A Writers Guide to Mandrake

above: mandrake flowers; below mandrake fruit

above: mandrake flowers; below: unripened mandrake fruit

Mandrake is an herbaceous plant that’s a member of the Solanaceae family. There are five species of mandrake: two species are found around the Mediterranean and are the mandrakes of ancient writers; three species are found in China. All have short stems with leaves forming at the base in a rosette pattern. Bell-shaped flowers may be blue, violet, or a greenish white. Yellow to orange plum-sized fruit forms after the flowers. Mandrakes have large white to tan-colored taproots that often divide in two, resembling legs.

Particulars

Botanical Name: Mandragora

Common/Folk Names: Alraun, Brain Thief, Circeum, Circoea, Djinn’s Eggs, Gallows, Golden Apples of Aphrodite, Hand of Glory, Herb of Circe, Ladykins, Love Apple, Mandragora, Mandragor, Mannikin, Raccoon Berry, Sorcerer’s Root, Wild Lemon, Witch’s Mannikin, and Womandrake.

Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: arid areas, stony places, deserted fields
Blooms: March and April

Smell: the plant smells unpleasant, fruit has an apple-like scent
Taste: leaves are very bitter

Notes

  • Mandrake contains alkaloids, making them poisonous.
  • American Mandrake is a different plant.

History

  • Symptoms of mandrake poisoning include hallucinations, blurred vision, pupil dilation, dry mouth, difficulty urinating, dizziness, headache, vomiting, blushing, hyperactivity, and rapid heart rate.
  • In traditional medicine, extracts have been used as an aphrodisiac, hypnotic, emetic, purgative, sedative, and painkiller.
  • In ancient Greece, powdered mandrake was added to wines and love potions.
  • Mandrake roots were carve to look more human, then clothed, and kept in secret places for luck. They were passed down for generations.
  • The taxonomy gets confusing. Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician, distinguished between “male” and “female” mandrakes. In 1764, Garsault ran with that idea and published the names Mandragora mas and Mandragora foemina. Furthermore, flowering time was used to distinguish between species. In 1820, Antonio Bertoloni named two species Mandragora vernalis, the spring-flowering mandrake, and Mandragora autumnalis, the autumn-flowering mandrake. Since the late 1990s, three main circumscriptions of Mandragora officinarum have been used and all three are found in current sources.

Lore

  • A medieval myth states that when mandrake root is pulled from the ground, it emits a shrill cry that drives people insane and kills them.
  • Mandrake helps to transform werewolves and shapeshifters.
  • The root grows where the bodily fluids of murderers dripped beneath the gallows.
  • Mandrake is use in flying potions for witches.
  • Demons cannot dwell where mandrake grows.
  • Spells and rituals use mandrake for protection, prosperity, fertility, love, baneful magic, and divination.

In the Language of Flowers, it means: rarity

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.

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22 Comments

  1. I don't want to be a werewolf, so I won't eat them.

  2. I was under the impression that mandrake roots resembled people, but it makes more sense that they were carved to look that way and kept as talismans, or whatever, thus perpetuating the myth. 🙂

    1. I think the roots which split into legs–and some with arms just made people think little people. So they pushed it further with the carving.

  3. Hi Holly – I'm sure I read a horror tale whereby a dead mandrake root took hold under the bed, and the poor occupant happened to touch it … and that was it: dead as a doornail … or perhaps dead as a supposed mandrake root … it's a particularly nasty plant …

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Yes, it is. Mandrake is a great one for the literary world. 😉

  4. It always seems the some of the prettiest plants are the most deadly.

  5. I'd heard the name Mandrake before but didn't know what it meant. I'll steer clear of it though.

  6. I’ve heard quite a bit of mandrake lore, maybe because of the witch connection (hard to escape witches in Massachusetts). Or it could be the Harry Potter thing. I’ve also heard also it called Satan’s apple. Personally, I think the blooms are pretty, but I wouldn't want it in my yard. 🙂

  7. I remember these from Harry Potter. Fun stuff.

  8. The unripen ones look deadly if thrown. Ha!

  9. That got my writer's juices flowing, for sure! LOL
    Please tell me you're going to compile these posts into a book one day.

  10. sounds like something zombies would like to munch on

  11. I love the medieval myth. Hmm, I always wanted to fly, though… 😉

  12. Heh heh Holly! I'll stay away from this plant. Looks so pretty too! 🙂

  13. I was reading about another poisonous plant today, one indigenous to Florida. It must be a day for murder, eh? 😉

  14. Fascinating! When I think of mandrakes, I must admit my mind goes to them in the Harry Potter series. 🙂

  15. I'm with Cherie–I also tend to think of the funny scene in Herbology class at Hogwarts. Thanks for all this great information!

  16. Good to know! It's pretty to look at, but I'll leave it alone otherwise. Seem to recall hearing some of the lore about it, maybe in stories I'd heard as a kid.

  17. So, it's protective and poisonous! Good to know. Love these posts.

  18. I read a book called The Hangman's Daughter and a mandrake played a big part in the trial of a "witch." Thanks for all the cool info! 🙂

  19. It might be fun to have a little and have the best werewolf costume for Halloween ever! 🙂

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