Mattioli’s Dioscorides illustrated by Cibo (Discorsi by Mattioli and Cibo)

Orchids (Orchis spitzelii and Orchis provincialis), ff. 63v-64r

Orchids (Orchis spitzelii and Orchis provincialis), ff. 63v-64r

"Dog's testicle. Plant suitable for women."

"The orchid which the Greeks call the dog's testicle bears its leaves around the base of the stem; they spread along the ground and are similar to those of the olive, but longer, narrower, and smoother. The stem grows to the height of a span and bears its purple flower at the top; the root is bulbous, somewhat long, double, and the width of an olive. The lower of the two roots is full and fleshy; the higher is soft, light, and empty. This root is eaten as bulbs are eaten, boiled and roasted. It is said that the larger, eaten by men, causes them to sire males, while the smaller, eaten by women, causes them to conceive females. It is also said that women in Thessaly give men the more fleshy bulb to drink in goat's milk to stimulate sexual desire, and the softer bulb for the opposite effect. It grows in stony and sandy places." (f. 63v)

"White testicle, scented, very small." (f. 64r)


The two species of orchid Orchis spitzelii (to which the text transcribed by Cibo refers) and Orchis provincialis grow in the southern half of Europe, not in Great Britain. These two plants, like the previous one, belong to the Orchis genus, Greek for testicle. The name originated in the shape of the underground part of the orchids, which usually consists of two tubers, as can be seen in the illustration and in the names used by Cibo and Mattioli. Salep, the starch-like substance containing mucilages which is extracted from these tubers, is said to have aphrodisiac properties. Dissolved in water, it is good for gastroenteritis.

Ramón Morales
Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid
(Extract from the commentary volume of Mattioli's Dioscorides illustrated by Cibo)

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