The Greek name from which the word mandrake stems is 'Mandragora', which simply implies that it is a plant which is harmful to cattle. Some of its infamous nicknames include Satan's Apple and Love Apple, due to its sweet apple-scented fruits. It is in the same botanical family as the the edible tomato, potato and eggplant (deadly nightshade) and originates in the eastern Mediterranean region. It can be found throughout southern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa.
Mandrake has long been used in magic rituals. It's said to be a key ingredient in love magic and a bringer of luck if worn in an amulet. It is still used today in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca.
It contains hallucinogenic alkaloids and the roots have bifurcations, or divisions, which can cause them to resemble human figures. According to legend, when the root is dug up it screams and kills all who hear it. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety.
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 tries 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.
The Doctrine of Signatures
Mandrake, along with Poppy, Thornapple, Henbane and Belladonna, produced positive results if one could get the dosage just right. The preferred method of administration was to make a concoction of some or all of these plants and let the patient inhale the vapors via a sponge, which if done properly, would induce a profound sleep so the surgeon could go about his business of cutting and sawing off limbs. Thank goodness for modern medicine!
Interested in growing your very own Mandrake plant?
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Mandrake potting scene from "Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets"