The name salep comes from the Arabic expression ḥasyu al-tha`lab "fox testicles"—a graphic description of the appearance of orchid tubers; compare the classical Greek word ὄρχις, órchis, which means both "testicle" and "orchid" (and is of course the etymon of the English word). The comparison to testes, naturally, accounts for salep being considered an aphrodisiac.
Salep is also the name of a beverage made from salep flour, whose popularity spread beyond Turkey and the Middle East to England and Germany before the rise of coffee and tea and 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 whereupon it would be sweetened then flavored with orange flower or rose waters. Substitution of British orchid roots, known as 'dogstones', were acceptable in the 18th century for the original Turkish variants.
The beverage salep is sometimes referred to as Turkish Delight, though that name is more commonly used for lokum. Other desserts are also made from salep flour, including salep pudding and salep ice cream. The Kahramanmaraş region of Turkey is a major producer of salep known as Salepi Maraş.
The popularity of salep in Turkey has led to a decline in the populations of wild orchids. As a result it is illegal to export true salep out of the country. Thus, many instant salep mixes are made with artificial flavoring.
The Ancient Romans also used ground orchid bulbs to make drinks, which they called by a number of names, especially satyrion and priapiscus. As the names indicate, they likewise considered it to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
Of Salep, Paracelsus the famous toxicologist wrote: "Behold the Satyrion root, is it not formed like the male privy parts? Accordingly magic discovered it and revealed that it can restore a man's virility and passion".
In Joan Aiken's novel Is, saloop is mentioned as conferring long life. The liner notes to the Aphrodite's Child album 666 include the note that the work "was recorded under the influence of 'sahlep'". Many in the west, unaware of the plant and drink, interpreted the word as the name of "a drug or a demon, which contributed to the album being banned by several radio stations.