Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Solaneae Tribe, Mandragorinae Subtribe; chemotaxonomic subgroup composed of the genera Mandragora and Scopolia (cf. Scopolia carniolica) (Jackson and Berry 1979, 511)
Forms and Subspecies
Mandragora officinarum probably occurs in several varieties that were originally described as separate species (Jackson and Berry 1979):
Mandragora officinarum L. var. haussknechtii
Mandragora officinarum L. var. hybrida
Mandragora officinarum L. var. officinarum
Mandragora officinarum L. var. vernalis (very early-blooming form)
Atropa acaulis L. 1762
Atropa mandragora L.
Atropa mandragora (L.) Woodville 1794222
Mandragora acaulis Gaertn.
Mandragora haussknechtii Heldr.
Mandragora hispanica Vierhapper
Mandragora hybrida Hausskn. et Heldr.
Mandragora mas Gersault
Mandragora neglecta G. Don
Mandragora officinalis Bertoloni
Mandragora officinalis Mill.
Mandragora praecox Sweet
Mandragora vernalis Bertolini
Abu’1-ruh (Old Arabic, “master of the life breath”), abu-roh, adam koku, adam-kökü (Turkish, “man root”), adamova golowa (Russian, “Adam’s head”), alrauinwortel (Dutch), alraun, alraune, alraunmännchen, alraunwurzel, alrune (Swedish), alrüneken, althergis, antimelon (“in the apple’s place”), antimenion (Greek, “counter rage”), apemum (Egyptian/Coptic), archine, armesünderblume, astrang-dastam harysh, atzmann, Aνδρωπομορφοζ (ancient Greek, according to Pythagoras “in human form”), baaras (Hebrew, “the fire”), bayd al-jinn (modern Arabic, “testes of the demon”), bhagner, bid-l-gul, bombochylos (Greek, “a juice that produces dull sounds”), ciceron (Roman, “plant of Circe”), Circe’s plant, diamonon, dirkaia, dollwurz, drachenpuppe, dudaim, dûdâ’îm (Hebrew), dukkeurt (Danish, “mad root”), erdmännchen, erdmännlein, folterknechtwurzel, galgenmännlein, geldmännlein, giatya bruz, gonogeonas, hausväterchen, hemionus, henkerswurzel, hundsapfel, hunguruk koku, jebrûah (Syrian/Aramaic, “manlike plant”), kammaros (Greek, “subject to fate”), kindleinkraut, kirkaia (“plant of Circe”), καλανʊροποζ (Cypriot, “good man”), lakhashmana, lakmuni, lebruj, liebesapfel, liebeswurzel, love apple, lufahat, luffah manganin (Arabic, “mad apple”), luffat, main de gloire (French), mala canina (Roman, “dog apple”), mala terrestria (Roman, “earth apple”), mandraghorah, mandragora, mandragóra, mandragore, mandrake, männlicher alraun, mannikin (Belgian, “little man”), mannträgerin, mano di gloria, mardami, mardom ghiah (Persian, “man’s plant”), mardum-gia (ancient Persian, “man plant”), matragun (Romanian, “witch’s drink”),223 matraguna, matryguna (Galician), mcntrcgwrw (Egyptian), mehr-egiah (Persian, “love plant”), mela canina (Italian, “dog apple”), menschenwurzel, minos, Mανδραγοραζ (ancient Greek), namtar ira (Assyrian, “the male [plant] of the god of the plagues”), natragulya (Hungarian), Oriental mandrake, pevenka trava (Russian, “the plant that screams”), pisdiefje (Dutch), planta semihominis (Roman,“half-man plant”), pomo di cane (Italian, “dog apple”), putrada, rakta vindu, rrm.t (Egyptian), Satan’s apple, siradsch elkutrhrub (Andalusian Arabic,“root of the demon El-sherif”), sirag al qutr (Arabic), sirag el-kotrub (Arabic/Palestine, “devil’s lamp”), taraiba, taraila (Morocco), tepillalilonipatli,224 thjofarót (Icelandic, “thieve’s root”), thridakias, tufah al-jinn (modern Arabic,“apple of the demon”), tufah al-Majnun (Arabic, “[love] apple of Majnun”),225 tufhac el sheitan (Arabic, “apple of the devil”), womandrake (English), yabrough (Syrian Arabic, “life giver”), yabruh (Arabic), ya pu lu (Chinese), yavruchin (Aramaic), yubru-jussanam, zauberwurzel
The mysterious mandrake or Mandragora—the queen of all magical plants—is not a character from a fairy tale but a real plant that is found especially in the eastern Mediterranean region. There are only two European species, the botanical identity of which was long uncertain (cf. Mandragora spp.). Mandrake has quite correctly been described as “the most famous magical plant in history” (Heiser 1987*). Its medicinal and magical uses, its aphrodisiac and psychoactive effects, and its mythology and the legends surrounding the plant all raise it above the level of any other magical plant (Schlosser 1987; Schöpf 1986*; Starck 1986). There is probably no other plant about which such a rich and varied literature has been produced (cf. Hansen 1981*).
Probably the oldest written mention of the mandrake occurs in the cuneiform tablets of the Assyrians and the Old Testament; these refer primarily to the area of Babylon. In Assyrian, the mandrake was known as nam-tar-gir(a)(isnam tar-*gir12).226 Nam Tar was the god of plagues; (g)ira means “male.” An Ugaritic cuneiform text from Ras Shamra (fifteenth to fourteenth century B.C.E.) appears to refer to a ritual; the text reads, “[P]lant mandragoras in the ground . . .” (Schmidbauer 1968, 276). Mesopotamian cunei-form texts make frequent mention of a wine known as cow’s eye, which was purportedly a wine mixed with mandrake. “The effects of the man-drake upon the pupils could thus be the reason for the strange name ‘cow’s eye’ ” (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 162*).
In ancient times, mandrake was an enormously important ritual, inebriating, and medicinal plant. The German name alraune suggests an Old Germanic use of the plant: “Alraun comes from Alrun, and originally meant ‘he who knows the runes’ or the ‘all knowing’ ” (Schmidbauer 1969, 281). The Germanic seeresses (seidkona, wölwas), who by late ancient times were known far beyond Europe’s borders for their miraculous abilities (e.g., Albruna and Weleda; one was even active in Egypt!), would enter a prophetic ecstasy with the aid of such magical agents and shamanic techniques (Derolez 1963, 240*). With the Christianization of Germania, Mandragora (as an ancient pagan ritual plant) was demonized. Hildegard von Bingen was the first to denounce the mandrake:
The Alraun is warm and somewhat watery and is spread by that ground from which Adam was made; it somewhat resembles a person. With this plant, however, also because of its similarity to a person, there is more diabolical whispering than with other plants and it lays snares for him. For this reason, a person is driven by his desires, whether they are good or bad, as he also once did with the idols. . . . It is harmful through much that is corruptive of the magicians and phantoms, as many bad things were once caused by the idols. (Physica 1.56)
The legendary mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), shown here in bloom. (Wild plant, photographed in Cyprus)
Although Mandragora is numbered among the witches’ plants (cf. witches’ ointments), it was often counterfeited during the Middle Ages because it was also valued as a talisman and bringer of luck. Surrogates were sold in pharmacies even as late as the twentieth century. Because of the difficulty in obtaining actual plant material, mandrake has never attained much significance as a psychoactive plant in the hippie subculture or among the modern closet shamans. Surprisingly, the psychoactivity of the root has never been the object of any systematic study.227
Mandragora officinarum is found in southern Europe from Portugal to Greece; it is quite common in Greece and Italy (Festi and Aliotta 1990*; Viola 1979, 175*). It never occurs in the wild north of the Alps (Beckmann 1990, 129*). But the root is winter-hardy and can be grown in central and northern Europe. It is also found in North Africa, Asia Minor, and the Middle East and on most of the Mediterranean islands (Cyprus, Crete, Sicily) (Georgiades 1987, 50*; Sfikas 1990, 246*). It often thrives in dry, sunny locales, usually along paths and around ancient temples. However, it is one of Europe’s rarest plants.
Propagation occurs through the seeds (which are very similar in appearance to the seeds of Datura innoxia). It is best to pregerminate the seeds (as with those of Datura discolor). The seedlings should be transplanted into very large pots, as the plant will develop a very large root over the years. The first flowers will develop when the plant is in its fourth year. The plant can be grown in topsoil to which a small amount of sand has been added. The plant should never be overwatered, especially when it is in its dormant stage.
The ripe fruits of the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) exude an exhilarating scent that in ancient times was thought to incite love. (Wild plant, photographed in Cyprus)
The seeds of Mandragora officinarum are very similar to those of some species of Datura. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)
Although the plant does not actually tolerate frost, it can be maintained as a perennial in central Europe. To achieve this, the plant or its location should be covered with a pile of leaves in the fall. The leaves should then be removed in the spring. In central Europe, the plant does not develop leaves until early summer.
The mandrake is a stemless perennial plant whose fleshy root can grow as long as 100 cm, sometimes taking on a bizarre or anthropomorphic shape. Most of the year, the plant is hidden in the ground.
Once every year, the long, wide leaves, which form a characteristic rosette, grow directly out of the roots. The bluish or violet, bell-shaped, quinquelobate flowers grow on short stalks from the center of the rosette. The leaves wither as the yellow berries (fruits) mature. But the root remains alive and will develop leaves and flowers again the following spring. The golden yellow fruits have a fruity scent (similar to that of the fruits of Physalis spp.) but taste more like tomatoes (fellow members of the Nightshade Family). The leaves have a scent somewhat reminiscent of that of fresh tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).
Mandragora officinarum can be easily confused with the autumn mandrake. Both European species are very similar in their anatomy. However, the rhizome of M. officinarum is larger than that of M. autumnalis. The primary difference between the two is their flowering period. M. officinarum blossoms in May, while M. autumnalis blooms in the fall (September to November) (cf. Mandragora spp.).
In the ethnographic literature and in literature pertaining to the history of medicine, the true mandrake is frequently confused with the may-apple (Podophyllum peltatum L.) and other plants (see the table on page 347).
—Root (mandragorae radix, mandrake root)
—Fruits (mandrake fruits, love apples, dudaim, Arabic lofah)
Preparation and Dosage
The fruits should be consumed only while fresh. No overdoses have been observed, even with quantities as high as ten fruits.
The leaves can be either chewed while fresh or dried for later use. They are best collected before the fruiting period and dried in the shade. They can be smoked alone (as a tobacco substitute; cf. Nicotiana tabacum) or mixed with other herbs into smoking blends. They also can be used as incense.
The root can be burned as incense as well. While the burning root pieces give off a rather unpleasant aroma reminiscent of that of burned food, the smoke itself is rather easy to inhale. When used as an incense, mandrake can be combined with the pleasant-smelling olibanum (cf. Boswellia sacra). When smoked or used as an incense, the psychoactive effects of mandrake are very subtle.
The most common use involves tinctures of the dried root. It is only seldom eaten. The alkaloids present within the plant are quite water soluble, which is why tinctures are derived from an aqueous whole extract.
The mandrake is very suitable for making or improving beer and wine. Mandrake beer is brewed in the same manner as henbane beer (see Hyoscyamus niger). Fifty grams of dried root should be used for 20 liters of liquid. Cinnamon sticks and/or saffron (Crocus sativa) can be added to improve the taste of mandrake beer. As little as ½ to 1 liter of mandrake beer can produce very noticeable effects. Care should be exercised when determining dosages!
The ancient Greeks frequently added the fresh or dried root to wine (cf. Vitis vinifera) for use as a love drink. Dioscorides has passed on a complete recipe for making mandrake wine (περι μανδραγοριτοϖ):
Mandrake wine. Cut the cortex of the root and add ½ mine [= 8 ounces], wrapped in linen, to 1 metrete [= 36.4 liters] of must and allow to sit for three months, then pour into another container. The average dosage is ½ cotyle [= 5 ounces]. It is drunk with the addition of twice the amount of must. It is said that 1 hemine [= 10 ounces] of this, mixed with 1 chus [= 10 pounds = 120 ounces], will cause sleep and sedate; 1 cup, with xestes [= 1 pound, 8 ounces] of wine, can kill. When used correctly, it has analgesic effects and thickens the discharges. Whether used as a fumigant, as an enema, or as a drink, it has the same effects. (5.81).
When I wish to make mandrake wine, I add a handful (approximately 23 g) of chopped man-drake root (mandragorae radix conc.) to a bottle of retsina (0.7 liter). The mixture is then allowed to steep for a week. Do not filter out the root pieces; allow them to remain in the wine until it has been drunk. A few (two or three) cinnamon sticks and 1 tablespoon of saffron (cf. Crocus sativus) can be added if desired; this will considerably improve the earthy, slightly bitter taste. One liqueur glass (40 to 60 ml of wine) is an effective dosage.
Plants That Were Used as a Substitute for or to Counterfeit the True Mandrake
(From Brøndegaard and Dilg 1985; Dahl 1985; Emboden 1974*; Rätsch 1986, 1987, 1994; Wlislocki 1891, 90*; modified and supplemented.)
The root of the true mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) is the most renowned magical agent in European history.
In the early modern period, the rhizome of the Asian (= East Indian) Alpinia galanga, a member of the ginger family, was fraudulently sold as mandrake root.
An aphrodisiac drink can also be made using the following recipe (after Miller 1988, 51*; modified):
1 bottle white wine (variety as desired)
vanilla pods(Vanilla planifolia Andr.)
cinnamon sticks (Cinnamomum verum J.S. Presl)
rhubarb root (Rheum officinale Baill. or R. palmatum L.)
mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum)
Coarsely chop all of the ingredients and allow to steep in the wine for two weeks. Shake once a day if possible. Then filter the liquid through a sieve and, if desired, color with St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) or saffron (Crocus sativus). Honey (preferably in combination with royal jelly) may be added to sweeten the drink. Experiment to obtain the desired dosage.
The root pieces can also be added to any type of spirits (alcohol). Alcoholic drinks containing mandrake roots are still prepared in Romania, where it is said, “A few mandrake fibers in wine or schnapps keeps the bartender’s customers” (Eliade 1982, 226).
In ancient times, the very thin root cortex of the mandrake was used in a variety of ways:
A juice is prepared from the cortex of the bark by crushing this while fresh and pressing this; it must then be placed in the sun and stored in an earthen vessel after it has thickened. The juice of the apples is prepared in a similar manner, but this yields a less potent juice. The cortex of the root that is pulled off all the way around is put on a string and hung up to store. Some boil the roots with wine until only a third part remains, clarify this and then put it away, so that they may use a cup of this for sleeplessness and immoderate pain, and also to induce lack of sensation in those who need to be cut or burned themselves. The juice, drunk in a weight of two obols with honey mead [cf. mead], brings up the mucus and the black bile like hellebore [Veratrum album]; the consumption of more will take life away. (Dioscorides 4.76)
The literature very rarely includes information about dosages. According to Hagers Handbuch, the therapeutic dosage is fifteen to thirty drops of the tincture of an aqueous extract of the root in alcohol (Roth et al. 1994, 485*). Thirty to fifty drops of the mother tincture will induce aphrodisiac/psychoactive effects.
Mandrake is purported to have been an ingredient in witches’ ointments.232
In ancient times, the primary ritual significance of the mandrake was in erotic cults. Because of the poor quality of the sources that have come down to us, however, only rudimentary information about these practices is available. The most important source about the use of mandrake in the Orient is the Old Testament, where the fruits (love apples) are mentioned numerous times under the Old Hebrew name dûdâ’îm, and namely as an aphrodisiac (not all interpreters of the Bible recognize the identification of dûdâ’îm with Mandragora).233 According to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1269–1343), the name dûdâ’îm has its basis in numerology. The numerical value of the word is identical to that of the Hebrew word ke’adam, “like a human,” and is an allusion to the anthropomorphic shape (Rosner 1993, 8). It is possible that the mandrake, which according to kabbalistic principles is a symbol for becoming one, may have been used in secret mystical rites in ancient Israel (Weinreb 1994, 252 –67).
The aphrodisiac quality was attributed primarily to the scent of the ripe, golden yellow fruits (Fleisher and Fleisher 1994). The Book of Genesis contains an account of what may have been an archaic magical ritual:
And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest [May], and found mandrakes [dûdâ’îm] in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to [her sister] Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. (Genesis 30:14–17)
A similar ritual with the magical fruit appears to be the basis of the much cited text of the erotic Song of Solomon: “[T]here will I give thee my loves, The mandrakes give a smell.” (Song of Solomon 7:12, 13)
In the Near East today, the aromatic fruits of the mandrake are still regarded as aphrodisiacs (Fleisher and Fleisher 1994; Moldenke and Moldenke 1986, 137ff.*) and used in love magic (Rosner 1993, 7).
In another legend from the postbiblical period, the creation of the mandrake is attributed to Adam himself:
When Adam was separated from his wife Eve for a long period, the long abstinence played a trick on him. He fantasized about her presence with such ardor that his semen, which shot forth as a result of the loving embrace and sprayed onto the floor, gave rise to a plant which took on human form, the Caiumarath, the mandragora. (Müller-Ebeling n.d., 97; Starck 1986, 21)
The most extensive description of this magical and erotic root and the ritual surrounding its harvest is from Flavius Josephus (first century), who wrote in Greek so that he could make the customs of the people of Judea more comprehensible to the Greeks. It is possible that he obtained his magical and botanical knowledge from the Essenes, with whom he lived for some time (Kottek 1994, 163*):
In the valley that is on the north side of the city (Machairos)234 is a special place known as Baaras, where a root of the same name grows. Every evening, it shines with a fire red glow235: But if someone wishes to approach it to pull it out, then it is difficult to take hold of, it pulls away from the hands and cannot be held until one has poured menstrual blood or urine onto it. But even then, any direct contact with the root means sudden death, unless one carries it in the hand so that the tip of the root faces down. Alone, one can also take possession of the root without any danger in the following way: You dig the earth up all around it, so that only a small piece of the root remains covered by the soil. Then a dog is tied to it. When this tries to follow the person who has tied it, it will of course quite easily pull the root from the ground. But in that moment the dog will die, as if to atone for he who has really taken away the plant. From then on, one can take hold of the root without fear. The reason that this root is so sought after in spite of its dangerous nature is to be found in its peculiar effects: for it has the power to dispel the so-called demons, that is the spirits of evil deceased persons who enter into the living and kill them if they are not aided, simply by coming near the afflicted. (Flavius Josephus, History of the Judean War 7.6, 3)
In ancient Egypt, mandrake fruits were used as gifts of love during courtship and probably were eaten as aphrodisiacs. The love plant appears to have been associated with Hathor, the goddess of love. The mandrake beer that was consecrated to her played an important role in the famous myth describing the destruction of the human race and the creation of heaven (Brunner-Traut 1991, 101–6).
The sun god Ra was angry with humans because they had contrived to attack him. In his anger, he created the terrible lion-headed goddess Sekmet (an early form of Hathor) to punish the race of humans. She raged among the people for an entire day and was not yet finished when the sun set, for she wanted to utterly extinguish humanity. But Ra did not want this, and he thought of a trick to end the goddess’s deadly rampage. He had mandrake fruits brought to him from Elephantine, an island in the Nile (Brugsch 1918, 31; Tercinet 1950, 17; Thompson 1968, 43); according to other versions and/or translations, hematite236 or “red ocher” was brought as well (Brunner-Traut 1991, 103). At the same time, he ordered the production of a huge amount of barley beer (seven thousand jugs). He mixed the mandrakes (and the hematite or red ocher) into this and had the fields covered in the bloodred beer (the “sleeping drink”). The following sunrise, when the goddess saw the beer, she first perceived her reflection and thus recognized herself. Because of its red color, she thought the beer was human blood, and she eagerly drank it to the last drop. “Her countenance became gentle as a result, and she drank; this did her heart well. Drunken did she return, without having recognized the people” (Brunner-Traut 1991, 104).
Out of thankfulness, humans never again rose up against Ra. Sakmet transformed herself into the cow Hathor and carried Ra into the heavens.237
In commemoration of these dramatic events, which took place at the beginning of time, Ra established the Hathor festival (literally,“festival of drunkenness”), during which young maidens consecrated to the goddess would make a beer known as sdr.t (= “sleeping drink” [?]) using a similar recipe. The Hathor festivals were ecstatic orgies with obscene performances, sacrificial activities, and wild music (Cranach 1981*). Later, Hathor was celebrated as the inventor of beer and the “mistress of drunkenness without end” (Thompson 1968, 46).
The mandrake was also a sacred love magic in ancient Greece. Even the plant’s collection took place under the auspices of the love goddess: “One should, it is said, make three circles around the mandrake with a sword and cut it while facing west.238 And when cutting the second piece, one should dance around the plant and speak as much as possible about the mysteries of love” (Theophrastus, History of Plants, 9.8).
The Cypriot cult of Aphrodite developed directly out of the Oriental cult of the love goddess Ishtar, Astarte, Asherot, et cetera. J. Rendel Harris proposed the theory that the Greek cult of Aphrodite could be traced back to the Greek assimilation of the Oriental conceptions about the mandrake (Harris 1917). Aphrodite was also known as Mandragoritis (“she of the Mandragora”; Greek μανδραγοριτιζ η Aξροδιτη), a name passed down to us by Heschius (Lexicon; cf. Rahner 1957, 201, 364, note 21*; Schlosser 1987, 22; Thompson 1968, 55). The Mandragora thus had an intimate connection to the love goddess and was sacred to her (cf. Papaver somniferum). In the late ancient Mysteries of the Great Goddess, Aphrodite was identified with Hecate (Apuleius, Metamorphoses). Thus, the “mandrake of Hecate” was nothing other than the sacred plant of the love goddess.
The mandrake, and especially its root, was the plant of Hecate. The chthonic goddess (also known as Enodia or Trivia) was from Kairen (Asia Minor) and bore many Asian attributes. As the goddess of the three paths, she had three forms, three heads, and six arms. She was simultaneously rooted in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld. As the goddess of the nocturnal spooks (visual hallucinations), she was accompanied in her wild activities by barking dogs and noisy specters (auditory hallucinations). Hecate was both the harmful witch goddess (poison foods) and the goddess of birth (aphrodisiacs, erotic hallucinations). A description of Hecate’s magical garden is contained in the saga of the Argonauts: “Many mandrakes grow within” (Orph. Argonaut. 922f.).239
Eusebios (ca. 260–339 C.E.), the Christian and Greek church author, held Hecate, the goddess of the underworld, to be the “ruler of all evil demons,” the “black one,” or a “demon of love madness” that was the equivalent of Aphrodite. She is the mother of Italy’s Circe and Colchis’s Medea, the “cosmic super witch” (Luck 1962, 61*).240 She sends to humans dampening sleep and heavy dreams and causes epilepsy (the “sacred disease”) and madness (mania); in other words, she is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness. It almost appears as though the dark goddess would reveal herself only through the effects of the mandrake juice. As Democritus (ca. 470–380 B.C.E.), the “laughing philosopher,” described in his lost work Cheirokmeta (“things made by hand”), one could invoke the goddess with the mandrake:
Now it is known that the book Cheirokmeta is from Democritus. And how many adventurous things is this man able to report, who after Pythagoras was the most dedicated student of magic! He reports about the plant aglaophotis, which received its name because of the wonder of humans for its special color, and which thrives in the marble quarries of Arabia on the Persian side, which is why it is also called marmaritis [= marble plant]; the magicians use it when they wish to invoke the gods. (Pliny 24.160)
Many late ancient conjurations (magic papyri) appeal to Hecate as the most important goddess. She was usually invoked in love magic, and then often in association with dogs, and even with Cerberus (Luck 1990, 129ff.*). In the magic papyri, Medea was sometimes invoked in place of Hecate (Luck 1990, 50*).
The mandrake was also the plant of Circe (Dierbach 1833, 204*). The daughter of Helios, she was knowledgeable about magic and lived on the Italian coast above Sicily (Pliny 25.10f.). Today, Monte Cicero remains as the sacred mountain of Circe.
It is possible that the mandrake was already identified with moly at an early date.
We can only speculate about the ritual use of mandrake in Germania. The mandrake apparently was associated primarily with love magic and divination but also with magical and ritual healing. Hildegard von Bingen described a small ritual to influence the psyche (a kind of ritual healing of depression):
And when a person is so confused in his nature that he is always sad and always in distress, so that he often has weakness and pain in his heart, he should take mandrake after it has already been pulled with its root from the ground, and he should place it for a day and a night in a spring . . . and then place it, washed by the spring, next to him in his bed. The plant will become warm from his sweat, and he should say: “God, who makes humans from the dirt of the earth without pain. Now I place this earth, which has never been stepped over, beside me, so that my earth will also feel that peace which you have created.” (Physica 1.56)
In Renaissance magic and in early modern occultism, mandrake was utilized as an incense that was under the influence of the moon. In Mecklenburg, mandrakes formerly were placed under the pillow so that one would have prophetic dreams (Schmidbauer 1969, 281f.).
In Romania, an erotic mandrake cult existed into the early twentieth century (Eliade 1942). In this cult, the mandrake was regarded as the plant of life and death and was seen as an aphrodisiac and magical love agent. The plant was harvested during the full moon between Easter and Ascension Day. The harvest was conducted according to ritual guidelines:
The plant should be collected without others knowing; . . . women and girls dance naked around the mandrake, sometimes they are content with simply letting down their hair. . . . The couples caress and embrace one another. To collect the leaves of the mandrake, the girls lie on one another in the manner of the sex act. . . .
Four young girls pluck the mandrake and speak magical formulas over it; they bury it in the middle of the street, where they then dance completely naked. During the dance, four young boys remain close by to watch over them; they repeat:
“Mandrake, good mother,
marry me in this month,
if not in this, then in the next,
but make it so that I remain a girl no longer.” (Eliade 1982, 223, 219)
Offerings (salt, bread, sugar, wine, alcohol, eggs, et cetera) were placed into the hole from which the mandrake was taken. The root was carried home, carefully washed, and worn as a talisman.
Since ancient times, mandrake root has been used as an amulet and has been prepared for this purpose (Scanziani 1972). The root was carved into so-called mandrake men (atzmann, gallow’s man) or fashioned into dolls. These dolls needed to be magically animated. For example, “an Italian charlatan animated a human figure that had been carved from a mandrake root using a hemp seed [Cannabis sativa] placed in the pudenda” (von Luschan 1891, 742). In southern Tirol, this custom is still alive today:
The so-called “Galgenmandl” [little man of the gallows], the root of the mandrake in anthropomorphic from, could often be found in the pantries and entryways of the houses of the old farms. The “Galgenmandl” was regarded as a good house spirit, and the “Weibele” [little woman] as the protectress of the grain chest. . . . In December 1968, a little mandrake coffin was discovered during the “Rauter over Francis’ Festival.” It had been walled in over the door of the kitchen. It was estimated to be 300 years old. (Fink 1983, 74)
There are even crucifixes make of mandrake roots (root crosses) that are preserved in churches as “miraculous objects” (Bauer 1993).
The mandrake apparently was brought from Palestine to Egypt during the Eighteenth Dynasty (New Kingdom; 1551–1305 B.C.E.); it became a houseplant in Egypt (Germer 1985, 170*; Manniche 1989, 117*). Gardens were sacred to the goddess Hathor, which is why mandrakes were also grown there (Hugonot 1992). A collar containing mandrake fruits that were cut in half was discovered in the grave of Tutankhamen (Germer 1985, 171*). The yellow fruits (love apples) appear often in Pharaonic art (Scanziani 1972, 50 f.). In the love songs of the New Kingdom, the fruits (rrm.t) are often mentioned in conjunction with lotus flowers (Nymphaea caerulea) (Emboden 1989)241:
Celebrate a beautiful day! . . .
Give balsam and pleasant scents to your nose,
garlands of lotuses and love apples on your chest,
while your wife, who is in your heart, sits by your side.
The mandrake also appears in Greek poetry. Lucian (app. 120–180 C.E.) states that a person under the influence of Mandragora will fall asleep (Timon 2). The fictional island of Hypnos (“sleep”), the island of the darkly rising dreams, is the place “where only high shooting poppies [Papaver somniferum] grow rampant and Mandragora blooms, while silent butterflies, the only birds of this land, flutter around” (Lucian, Verae historiae 2.33).
A tiny fragment (thirty-two verses) from a comedy by the Attic writer Alexis (app. 372–270 B.C.E.) has come down to us. It bears the name η Mανδραγοριζομεχν, “the woman sedated by Mandragora.” This fragment demonstrates the use of mandrake for purposes of love (Schlosser 1987, 46; Starck 1986, 8, 15).
The unscrupulous Renaissance politician and writer Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) wrote a comedy, La Mandragora, about the power of the mandrake to promote fertility (Schmidbauer 1969, 277; Tercinet 1950, 105). The plant also appears in many other works of world literature, e.g., by Apuleius (Metamorphoses, The Golden Ass), Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and other works), E. T. A. Hoffmann (The Little Zack), Goethe (Faust), Gustave Flaubert (Salammbô, The Temptation of Saint Anthony), Marcel Schwob (Le Roi au Masque d’Or), Gustav Meyrink, and many others (Peters 1886; Tabor 1970*; Tercinet 1950). In 1810, Friedrich Baron de la Motte Fouqué (1777–1849) published History of the Little Man of the Gallows, which influenced other literary works (Fouqué 1983). The “little man of the gallows,” the mandrake produced by the last discharge of a hanged man, has been the subject of numerous literary works (Schlosser 1987). In 1940, John Palmer published Mandragora, an English novel that takes place in India and involves a number of psychoactive drugs.
The occult author Hanns Heinz Ewers (1871– 1943) immortalized the magical root and the female being that arises from it in his novel Alraune (1911). There have been several film versions of this book, the first in 1918 (director unknown). The second, made in 1927 by director and screenwriter Henrik Galeen, was also titled Alraune. The first sound version, directed by Richard Oswald, appeared in 1930 (Seesslen 1980, 93, 99; Seesslen and Weil 1980, 139). In the film, the mandrake is
In former times, the true mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) was construed as a little mandrake man. (Woodcut from the herbal of Matthiolus, 1627)
“The magic of roots is as old as humankind. Roots were at home in those places where the dead were buried and where one conceived of the underworld, the realm of shadows. And yet roots are the intermediaries of life. In a way that is difficult to comprehend, both realms seem to be near and familiar—to life and to death. It is in such magical domains that the spirits and enchanted ones live, the dwarves and the goblins. The mandrake is also a rare and fabulous being between the worlds—powerful and dangerous at the same time.”
MARIE-LUISE KREUTER WUNDERKRÄFTE DER NATUR [MIRACULOUS POWERS OF NATURE] (1982, 204*)
“On the Babylonian dedaim trees, human heads hang like fruits; mandrakes sing, the root Baaras slips through the grass.”
THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY (1979, 188*)
the product of an act of artificial insemination in which a scientist uses a murderer’s semen to impregnate a prostitute. He raises the child, primarily because he wishes to prove his theory that the character of a person is shaped much more by the environment and education than by nature. But even with the best intentions, Alraune can not be freed of her criminal disposition. But the film suggests that it is not just the genetic makeup that is responsible, but also the “soulless” act of its procreation, which makes her into a human monster, a mechanistic vamp whose sole purpose in life is to drive men to ruin, destruction, and suicide. (Seesslen 1980, 93)
A mandrake appears in a television version of Hoffmann’s The Little Zack. A woman named Mandrake/Mandrax appears in the fantasy film The Magic Bow (USA 1981; directed by Nicholas Corea).
In his story Alräunchen [Little Alracine], esoteric author Manfred Kyber (1880–1933) tells of a child of the same name who is a “changeling, a little root man, who is rooted deep in the earth and becomes a changeling when the roots are ripped from the ground” (Kyber 1985).
In his 1990 novel Another Roadside Attraction, inspired in part by Psilocybe spp., American cult author Tom Robbins (born 1936) describes the effects of mandrake in a dialogue between Jesus and Tarzan: “John the Baptist turned me on to mandrake roots. It was a great experience, but once was enough.” He [Jesus] shielded his eyes from the brilliant memory of the visions. “These days I am stoned on my own, one could say naturally” (Robbins 1987, 335).
The mandrake, the little mandrake man or woman, the little man of the gallows, and the themes related to this group of myths have been featured in illustrations since ancient times. In ancient Hellas, the mandrake became an important symbol of pharmacology and the healing arts. The oldest preserved manuscript of De materia medica (= Περι χληζ ιατρικηζ), written about 68 C.E. by Dioscorides Pedanius of Anarzaba (Cilicia), is the Codex Vindobonensis medicus graecus 1 (also known as the Viennese Dioscorides, ca. 512 C.E.). It contains an illustration that demonstrates the central role mandrake played in Greek pharmacy and medicine: Folio 5v shows an ancient studio in which book illustrations were made. The goddess Epinoia (“power of thought”) is in the room, holding a mandrake plant in her hands. To the left of her sits the illustrator,242 who is capturing a little mandrake man on the canvas. Dioscorides is visible on the right, studying a book (on medicinal plants) and communicating information to the illustrator (Stückelberger 1994, 82, table 17). Dioscorides is also shown sitting in Folio 4 of the Codex medicus graecae, no. 5. Here, Hereusis, the goddess of scientific research, is handing him an anthropomorphic mandrake (Krug 1993, 107, fig. 42*). At the bottom of the illustration is a dying dog, the means by which it was possible to obtain the mandrake.
Since the dawn of the Middle Ages, the magical hunt for the mandrake has been a popular subject of illustrations in herbals and books on health (Heilmann 1973). In 1974, there was even an entire exhibit in Prague about mandrake illustrations from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries (Vrchotka 1974).
The mandrake has rarely been a subject of paintings. One work from Otto Boyer (nineteenth century), called Alraun, depicts an old witch offering Victorian ladies a little mandrake man.
In contrast, the mandrake has figured often in comic book art. Stimulated by John Donne’s poem “Mandrake Root,” Lee Falk began producing the comic series Mandrake in 1934. In this series, Mandrake is a mysterious magician from the Himalayas who is capable of overcoming both time and space. In the French comic The Smurfs, by Peyo, an “evil magician” is constantly using mandrakes to enchant the little blue mushroom dwellers (cf. Veratrum album). In the story “Blue Smurfs and Black Smurfs” (Carlsen Comics 1979), the magician uses mandrake roots and snake venom to make a little smurf (i.e., a homunculus). In the story “An Alchemist Awakes,” author Alexis portrays his hero hallucinating the life of a normal citizen while under the influence of a “mandrake baked with cheese” (in Einsame Phantasien, 37–38; Linden: Volksverlag, 1983). The psychedelic comic artist Caza illustrated a phantasy story titled “Mandragore,” in which a magical ritual transforms a mandrake dug out from under a gallows into a seductive but ominous woman (in Gesammelte Werke 4; Linden: Volksverlag, 1980). The Italian comic artist Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri published a volume titled Mandragora (1995) as part of his extremely bizarre and erotic science-fiction series Morbus Gravis, which is heavily influenced by psychedelic experiences. The story is actually about a “miracle flower.” One comic artist of the psychedelic avant garde has even identified himself with the plant and now draws under the pseudonym Mandryko (Rätsch 1986, 97–99).
The mandrake has left few traces in music. The magical root was the subject of the rock band Deep Purple’s “Mandrake Root” (Oh-Boy 1-9048, bootleg; original on the album Shades of Deep Purple, EMI, 1968). The psychedelic band Gong released a song entitled “Mandrake” on their album Shamal (Virgin Records 1975/1989). The acid-rock band Mandrake Paddle Steamer, active from 1969 to 1971, took their name from the plant (Forgotten Jewels Records FJ 001, 1989). In the mid-1990s, a neopsychedelic underground band named Mandragora formed in England and released an album titled Over the Moon(Delec CD 027, ca. 1995).
Clothed and “animated” little mandrake men. (Dutch copperplate engraving, eighteenth century)
The ancient Assyrians used mandrake as an analgesic and anesthetic. It was administered to treat toothaches, complications associated with childbirth, and hemorrhoids. The root was powdered and given in beer to treat stomach ailments and burned as a fumigant to dispel “poison from the flesh” (exorcism) (Thompson 1949, 218f.*). In Egypt, mandrake has certainly been used for medicinal purposes since the beginning of the New Kingdom. The identification of mandrake in the even older Papyrus Ebers (ca. 1600 B.C.E.) is contested (Heide 1921). If it is correct, however, then the Papyrus Ebers contains seven recipes with mandrake (even “mandrakes from Elephantine”). These include preparations to treat pend worms, pain (or “pain demons”), inflammations of the skin, and bone pain; to “make the skin smooth”; “to soften hardening of the joints”; and to treat a “sick tongue.”
Few plants in ancient times had such a wide spectrum of uses as the mandrake. It was used as a sleeping agent, analgesic and anesthetic, antidote, abortifacient, aphrodisiac, and inebriant and also in love magic. The medical indications for which it was used were correspondingly numerous and included the following ailments: abscesses, arthritis, inflammations and diseases of the eyes, discharge, anxiety, possession, depression, swollen glands, inflammation, uterine inflammation, complications during labor, painful joints, tumors, ulcers, gout, hemorrhoids, skin inflammations, hip pains, hysteria, impotence, bone pains, headaches, cramps, liver pains, stomach ailments, melancholy, menstrual problems, amenorrhea, spleen pains, sleeplessness, snakebite, pain, side pains, scrofula, tubercles, infertility, poisoning, callosities, loss of speech, worms, wounds, erysipelas, and toothaches (Rätsch 1994).
The use of mandrake root as a sleeping agent was a widespread practice in early ancient times (Valette 1990, 468*). In fact, the term hypò mandragóra katheúdein (literally, “sleep under the mandrake”) was synonymous with sleepy. Two recipes for such use have been preserved in the late ancient Leiden papyrus (Griffith and Thompson 1974*):
Another [agent] when you wish to have a man sleep for two days: mandrake root [μανδρακοροσ ριζα], one ounce; licorice [?], one ounce; henbane [Hyoscyamus muticus], one ounce; ivy [Hedera helix], one ounce; you crush these together. . . . If you wish to do this skillfully, give to each part the four-fold amount of wine, you moisten everything from the morning until the evening, you shake it off, you have it drunk; very good. (Col. 24.6–14)
The Corpus Hippocraticum notes that man-drake root was used as a sedative and anesthetic agent, as well as a remedy for psychological anxiety and depression. The Hippocratics used man-drake to treat melancholy (Corp. Hippocrat. 420, 19) and for severe spasms (Berendes 1891, 223*). According to Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.), the mandrake, along with opium (cf. Papaver somniferum), wine (cf. Vitis vinifera), and bearded darnel (Lolium temulentum), belonged to the Hypnotica class of plants; in his work On Sleep and Wakefulness, he listed mandrake as a sleeping agent (Kreuter 1982, 24*; Starck 1986, 8). In The Republic, the philosopher Plato (427–347 B.C.E.) described Mandragora as an anesthetic comparable to mead (488c). The Greek physician Aretaios (second century C.E.) referred to Mandragora as an anesthetic for use in surgical procedures. Generally speaking, mandrake was the most important narcotic or anesthetic agent of ancient and late ancient times and in the Middle Ages (cf. soporific sponge).
The physician and natural scientist Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who was active in the time of Tiberius (14–37 C.E.), mentioned mandrake fruits as a sedative; he used the root to treat the flow of mucus in the eyes and a decoction of the root as a remedy for toothache (121, III, Ch. 18). He wrote:
There is another, more effective method of inducing sleep. Crush mandrake with opium and henbane seeds [Hyoscyamus niger] in wine.
For headaches, ulcers, inflammations of the uterus, hip pains, liver, spleen, or side pains, or for all cases of female hysteria and loss of language, a bolus of the following recipe, supported by rest, will heal the affliction. A drachma each of silica, acorns, Syrian rue [Peganum harmala]. Two drachmas each of rhizinus and cinnamon; three drachmas each of opium, panacea root, dried mandrake fruits, flowers of the round cyperus grass [cf. Cyperusspp.], and 56 peppercorns [cf. Piper spp.]. Each must be crushed alone and then everything should be mixed together. Passum should be added from time to time, so that it acquires a certain consistency. A small amount is given in the form of a little ball or, when dissolved in water, as an enema. (In Thompson 1968, 101f.)
The root of the greater celandine (Chelidonium majus L.) was used in magical contexts as a substitute for the true mandrake. Although the greater celandine is a member of the Poppy Family (Papaveraceae), it is not known to induce any psychoactive effects. (Woodcut from Fuchs, Läebliche Abbildung und Contrafaytung aller Kreüter, 1545)
“If you so much as turn the black of your eye, then a little mandrake will slip on by!”
“The true mandragoras is the ‘tree of knowledge’ and the love that arises from consuming it is the source of the human race.”
GRIECHSICHE MYTHEN IN CHRISTLICHER DEUTUNG [GREEK MYTHS IN CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION]
Rufus of Ephesus (first century C.E.) mixed a decoction of mandrake root with poppy (Papaver somniferum) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) (Tercinet 1950, 24). The renowned physician Galen (131–210 C.E.) has passed down an interesting recipe, calling for a preparation of mandrake root mixed with myrrh (Commiphora sp.), cassia (Cinnamomum cassia Blume), cedar (Cedrus libani Rich.), pepper (Piper spp.), saffron (Crocus sativus), and henbane seeds (Hyoscyamus niger) as an application to painful areas of the body (13.92; cf. Tercinet 1950, 24). The important role mandrake played as an analgesic is confirmed in a variety of sources, including Serenus Samonicus (first century C.E.). Even into the early Renaissance, mandrake preparations were the sole anesthetic (cf. soporific sponge).
In an early medieval Persian manuscript that presumably drew upon much older original sources, Mandragora is listed along with opium, Datura metel, and hemp (Cannabis indica) as agents for inducing sleep (Berendes 1891, 43*).
In his book The Passover Plot, the Englishman Hugh J. Schonfield has argued that “Jesus was given a sponge dipped in vinegar while on the cross, which is a third, albeit very hidden indication ofMandragora in the gospels.” Schonfield believes that the vinegar contained mandrake juice, which induced a deathlike state in Christ. This was done so that he could be removed from the cross as quickly as possible and be brought back to life with the aid of a physician. “The plan failed when one of the soldiers—unexpectedly and entirely in violation of the rules—pierced Christ in the side with his lance” (Hansen 1981, 27 f.*). It is not possible to determine whether this story is true or even has an element of truth to it. However, it was customary among the Romans to administer to those who were being crucified a mandrake wine, which the literature of the early Middle Ages (fifth century) referred to as morion, “death” drink (Thompson 1968, 225). In general, even into the early modern period, it was a common practice to give mandrake preparations to condemned people before their sentences (torture, execution) were carried out. The story of the little man of the gallows becomes understandable in this light (see Schlosser 1987; cf. Beckmann 1990, 130*):
And thus the hangman dripped the juice of crushed seeds [of henbane, deadly nightshade, and mandrake fruits, or fly agaric mushrooms] into the water which they, only appearing to be heartless, would use to refresh the unconscious victim during their tortures and awaken them to new torments. (Golowin 1970, 30)
In Romania, mandrake has been used for a variety of folk medicinal purposes. A decoction of mandrake was applied externally and/or ingested for pains in the limbs, the sacrum, and the back and for fevers. Fresh leaves were chewed to treat toothaches. Mandrake leaves were burned and the resulting smoke inhaled for coughs (Eliade 1982, 227). Mandrake also was burned to treat headaches (cf. incense). For this purpose, pieces of mandrake roots were combined with mugwort (Artemisia spp.), mint (Mentha spp., Mentha pulegium), and cloves.
The root was used in Russian folk medicine in similar ways (Rowell 1978, 269*). The root also found use in European folk medicine. In her Herbal, Elisabeth Blackwell wrote: “This plant is used externally for all inflammations, acute ulcers, and enlarged and hardened glands. Some drip the juice into the eyes to treat heat and redness in the same. Because this plant is rarely found in this land, henbane [Hyoscyamus niger] is commonly used in its place (for example in the unguent Populeon [cf. witches’ ointments])” (Heilmann 1984, 94*). In southern Tirol, mandrake juice was rubbed onto women in labor who were giving birth at home to alleviate their pains (Fink 1983, 238).
The Ancient Meaning of the Mandrake (Mandragora)
There are a number of related roots and magical plants that are regarded as anthropomorphic and have magical effects.
There are the (three) species of Mandragora, two of which are similar and are construed as male and female.
The fruits are the love apples; these are female.
The root is a male phallus.
The mandrake is a plant of the gods:
—The love apples are sacred to the love goddess (Astarte, Aphrodite, Hathor, etc.).
—The root is consecrated to the chthonic deity of the underworld (Hecate).
—It is a phallic plant of the god of the heavens and lightning (Ra, Zeus).
The plant may be harvested only ritually (through magical acts, conjurations, sacrifices).
The plant, and especially the root, is an amulet.
The plant is a medicine and provides a typical pharmakon:
—It is a poison and can kill.
—It stimulates fertility and gives life.
The plant is an aphrodisiac:
—The fruits are the “love” apples.
—The scent of the fruits incites desire.
—The root ensures the readiness of the opposite sex for love.
—The root products stimulate potency.
The root and its juice are the source of a medicinally valuable narcotic; it is:
The mandrake was the connection between
—heaven and earth
—divine favor and human art
The mandrake was added to alcoholic drinks (beer, wine, etc.) to improve their psychoactive effects.
These little mandrake men from southwest Asia were carved from roots of Mandragora officinarum. They were used to ensure good fortune and as love magic. (From von Luschan 1891)
“The Mandragorae is a plant which causes such a deep sleep that one could cut a person and they would not feel the pain. For the mandragoras symbolize aspiration through contemplation. This tranquility makes it possible for a person to fall into a sleep of such delightful sweetness that he will no longer feel anything of the cutting which his earthly enemies visit upon him, that he no longer pays attention to any worldly things. For the soul has now closed its eyes to all that is outside—it lies in the good sleep of the internal.”
THOMAS CISTERCIENSIS HOHELIED-EXEGESE [SONG OF SOLOMON EXEGESIS]
(CITED IN MÜLLER-EBELING 1987, 145)
“The symbolism of its form and its hallucinatory effects made the mandrake into a mythical plant that was a part of two worlds, the worldly and the underworldly.
DIE GEBURT [THE BIRTH] (1989, 63)
In acid rock music, Mandragora has often been used as a symbol for psychedelic and heavenly experiences. (Record cover, ca. 1969)
In homeopathy, preparations of mandrake made from the root (Mandragora hom. HAB34, Mandragora officinarum hom. HPUS88, Mandragora e radice siccato hom. HAB1, Mandragora, ethanol Decoctum hom. HAB1) are administered in accordance with the medical description for such ailments as headaches.
Mandrake, especially its root (0.3 to 0.4%), but also its leaves, contains the psychoactive and anticholinergic tropane alkaloids scopolamine ([L]-scopolamine/[D,L]-scopolamine; Roth et al. 1994*), atropine, apoatropine, L-hyoscyamine, mandragorine, cuscohygrine (= bellaradin),243 nor hyoscyamine (= solandrine), 3α-tigloyloxytropane, and 3,6-ditigloyloxytropane (Jackson and Berry 1973 and 1979; Maugini 1959; Staub 1962). This alkaloid mixture was previously described under the name mandragorine (Ahrens 1889; Hesse 1901).
The dried root contains between 0.2 and 0.6% alkaloids. The tropane alkaloid belladonnine occurs only in the dried roots (Jackson and Berry 1973). In addition to the alkaloids, the root also contains coumarins (scopoline, scopoletin), sitosterol, sugars (rhamnose, glucose, fructose, saccharose), and starches (Müller 1982; Tercinet 1950).
It was once thought that the fruits were poisonous and hence inedible; they are actually quite harmless, containing only trace amounts of alkaloids (Germer 1985, 170*). The fruits also contain β-methylesculetin.
The aromatic components of the scent of the mandrake fruit have recently been chemically identified. The composition, and especially the high concentrations of sulfuric chemicals, is unusual for an aromatic substance. The essential oil is composed primarily of ethyl acetate, ethyl butyrate, butyl acetate, butanol, butyl butyrate, hexyl acetate, hexanol, ethyl octanoate, ethyl-3-hydroxy butyrate, 3-methyl thiopropanol, 3-phenylpropanol, and eugenol. Also present are methyl butyrate, ethyl-2-methyl butyrate, hexanal, propyl butyrate, limonene, (E)-2-hexanal, ethyl hexanoate, amyl alcohol, 3-hydroxy-2-butanone, isopropyl benzole, propyl hexanoate, hexyl butyrate, octyl acetate, benzaldehyde, indanone, linalool, octanol, ethyl 3-methyl-thiobutyrate, ethyl decanoate, ethyl benzoate, α-terpinol, γ-hexa lactone, benzyl acetate, carvon, decanol, isobutyl decanoate, β-phenethyl isobutyrate, ethyl laurate, benzyl alcohol, henylethyl alcohol, 3-phenylpropyl acetate, methyl eugenol, γ-octalactone, 2-ethyl-4-hydroxy-5-methyl-3(2H)-furanone, ethyl cinnamate, γ-decalactone, (E)-cinnamyl acetate, cinnamoyl alcohol, (E)-isoeugenol, γ-dodecalatone, and vanillin (Fleisher and Fleisher 1992 and 1994).
Although the mandrake has been one of the most renowned of all psychoactive medicinal plants for millennia and has provided inspiration for a great number of authors, the enormous amount of literature it has generated contains very few experiential reports. One of the earliest is from the church patriarch Augustine (354–430 C.E.), who reports in his own words that he bit into a root but only “found a disgustingly bitter taste” (Rahner 1957, 201*). The late ancient lexicographer Suidas stated that the mandrake has “a fruit which has hypnotic effects and allows everything to sink into forgetfulness” (Lexicon136; Lexicographi Graeci 3.317). The folk saint and seeress Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179 C.E.) noted that the mandrake produced “illusions” (Physica 1, 56).
Schenk (1954, 36*) claimed that the root produces “inebriation, narcosis, hallucinations, visions”; he provided only a single example:
Here is also the place to mention the peculiar case of a 40-year-old painter who was the victim of an unusual Mandragora poisoning. Since his childhood, he had suffered from headaches during the foehn.244An acquaintance advised him to treat his affliction with a tea cure, specifically with a “mandrake tea.” He procured three mandrake roots, boiled them, and drank several cups of the decoction. The next day, his pupils were extremely dilated, his mouth was dry, and apart from a slight sensation of dizziness, he was otherwise without complaints. During the next three days, he repeatedly drank of this tea. In the meantime, however, the alkaloids had certainly become more concentrated, for the roots had been left in the teapot. On the fourth day, the painter was in an utterly confused state, his face had become very red, and he was racing around in his dwelling. He carried his bed into the stairwell, and tried to throw furniture and paintings from the window. The horrified landlady called the doctor, who had him taken to the hospital. His face remained red for some time, the pupils were immoderately dilated. He fumbled with the bed covers with his hands. He had lost any sense of orientation. But after two days, he was able to be released without any complaints. (Schenk 1954, 37 f.*)
“There is an animal that is called the elephant. No sexual drive dwells within this animal. When it wishes to produce children, it goes back to the East, close to paradise. It is there that the so-called mandragora tree grows. That is where the female and the male go. The female takes the fruit from the tree first, offers it to her spouse as well, and plays with him until he too takes of it, and when he has eaten, he unites with the female from behind, because of the fact that they do not have any harmony with one another. Only once does he have coitus, and she immediately becomes pregnant.”
Roth et al. (1994, 485*) maintain that the effects of mandrake are similar to those of Atropa belladonna. Typical clinical symptoms include dryness of the mouth and other mucous membranes, dilated pupils, farsightedness, and muscular atony, as well as, according to Roth et al. (1994, 485), increase in the frequency of the pulse. All of these symptoms of “mandrake intoxication” are very similar to the homeopathic medical description (cf. Mandl 1985, 133*).
On several afternoons, I have consumed a glass of wine in which mandrake root had been steeped. The effects become apparent in some fifteen to twenty minutes. These are associated with a slight sense of euphoria. Pleasant, sometimes lusty sensations run through the body. Visual perception is only mildly affected; a slight farsightedness manifests. During the nights that have followed the consumption of mandrake wine, I have always experienced increased dream activity, often with erotic content. After consuming 0.5 liter of mandrake beer, I noted the following:
The effects of the alcohol are not apparent. I notice a slight pressure in my head, as also occurs with henbane or thorn apple. It is more fun to dance than to sit at the computer. It is a desire to fall into the rhythm of the music. . . . Obliviousness to self, pleasurable bodily sensations . . . pleasant tingling on the scalp. Slightly dry lips, distinct changes in the visual field, as if the perspective had shifted somewhat. (Protocol, December 28, 1994)
When I was in Cyprus, I ate all of the ripe man-drake fruits I could find in order to test their aphrodisiac or mind-altering properties. I did not notice any direct psychoactive effects.But I had an increased number of erotic dreams during those nights.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
When Mandragora officinarum makes it into the pharmaceutical trade, it is normally in the form of the chopped root (mandragorae radix conc.). In Germany, Mandragora conc. can be purchased only from a pharmacy, and because of recent regulatory changes, a prescription is now needed. Even the homeopathic preparations now require a prescription. The seeds are only very rarely available through flower or ethnobotanical sources.
The mandrake has been the subject of numerous literary treatments. In the age of comic books, it became a magician with mysterious supernatural powers. (Title page of an Italian edition; the original appeared in 1941)
“There is a trick in which an egg that is placed under a hen produces a humanlike figure, as I myself have seen and am also able to perform. The magicians attribute miraculous powers to one such figure, which they call mandrake.”
HEINRICH CORNELIUS AGRIPPA VON NETTESHEIM
DIE MAGISCHE WERKE [THE MAGICAL WORKS]
See also the entries for Atropa belladonna, Mandragora spp., witches’ ointments, tropane alkaloids, and scopolamine.
Ahrens, F. B. 1889. Über das Mandragorin. Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 22:2159.
Bauer, Wolfgang. 1993. Das wundertätige Wurzelkreuz in der Kirche von Maria Straßenengel. Integration 4:39–43.
Brøndegarrd, V. J., and Peter Dilg. 1985. Orchideen als Aphrodisiaca. In Ethnobotanik, ed. V. J. Brøndegarrd, 135–57. Berlin: Mensch und Leben.
Brugsch, Heinrich. 1918. Die Alraune als ägyptische Zauberpflanze. Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 29:31–33.
Brunner-Traut, Emma. 1991. Altägyptische Märchen. Munich: Diederichs.
Dahl, Jürgen. 1985. Die Zauberwurzel der kleinen Leute . . . Natur 6/85:83–84.
Eliade, Mircea. 1942. Le Mandragore et le mythe de la “naissance miraculeuse.” Zalmoxis 3:3–48.
———. 1982. Von Zalmoxis zu Dschingis-Khan. Cologne: Hohenheim.
Emboden, William. 1989. The sacred journey in dynastic Egypt: Shamanistic trance in the context of the narcotic water lily and the mandrake. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21 (1): 61–75.
Ewers, Hanns Heinz. 1911. Alraune—Die Geschichte eines lebenden Wesens. Munich: Georg Müller Verlag.
Fink, Hans. 1983. Verzaubertes Land: Volkskult und Ahnenbrauch in Südtirol. Innsbruck and Vienna: Tyrolia.
Fleisher, Alexander, and Zhenia Fleisher. 1992. The odoriferous principle of mandrake, Mandragora officinarum L. Aromatic plants of Holy Land and the Sinai. Part IX. Journal of Essential Oil Research 4:187–88.
———. 1994. The fragrance of biblical mandrake. Economic Botany 48 (3): 243–51.
Fouqué, Friedrich de la Motte. 1983. Eine Geschichte vom Galgenmännlein. In Teufelsträume—phantastische Geschichten des 19. Jahrhunderts, ed. Horst Heidtmann, 7–33. Munich: dtv.
Frazer, J. 1917. Jacob and the mandrakes. Proceedings of the British Academy 8:346 ff.
Gélis, Jacques. 1989. Die Geburt. Munich: Diederichs.
Golowin, Sergius. 1970. Hexer und Henker im Galgenfeld. Bern: Benteli.
Harris, J. Rendel. 1917. The origin of the cult of Aphrodite. John Rylands Library Bulletin 3:354–81. (Published in Manchester, England.)
Hartwich, Carl. 1911. Die Mandragorawurzel. Schweizerische Wochenschrift für Chemie und Pharmazie, no. 20. (Published in Zurich.)
Heide, Frits. 1921. Alrunen i det gamle Ägypten. Tidsskrift for Historisk Botanik 1:21.
Heilmann, Karl Eugen. 1973. Kräuterbücher in Bild und Geschichte. Munich: Kölbl. (Contains numerous illustrations of mandrakes from various works.)
Hesse, O. 1901. Über die Alkaloide der Mandragorawurzel. Journal für praktische Chemie 172:274–86.
Hugonot, J.-C. 1992. Ägyptische Gärten. In Der Garten von der Antike bis zum Mittelalter, ed. M. Carroll-Spillecke, 9–44. Mainz, Germany: Philipp von Zabern.
Hylands, Peter J., and El-Sayed S. Mansour. 1982. A revision of the structure of cucurbitacin S from Bryonia dioica. Phytochemistry 21 (11): 2703–7.
Jackson, Betty P., and Michael I. Berry. 1973. Hydroxytropane tiglates in the roots of Mandragora species. Phytochemistry 12:1165–66.
———. 1979. Mandragora—taxonomy and chemistry of the European species. In The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes et al., 505–12. London: Academic Press.
Killermann, H. 1917. Der Alraun (Mandragora). Naturwissenschaftliche Wochenschrift, n.s., 16:137–44.
Krauss, Friedrich S. 1913. Ein Altwiener Alraunmännchen. Anthropophyteia 10:29–33.
Kyber, Manfred. 1985. Das Manfred Kyber Buch. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt.
Marzell, Heinrich. 1927. Alraun. In Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens, 1:311–23. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Maugini, E. 1959. Ricerce sul Genere Mandragora. Nuovo Giornale Botanico Italiano e Bolletino della Societa Botanica Italiana, n.s., 66 (1–2): 34–60.
Mitrovic, Alexander. 1907. Mein Besuch bei einer Zauberfrau in Norddalmatien. Anthropophyteia 4:227–36.
Müller-Ebeling, Claudia. 1987. Die Alraune in der Bibel. In Die Sage vom Galgenmännlein im Volksglauben und in der Literatur, by Alfred Schlosser (orig. pub. 1912), 141–49. Berlin: Express Edition.
———. n.d. Die Alraune in der Bibel. In Das Böse Bibel Buch, by Roland Ranke Rippchen, 97–100. Löhrbach: Werner Pieper’s MedienXperimente.
Palmer, John. 1940. Mandragora. London: Victor Gollancz.
Peters, Hermann. 1886. Alraune. Mitteilungen aus dem germanischen Nationalmuseum 1 (1884–86): 243–46.
Randolph, Ch. Brewster. 1905. The mandragora of the ancients in folklore and medicine. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 40:487–537.
Rätsch, Christian. 1986. Die Alraune heute. In Der Alraun: Ein Beitrag zur Pflanzensagenkunde, by Adolf Taylor Starck (orig. pub. 1917), 87–109. Berlin: Express Edition.
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———. 1994. Die Alraune in der Antike. Annali dei Musei Civici dei Rovereto 10:249–96.
Robbins, Tom. 1971. Another roadside attraction. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Rosner, Fred. 1980. Mandrakes and other aphrodisiacs in the Bible and Talmud. Koroth 7. (Published in Jerusalem.)
———. 1993. Pharmacology and dietics in the Bible and Talmud. In The healing past: Pharmaceuticals in the biblical and rabbinic world, ed. Irene and Walter Jacob, 1–26. Leiden: Brill.
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Schmidbauer, Wolfgang. 1969. Die magische Mandragora. Antaios 10:274–86.
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Staub, H. 1942. Non-alkaloid constituents of mandrake root. Helvetica Chimica Acta 25:649–83.
———. 1962. The alkaloid constituents of mandragora root. Helvetica Chimica Acta 45:2297.
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Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Solaneae Tribe, Mandragorinae Subtribe
Currently, four to six species are botanically accepted in the genus Mandragora. All occur only in Eurasia and northern Africa (D’Arcy 1991, 78 f.*; Symon 1991, 147*).
The autumn mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis) was once regarded as the “little mandrake woman.” (Woodcut from the herbal of Matthiolus, 1627)
Mandragora autumnalis Spreng. [syn. Mandragora autumnalis Bertol., Mandragora microcarpa Bertol., Mandragora foemina Gersault, Mandragora foemina Thell., Mandragora haussknechtiiHeldr., Mandragora officinalis Moris ex Miller, Mandragora officinarum Bertol. non Linnaeus]—autumn mandrake
Since ancient times, the autumn mandrake has been known as the “female” mandrake, the counterpart to the “male” Mandragora officinarum. It was said:
One kind [of Mandragora] is female, black, called thridakias, it has narrower and smaller leaves with an ugly and pungent scent, is spread over the earth, and has apples like the fruits of the rowan tree [Sorbus domestica L.], yellow, pleasant scented, among them a fruit like the pear, the roots are very large, two or three, grown together, black on the outside, white within, and with a thick rind. It does not develop a stalk. (Dioscorides 4.76)
Pliny (first century) reported on the psycho-active and medicinal properties of the plant:
It is not the mandrake of all countries which produces a juice; but if it does provide one, then it is collected at the time of the wine harvest [cf. Vitis vinifera]. It then has a potent aroma, that of the root, but mostly that of the fruit. The fruit is collected when it is ripe; it is dried in the shade, and the juice is thickened by the sun after it has been extracted. The same is done with the juice of the roots, which is obtained either by pressing or by boiling in red wine until it has been reduced to a third. The leaves are best stored in a strong brine (salt water); their juice is a poison that cannot be healed; this harmful property is not completely removed by the brine when the leaves are stored therein. Its specific scent is oppressing to the head, but there are countries in which the fruits are eaten. Persons that are unfamiliar with its properties are convinced that the scent of this plant would make them mute and that too high a dosage of the juice is deadly. If a dosage is given that is appropriate to the strength of the patient, the juice has an anesthetic effect; a medium dosage is a cyathus. It is also given for wounds from snakes and before the body is cut or pierced to lower the sensitivity to pain. (Pliny 25)
The leaf crown of Mandragora autumnalis.
Mandragora autumnalis is easily confused with Mandragora officinarum (Berry and Jackson 1976). The primary distinction between the two is the time at which they flower. The autumn mandrake blooms in the fall (September to November).246 Both species are found in southern Europe, from Portugal to Greece (Festi and Aliotta 1990*; Viola 1979, 175*). Autumn mandrake is also common in northern Africa (Morocco).
In Morocco, where the autumn mandrake is known variously as taraiba, taraila, bid l’gul, and bioe al ghorl, a finger-sized piece of the root is taken together with a nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) in order to produce a “good head” (Vries 1984*; 1989, 39, 40, 44*), and the root is still used there for hunting treasures (Vries 1989, 39*). Apparently it is also used in a magical incense.
Mandragora autumnalis contains the same tropane alkaoids as Mandragora officinarum. Little is known about its effects:
After consuming vegetables that had been contaminated with Mandragora autumnalis leaves, fifteen people developed symptoms of poisoning. The latent period was 1 to 4 hours, with a mean of 2.7 hours. No association between the latent period and the degree of intoxication was observed. All patients exhibited disturbances of vision, dry mouth, tachycardia, mydriasis, and reddening of the skin. Also observed were, in 14 of the 15 patients, dry skin and mucosa, hallucinations, and overactivity; in 9 of 15 patients, agitation/delirium, confusion, headaches, and problems with micturition; in 8 patients, difficulties swallowing and stomachaches. One patient developed an acute psychosis of short duration. (Mechler 1993, 765)
Mandragora caulescens C.B. Clarke [syn. Anisodus humilis (Hook. f.)]—Himalayan mandrake
Four subspecies of Himalayan mandrake have been described to date (Mechler 1993, 765):
Mandragora caulescens ssp. brevicalyx Grierson et Long
Mandragora caulescens ssp. caulescens
Mandragora caulescens ssp. flavida Grierson et Long
Mandragora caulescens ssp. purpurascens Grierson et Long
This yellow-blooming species, known as kattuchooti or chi’ieh shen, is found in the high Himalayas, primarily at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 meters (Polunin and Stainton 1985, 287, plate 93*). Its range extends through Tibet and into western China (Deb 1979, 94). It is common in Sikkim and Darjeeling and grows in western Sichuan, northwestern Yunnan, and eastern Xizang (Tibet) at altitudes between 2,200 and 4,200 meters (Lu 1986, 81f.). In Sikkim, this mandrake species is used for magical rituals (Mehra 1979, 162*) and sometimes as an alternative to Withania somnifera; it also has been interpreted as the Vedic jangida. It is used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine to treat stomach ailments (Mechler 1993, 765). The root contains 0.13% hysocyamine and may possibly also contain mandragorine. Scopolamine and cuscohygrine have not been detected (Mechler 1993, 765).
Mandragora chinghaiensis Kuang et A.M. Lu—Chinese mandrake
Also known as chinghai chi’eh shen, this recently described mandrake species is endemic to the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau of western China, where its root is used in local folk medicine (Lu 1986, 82). In Tibet, it is used to treat pain and as a substitute for Mandragora caulescens. The entire plant contains 0.19% hyoscyamine and 0.12% scopolamine; the root contains 0.21% hyoscyamine and 0.48% scopolamine (Mechler 1993, 765).
Mandragora morion nom. nud.
The plant that is listed in the older literature under the name Mandragora morion is identical to a Mandragora species, to Atropa belladonna, or to some other species of nightshade (cf. Solanum spp., Withania somnifera). The ancient literature has the following to say about Mandragora morion:
It has been reported that there is also another species [perhaps Mandragora turcomanica or M. caulescens] called morion [from moria, “dullness of the senses,” or morion, “male member”] that grows in shady places and around rocky caves; it has leaves like those of the white Mandragora, but smaller and about as long as a span, white, and arranged in a circle around the root, which is tender, white, a little larger than a span, and as thick as a thumb. This, when drunk in the amount of a drachma [ca. 3.8 g] or eaten with pearl barley in bread or a side dish, is said to induce a deep sleep; a person will namely sleep in the same position as they were in when they partook of it, without any sensation, for three to four hours from the time at which they ingested it. The physicans also use this when they wish to cut or burn. The root is also said to be an antidote [antidoton] when taken with the so-called Strychnos manikos.247 (Dioscorides 4.76)
Mandragora shebbearei Fischer—Tibetan mandrake
This species or variety of mandrake is said to occur only in Tibet. It may be identical to M. caulescens.
Mandragora turcomanica Mizgireva—Turkoman mandrake
This rare species, which grows only in Turkmenistan, produces violet flowers and has been used as a medicine by the people of the Sumbar Valley since antiquity. It appears that Asian authors of the Middle Ages, such as Abu-Reichan Beruni (973–1048), identified this Asian species with the European Mandragora of the ancient literature, and according to Khlopin (1980, 227), it is identical to the “male” Mandragora of Dioscorides (cf. Mandragora officinarum). Its large, juicy, golden yellow fruits were regarded as edible (when eaten in moderation). The Turkoman mandrake thrives only in clayey soils at altitudes of 600 meters (Khlopin 1980).
The Parsis had a sacred plant with inebriating or entheogenic qualities that was known as haoma and was mentioned often in the Avesta. In our time, the botanical identity of haoma is as uncertain as that of the Indian soma or the Greek ambrosia. It is possible that the word haoma was used to refer to a number of plants (cf. Peganum harmala). It has long been suggested that haoma and the mandrake were one and the same. The discovery and description of the Turkoman mandrake has provided this hypothesis with renewed support:
When one compares the description of the haoma of the Avesta with the white male Mandragora of the ancient and medieval scholars, then it can be seen that these are possibly the same plant. Otherwise, this white male Mandragora would have to be identified with the Turkoman Mandragora. In other words, the Avestan Aryans [the ancient Parsis] used the Turkoman species of Mandragora to produce the divine drink and called it haoma. . . . When the Indian Aryans penetrated into northern India from the west after the fall of the Indo-Iranian union, they found the Himalayan species of Mandragora, which received the name soma. (Khlopin 1980, 230f.)
The plant that Leonhard Fuchs depicted under the name Mandragora morion appears to be the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna). (Woodcut, 1545)
“There are a few more wondrous stories about these plants [mandrakes]. It is said of the root that it has a very similar appearance to the organs of procreation of both sexes. Although it is only rarely found, when a root looks like the male organ and comes into a man’s possession, then it will secure for him the love of a woman. In this way, the lesbian Phaeon was loved in such a passionate manner by Sappho. Much has been said about this, not only by the magicians, but also by the Pythagorean philosophers.”
See also the entries for Atropa belladonna, Mandragora officinarum, tropane alkaloids, and scopolamine.
Berry, Michael I., and Betty P. Jackson. 1976. European mandrake (Mandragora officinarum L. and M. autumnalis Bertol.): The structure of the rhizome and root. Planta Medica 30:281–90.
Deb, D. B. 1979. Solanaceae in India. In The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes et al., 87–112. London: Academic Press.
Khlopin, Igor N. 1980. Mandragora turcomanica in der Geschichte der Orientalvölker. Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 11:223–31.
Lu, An-ming. 1986. Solanaceae in China. In Solanaceae: Biology and systematics, ed. William G. D’Arcy, 79–85. New York: Columbia University Press.
Mechler, Ernst. 1993. Mandragora. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 5:762–67. Berlin: Springer.