There are few plants that have as much mystery and intrigue as the mandrake. The mandrake has been mentioned in the Bible, in Genesis 30, as an aphrodisiac that helped to get Leah pregnant. This is perhaps one of the earliest mentions of the roots. The legend of the mandrake is not too far off from how it is depicted in the books of Harry Potter.
It was believed that when the plant was uprooted it would scream in pain. This scream, was deadly and if it didn’t kill you then it would at least cause deafness or insanity. The proper method for uprooting the mandrake was indeed an elaborate one.
“A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear.” ~ Josephus 37 A.D.
This mandrake of legend is said to have roots of human form. There are theories that the root itself is the pre-existant for of man. That of the earth and slime this was mankind. In the magician Eliphas Levis’s studies he writes.
“The first men were, in this case, a family of gigantic, sensitive mandragores, animated by the sun, who rooted themselves up from the earth ; this assumption not only does not exclude, but, on the contrary, positively supposes, creative will and the providential co-operation of a first cause, which we have reason to call God.”
This idea spawned a great number of ideas in the alchemical world for the creation of magic servants. Perhaps the most popular was the attempt to create Homonculi. The traditional spell for a Homonculus was a bag of bones, semen, hair and skin. The bag would then be buried in horse manure for forty days. Variations on this were performed with the mandrake root. Instead of bones the root may be replaced or it may be combined with such. Many an alchemist also tried to impregnate the ground of a Mandrake in hopes to create a servitor.
These notions of course we see today as nothing more than foolishness.
The mandrake or Mandragora officinarum is indeed a powerful herb. The leaves of the plant were often used in ointments to help aid in the healing of ulcers. The root can be used as an emetic or purgative. However taken in to large a quantity it can be fatal. The fruit, however that the Mandrake bears is beneficial.
Despite the legends and horrors surrounding the plant it is quite beneficial and still used today. Recently, the mandrake it has been used to develop an alcoholic liquer that is being used as an aphrodisiac. Medicinally the plant is used in treatments for chemotherapy. Whatever the use it seems the mandrake has as many topical uses as it does legends. If you are interested in growing your own Mandrakes, you can buy the seeds here .