San Jose
Long Wharf

A Brief Account of Mandrakery
Through the Ages

     In ancient times, the mandrake plant was believed to have magical powers. The forked root, resembling the human female form, was thought to be in the power of dark earth spirits. It was believed that the mandrake could be uprooted safely only in the moonlight, after appropriate prayer and ritual: one drew three circles around the plant with the tip of a willow wand then a black dog was attached to the plant by a cord. Human hands were not to come in contact with the plant. It was thought that as the mandrake was pulled from the ground, it uttered a shriek that killed or made mad those who did not block their ears against it. After the plant had been freed from the earth, it was used for beneficent purposes.

As far back as Genesis, the mandrake root was thought to be a powerful aphrodisiac, as well as an aid to fertility and of great value in facilitating childbirth. In the bible story of Rachel and Leah, Rachel tried for years to conceive and felt great despair when she wasn't able. She moaned to her husband: "Give me children or else I die!" She finally ate mandrakes and ended up conceiving. The mandrake plant also has large, dark green leaves and orange-red colored, fleshy berries. The ancient Hebrews called the mandrake dudiam, "love apple" because of the plant's fruit and its reputation for increasing fertility and sexual arousal. In medieval times, the plant was referred to as "Satan's apples" and thought to cause madness. The mandrake root was said to be a chief ingredient in witches brews and it is the most commonly cited exam­ple of the abuse of medicinal plants by those obsessed with magical rites and orgiastic rituals with which some hallucinogenic and narcotic herbs became closely associated in the dark ages.


Today, modern science has revealed that the mandrake root falls into the classification of an anodyne, like belladonna and coca leaves. Two of the active chemical components in the man­drake root are scopolamine and atropine, both powerful depressants. The mandrake is also exceptionally rich in mandragorine, a powerful narcotic and hyp-


notic. Its primary effects are as a depressant, hallucinogen   and hypnotic. It is easy to see how aphrodisiacal powers as well as the danger of madness or death might well be attributed to it. It is also an emetic and a purgative, causing the stomach to contract. Perhaps this is the origin of its use as an aid to childbearing. But in any case, direct ingestion of the root is not recommended: The effect of the mandrake is extremely unpredictable and very toxic.