Sahlep (or salep) is a flour made from the tubers of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). These tubers contain a nutritious, starchy polysaccharide called glucomannan.
As The Times article states: ”.. the rose may bespeak courtly love, and the lily purity, but orchids say something else, and bluntly — sex. The paired spherical tubers of Europe’s native orchids have prompted their use as aphrodisiacs since ancient times.”
The Ancient Romans used ground orchid bulbs to make drinks, which they called by several names, especially satyrion and priapiscus. As the names indicate, they likewise considered it to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Of salep, Paracelsus wrote: “behold the Satyrion root, is it not formed like the male privy parts? No one can deny this. Accordingly, magic discovered it and revealed that it can restore a man’s masculinity and passion”.
Sahlep flour is consumed in beverages and desserts, especially in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, where it had been a traditional winter beverage. Its consumption spread beyond there to England and Germany before the rise of coffee and tea, and it was later offered as an alternative beverage in coffee houses. In England, the drink was known as saloop. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in England, its preparation required that the salep powder be added to water until thickened after that it would be sweetened, then flavored with orange flower or rose water. The substitution of British orchid roots, known as “dog stones”, was acceptable in the 18th century for the original Turkish variants.
Besides its aphrodisiac properties, it has several health benefits. It keeps the body warm, increases one’s resistance to cold. Moreover, it is quite nutritious. Especially when prepared with milk, it facilitates digestion and soothes the stomach, soften the chest, relieve constipation, strengthen children, and prevent diarrhea when used with cinnamon and ginger. That is why sahlep used for several medical purposes, and it is so prevalent in Turkey.
Also, recent scientific evidence suggests that the orchid is a promising raw material to develop a commercially viable and valuable drug for erectile dysfunction.