 'brought', or rather 'taken', with prayer and meditation twice daily, at 'morn' and 'night'). Our own daughters might well benefit from such wise and gentle instruction! Return to the top

 Date of last edit 13th Awakening Earth 1671 a.S.

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