Mandragora Officinarum aka Mandrake is a poisonous plant belonging to the Solanaceae family. It has many synonyms – Satan’s Apple, love apple, dragon doll and gallows man, due to its appearance to the human form. In Hebrew mandrake is דודאים or dûdã’im meaning ‘love plant’ referring to its aphrodisiac qualities.
It is found in Southern Europe and Asia but is extremely important in British folklore. Although a deadly poison in Persia some strains had edible fruits. Mandrake is named after draco and endowed with life-force. It was placed under a bed, or over the mantle or threshold to bring conception, attract love and luck.
It was common folklore in some countries that mandrake would only grow under the gallows where the semen of hanged men fell to the earth and if whosever uprooted it should hear the plant scream they would die, so a dog was often used to uproot it. As with deadly nightshade, henbane and thornapple, mandrake was used in witches ‘flying ointments’ and was also used as a charm to repel evil from Anglo-Saxon times.
Mostly the Ancients, who considered it an anodyne, used mandrake for procuring rest and sleep in continued pain, also in melancholy, convulsions, rheumatic pains and scrofulous tumors. They mostly employed the bark of the root, either expressing the juice or infusing it in wine or water. The root finely scraped into a pulp and mixed with brandy was said to be efficacious in chronic rheumatism.
Although the dangers of causing madness or death were well known mandrake was used in Pliny’s days as an anaesthetic for operations, a piece of the root being given to the patient to chew before undergoing the operation. In small doses, the Ancients used it for maniacal cases. The leaves were used for ointments and other external application as the fresh root operates very powerfully as an emetic and purgative. The dried bark of the root was used also as a rough emetic. A tincture is used in homoeopathy today, made from the fresh plant.
Symptoms and effects
In some cases the mandrake root causes delirium and hallucinations. If ingested it can have adverse effects on the user and in high doses it can send the user into a coma and can lead to eventual death.