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The Ancient World's "Birth Control Pill"
Silphion
Ferula species
The Giant Fennel Family

Silphium, a member of the giant fennel family, was used by ancient women during the seventh century B.C.E. for contraception. A rare plant growing in a narrow 30 mile band along the dry mountain sides facing the Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa near the city of Cyrene, in what is now Libya.

The plants usage as a birth control agent was so effective it was commonly known and very widespread. Some became very wealthy exporting large quantities of Silphium to ancient Greece. So important was silphium's role in Cyrene's way of life that its image and usage was immortalized on the city's coins, one such coin depicted a woman touching the plant and pointing to her reproductive area, making its use quite clear.

Ancient texts recorded its usage as a contraceptive agent, Soranus wrote, women should drink the juice from a small amount of silphium about the size of a chick pea with water once a month. He added that it "not only prevents conception but also destroys anything existing". Another ancient herbalist/physician, Dioscorides, too, gave it for contraceptive and abortive purposes.

Within forty years of silphium's discovery, it became increasingly rare due to over-harvesting. All attempts at cultivation failed. As silphium became harder to find and more expensive, ancient women turned to other plants. Another member of the Ferula species, asafetida (Ferula assa-foetida) became an acceptable substitute for silphium. It was only a matter of time before silphium disappeared from the earth forever. Asafetida, managed to survive and is used today to give Worcestershire sauce its distinctive aroma.

Modern researchers tested plants of the same genus (Ferula) and found anti-fertility effects ran in the family. Crude alcohol extracts of asafetida and a related plant (Ferula orientalis) were found to inhibit implantation of fertilized eggs in rats by 40% (asafetida) and 50% (F. orientalis). Other Ferula species have produced impressive results; one species F. jaeschikaena was found to be nearly 100% effective in preventing pregnancy when administerd to adult female rats within three days of colitus (penis/vagina intercourse).

In 1963, the resin from asafetida (Ferula assa-foetida) was found to be effective in humans as a contraceptive and for inducing early abortion. (trying to find out more about this)


A old recipe to prevent conception for a year is as follows. Keep in mind those who knew how to use the recipe safely are long gone, if you try this I really don't know what will happen to you, no one really does.

This information came from the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. April 1975, vol.64 no.4, Potential Value of Plants as Sources of New Antifertility Agents part I by Norman Farnsworth, etal. pg 535-598. I'm not sure where they got this information, the reference they sited was confusing.

The article was a review of a great many plants, I believe they looked over research others had done and compiled the information made sense of all of it and put together a second list of plants who's effects on fertility they felt warranted further research.

All the plants in the article are identified by botanical names, most of which I have been unable to attach a common name to. By using scientific names this insures that the plants used are the correct ones, as more than one plant may share the same common name. But it is easier for me to remember and pronounce common names.

This is an Apothecary recipe, trying to make it at home would be like trying to make the prescription drugs we buy from the pharmacy. They are too complicated to be made at home. So don't try this at home! Its only for your safety, we don't really know what the effects of this concoction on fertility, especially if not done correctly. Or what the risks or side effects might be......

To Prevent Conception for one year
An Ancient Recipe - not for home use

4 drams active principle of Embelia ribes
4 drams Piper longum
2 drams Ferula assa-foetida
4 drams of borax

The above was taken to prevent conception for one year in equally divided doses daily for 22 days while abstaining from intercourse.

The recipe doesn't tell us what the active principle is or how to get or make it, and does not tell us which parts of the plants should be used. Information only the pharmacist would know. The measurement used is a dram, an apothecaries' weight equal to 1/8 ounce. I have put this recipe here only because I think it is interesting, and I want you to see the power herbs have. They are to always be used cautiously and with respect.




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