Where do mandrakes grow?


Folklore and Facts

Almost no plant has a more detailed folklore with complete books being written about this one plant. What follows is, therefore, only a selection.

*As this picture of the root of my own
Mandragora demonstrates the idea that a
mandrake root always has two ‘legs’ and a
body is as fanciful as the stories associated
with it.

Mandrake root is supposed to look like the male form (having two legs, a body and, often a hairy top)* and, under the Doctrine of Signatures, its use would give a man that power which men are always willing to spend a lot of money to get. Its high price was maintained, in part, by the difficulty of harvesting it because, as every Harry Potter fan knows, mandrake screams when you pull it up. The scream was fatal so it was common to tie a dog to the plant and let the dog pull it up and suffer the curse.

But the story of the mandrake does not start with J K Rowling. The first known mention of mandrake is disputed. Some sources, even today, maintain that it was known and used in ancient Egypt. This belief that the Egyptians knew and used mandrake root is based on Dr. Joachim’s German translation of the Egyptian Hieratic language word d’d’ or didi. Joachim took this to be from the same root as the Hebrew word dudaim which is the mandrake. However, between Joachim’s late 19thC German translation and Dr. Bryan’s English version, written in 1930, several eminent Egyptologists had concluded that d’d’ was in fact a mineral, haematite.

The main evidence of use of mandrake in Egypt is, therefore, suspect. What remains are designs on various artefacts from Egyptian times which do appear to be stylistic depictions of the mandrake. It is possible that the Egyptians knew of mandrake as an imported extract and the depictions of it were based on descriptions of the plant rather than firsthand observation.

For many people, the Old Testament is the first confirmed reference to mandrake. Genesis, chapter 30, verse 14 says that Reuben ‘found mandrakes in the field’ during the wheat harvest. According to Hebrew folklore, however, what Reuben found was a dead donkey which had been tethered to a mandrake and, trying to escape its tether, had pulled the mandrake up and died as a result. This may be the start of the story of the scream which was, almost certainly, perpetuated as a method of avoiding theft of a valuable plant.

Mandragora officinarum, mandrake, the fruits

There is a mass of speculation about whether the plant found by Reuben was mandrake and whether it is the same plant described in ‘The Song of Solomon’ chapter 7 verse 13 ‘The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved’. Arguments centre over whether the ‘smell’ was pleasant, since the smell of mandrake is not, at least not to European noses. Some people say that mandrake would not be ripe at the time of wheat harvesting which others counter by saying that Genesis does not say the plant was ripe. And so it goes on.

But Genesis is not the only religious connection for mandrake. Those who wish to offer a rational explanation for the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ sometimes suggest that the sponge he was given to suck from when he complained of thirst on the cross contained juice of the Mandragora which resulted in a deathlike sleep.

In Germany, mandrake was kept as a talisman rather than consumed, especially if its shape was particularly manlike. Often mandrake, or bryony, was uprooted, cut to make its appearance more human and replanted so that the cuts would heal and the shape would appear entirely natural. Such roots were very expensive and kept, in small wooden boxes, for many years, but it was important to take the manikin out on a Friday and give it a bath. Failure to do this would cause the root to shriek until it got its bath. The bath water could be sold to be drunk by a pregnant woman to ease childbirth.

Some Literary References to Mandrake.
Although not referred to by name, Chaucer, in ‘The Knighte’s Tale’, talks about a wine made of narcotics which made the jailer sleep.
In Henry IV, Part 2, Falstaff twice refers to mandrake, comparing Justice Swallow, naked, to the root.
In Antony & Cleopatra, Cleopatra asked for Mandragora to help sleep through the time Antony is away.
In Othello, Iago says that the Moor’s jealousy is preventing him from sleep and neither mandrake nor opium could help.
Some sources think Juliet took mandrake to induce her deathlike sleep and this power is also alluded to in Cymbeline.
The shriek of pulling it up is mentioned in Romeo & Juliet and King Henry VI and its power to cause insanity comes into Macbeth.
Ben Jonson in Masque of Queens has a witch talk of gathering the root.
Marlowe in the Jew of Malta effects Barabas’s escape from prison by having him drink mandrake so that he is thought to be dead.
Webster in the Duchess of Malfi makes several references to mandrake.
There are many other references in less well known works and there was even a silent film, made in the 1920s, where mandrake growing at the feet of a hanged man played a major role in the plot.
Though not mentioned by name, some have argued that the ‘love potion’ in Wagner’s ‘Tristan & Isolde’ was based on mandrake.

The belief that mandrake grew under a gallows was widespread but had numerous refinements. In Wales and parts of Germany, it grew from the tears of an innocent man, hanged. Elsewhere in Germany, the requirement was that the hanged man be the son of a family of thieves or someone whose mother stole when pregnant.

Thus, the hanged man had not chosen to be a thief but could not avoid the family business and so retained some degree of innocence. Sometimes, the hanged man had to have never had sexual intercourse. Generally, bodily fluids other than tears were what caused the mandrake to grow.

The ritual surrounding the harvesting of mandrake has many variations. Sometimes, it is essential that a black dog is used. Sometimes, the dog must be starving so that throwing a piece of meat will cause it to lunge forward. In parts of Eastern Europe, it was essential that only an expert attempt to uproot a mandrake as any damage caused to the root would be replicated on the person who caused it. In Armenia, the mandrake was to be visited on three successive days in the company of a young and handsome virgin prior to being harvested. The idea of a, probably, lusty young man, going into the woods to visit a plant with the alleged properties of mandrake in the company of a young, handsome virgin makes one wonder whether, by the third day, the young woman still fulfilled the required criteria.

Leonhart Fuchs in ‘De historia stirpium’ says ‘Mountebanks and fakers hanging around the marketplace are peddling roots shaped in human form they claim are Mandragora although it is quite evident that they are fashioned and made by hand from canna roots carved in human likeness’. Canna roots are a commercial source of starch so this deception may have been less harmful than using the purgative bryony.

Though not, generally, a key component of the ‘soporific sponge’, used to achieve anaesthesia for the performance of surgery, mandrake does feature in some recipes. The precise origin of the sponge recipe is impossible to determine but one of the first published accounts is found in the ‘Antidotarium’ of Nicolaus Salernitanus, Nicholas of Salerno, printed in 1470 but which would have to have been written in the 12th century if it is the work of Nicholas. In this recipe, the normally quoted formula of opium, henbane and hemlock is augmented with mulberry juice, mandrake, ivy and lettuce.

A sponge would be soaked in the juice of these plants and then dried to be held in stock until required. Wetting the sponge and placing it over the patient’s nose and mouth resulted in the inhalation of the narcotic fumes. It is said that sleep lasting up to 96 hours could be achieved so that the body had the opportunity to recover from the trauma of surgery as well as the patient being insensible during the procedure.

On the subject of the supposed manlike shape of the root, John Gerard, after noting that the division of the mandrake root is no different from that often seen with carrot or parsnip and such like, goes off on one of his rants about the tales associated with the plant. ‘There have been many ridiculous tales… some one or more who sought to make themselves famous and skilful above others.’ He cites its alleged growth under the gallows and ‘many other such doltish dreams’ including ‘many fables of loving matters, too full of scurrilitie to set forth in print’. He also talks of ‘idle drones’ who carved the roots of bryony to convince ‘simple and unlearned people’ that this was ‘the true mandrake’.


J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets1 includes a scene in which the hero and his friends are in a greenhouse, taking instruction from Professor Sprout on the re-potting of mandrakes. To protect their hearing, the class is equipped with earmuffs.

In an age ever more preoccupied with medicinal herbs, mandrake is the herb that time has forgotten, the word more readily associated today with a column in the Sunday Telegraph or the American strip cartoon Mandrake the Magician. Mandrake the Magician (1934) was the first super-powered costumed crime fighter, the forerunner of Superman, Batman and, most recently Spiderman, but even this icon of the 20th century had his origin in antiquity, for the unlikely source of his creator Lee Falk’s inspiration was a poem by the 17th century English poet John Donne2. Donne’s subject was fertility:

‘Goe, and catche a falling starre,

Get with child a mandrake roote’.

And the origin of the mandrake’s association with fertility is truly ancient, surfacing first in chapter 30 of the Book of Genesis, where the childless Rachael asks her sister Leah for the loan of the mandrakes which her son had brought in from the fields. Much later, this fertility myth received support from the medieval doctrine of signatures, which suggested that God had provided all plants with a sign indicating their value. Mandrake has a long and frequently bifid taproot whose shape sometimes resembles the body of a man (Figure 1). Believing this to indicate reproductive power, our ancestors took to sleeping with them under their pillows at night.

Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum). Sibthorpe: Flora Graeca (1808)

Others, however, began to wonder whether the possession of roots might not bring them success in other areas as well—wealth, popularity, or the power to control their own and other people’s destinies, and took to wearing them as good luck charms. Not surprisingly, the Church frowned upon this practice and when, during her trial in 1431, Joan of Arc was accused of having a mandrake about her person, the suggestion helped send her to the stake3.

Mandrake was, of course, far from being the only plant with an anthropomorphic root. The herb had another property, however, for the root contains hyoscine a powerful alkaloid with the ability to cause hallucinations, delirium and, in larger doses, coma. Mandrake’s use as a surgical anaesthetic was first described by the Greek physician Dioscorides around AD 60, and its use as a tincture known as mandragora, or in combination with other herbs such as opium, hemlock and henbane is described in documents from pre-Roman times onwards4. It was the presence of this alkaloid, as well as the shape of the root, that led to the mandrake’s association with magic, witchcraft and the supernatural.

Mandrake roots became highly sought after in their native Mediterranean habitat, and attempts to protect them from theft are thought to have been the source of the second mandrake myth, which stated that a demon inhabited the root and would kill anyone who attempted to uproot it. Over the centuries, elaborate rituals developed to avoid what became known as the mandrake’s curse, the most famous of these requiring the assistance of a dog (Figure 2). Later elaboration of this legend attributed the herb’s lethal power to a shriek or a groan emitted by the mandrake as it was uprooted, and suggested that death could be avoided either by a loud blast on a horn at the critical moment or by sealing one’s ears with wax. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the earmuff is more in keeping with current health and safety regulations.

The mandrake’s curse. After being shown a tasty morsel (far right), a hungry dog is tied to the root of the mandrake. From a safe distance, the hunter throws the food in front of the dog, which lunges forward, uprooting the herb. The dog dies at sunrise (bottom right) and is buried with secret rites. Cod. Vind. (Medicina Antiqua)

Mandragora officinarum var. autumnalis
Black Mandrake
This native of Southern Europe and long-time resident in many a witch’s garden has a great variety of magickal uses. It has been part of flying ointments, made into poppets, worn in the cap for protection and love, carried for fertility, and consumed to induce love or lust. One of the baneful herbs, this Saturn plant is sacred to Hekate, but it is also associated with Diana, and Aphrodite as well as Mercury (apparently because of the androgynous shape of the root).
Black mandrake’s flowers are purple instead of white, as in M. officinarum (var. vernalis). The supposed difference in root color does not seem to hold true. This is also called Autumn Mandrake because it flowers in the fall instead of the summer, as does white mandrake (which is also known as Spring Mandrake ). The flowers die and turn into small yellow or orange fruits that some people make into a liqueur; apparently the ripe fruits do not have the same alkaloids as other parts of the plant. Information on alkaloid content is contradictory. Some say the leaves are safe, but an article described 15 people who had been hospitalized for eating the leaves, which they thought were spinach. The thick roots definitely contain tropanes, the same substances as in henbane and other nightshades, so don’t chew them, as some sources recommend. The tropanes, which are deliriants, connect this plant to Saturn. Clearly, this plant has lots of possibilities. Also known as Autumn Mandrake and Female Mandrake. Packet comes with growing sheet. Check out the beautiful root of a two-year-old plant a customer grew. Top

How to grow: I have had good luck germinating these seeds by soaking them in cold water in the fridge for two weeks. Replace the water with new *cold* water daily to wash away the anti-germination chemicals that leach from the seed. I use an old vitamin bottle for this. At the end of two weeks, plant in Jiffy-7 pellets with kelp solution, as described in general growing tips. Don’t plant any seeds that are floating after 24 hours; throw them out. Another method is to plant them as usual in a Jiffy-7 soaked in kelp solution and then put the Jiffy-7s seeds and all in the fridge for 4-6 weeks, covered lightly with the kind of plastic bag groceries come in. The fridge should be on the cold side, 41 F, or put them in the bottom toward the back. Then take them out to germinate. The idea is to imitate snowmelt. I have gotten them to germinate both ways, but the cold water method uses less fridge room. Or sow on Winter Solstice (see the Solstice Sowing page). Top
They are slow to come up, but they will. Make sure they stay moist but not sopping and do not put them in direct sunlight. They do not come up all at once, like the seeds of bedding plants do. These are seeds of wild plants, so their germination is staggered. Plant in partial shade in rich soil. Add peat to the soil to make it more acidic. If planting in a pot, make your own potting soil from 2 parts peat, 2 parts sand, and 1 part loam. Although the babies really seek out the sun, keep the plants in light shade (perhaps morning sun & afternoon shade, or just dappled shade). Fertilize regularly. A foliar spray of a solution of liquid kelp and fish meal is good, and a fertilizer for roots really makes a huge difference (I tried Rootone this year). They don’t like being wet, but they will become dormant if they don’t get enough water. Check the undersides of the leaves for aphids regularly, and use Safer Insecticidal Soap to get rid of them if they turn up. I have noticed that if you let a wet mandrake leaf touch the soil, it will generally get sick and fall off, so be careful when you water them to water the soil, not the plant. Top
Once you get a mandrake going, you can propagate it by dividing its tubers in the late autumn. It’s winter hardy only in zones 8-11, the Deep South and the Northwest. Farther north, try growing on the south side of the house against the wall and either put them in a cold frame in the winter or keep them in a pot and take them into the garage or basement for the winter (don’t water while the plant is dormant). For a pot, use one of the long kind usually sold as rose pots or plant several together in a large pot, so that they have plenty of room to grow down. The root can get over four feet long. Top
The plant seems to sense when the root is getting near the bottom of the pot and quits growing; the leaves become weak and fall off. I had some in a very large pot, but they still stopped growing at a certain point. When I dug them up, I found that the end of the root was an extremely long thread that had obviously hit the bottom. Cramped roots become spirals. Planting in lengths of sewer pipes or garbage cans with holes in the bottom might be a way to remedy this. Planting in the ground is better if you have good soil, but it is very difficult to dig up the root without breaking it. Even turning the soil out of a pot all in one piece and gently pushing away the dirt resulted in a broken root or two. The plant probably uses this brittle root strategy to propagate itself, since pieces of root will make a new plant. One possibility is to dig a good deep hole for your plant and fill it with a fine soil mix that will make digging up easier. Then water very heavily just before you dig up the root. This will allow it to come free more easily. I have done this with other plants and will try it with mandrake next season. Top
After one season of growth, you get a nice root about finger-length, a good size for work. Not all roots are forked, but most are. You can keep them fresh in the fridge wrapped in a slightly dampened paper towel inside an open baggie. Or you can put them in a jar of alcohol to preserve them, or dry them in a dehydrator. Don’t put them in the microwave to dry, like you can with flowers; they will get ruined. They lose a substantial amount of weight and volume being dried. To get fruits, the plant has to be able to go through the winter without going dormant, a tough call in the US–perhaps in the Pacific Northwest. Without flowers, you won’t get fruits. If you do get fruits, let them ripen fully before harvesting to get the best seeds. Top
You can also cut the roots and plant them to make more plants for the following year. In fall, cut the root into 1-2 inch long pieces. On each piece, cut the upward part straight across, and cut the lower part on an angle. Dip in rooting hormone and plant in soil in a sheltered spot or in a pot. Cover with sand. These will grow into new plants the following spring. Top

A note about mandrake seed viability: in the past, before I was buying and selling seeds, I got black mandrake seeds a couple times from seed retailers. Each time almost all the seeds were completely dead. I thought this seed must be very short-lived. Not so. Back in September I found some old packets of this seed under my desk. They had apparently been knocking around down there for the past 18 months and sure weren’t being stored optimally. I thought what the heck and started to soak them. I soaked them for 3 weeks because I didn’t have time to plant them after two. Well, they are germinating, so I guess that these seeds are a bit hardier than I thought. This also means that this seed will germinate out of season (it’s November as I write). Top

5 seeds of Mandragora officinarum, common Mandrake seeds

Mandragora officinarum, seeds of common mandrake

Mandragora officinarum belongs to the family of the Solanaceae, the nightshades. It is native to the Mediterranean region. There it occurs even in very meager areas. Mandragora officinarum is better known as common mandrake. The mandrake is known for a long time. Already the Egyptians used it. M. officinarum grows as a perennial plant that reaches a height of about 35 cm. The leaves of the mandrake are clustered in a leaf rosette at the ground. The leaves are elliptic and relatively variable in size. The biggest leaves of Mandragora officinarium get 45 cm long. The leaf edge is curled. The whole leave is wrinkled. The midrib is clearly visible because it is light green or slightly violet, this is a clear contrast against the dark green leaf. The flower is actinomorphic and hermaphrodite. The calyx and the corolla are bell shaped. The flower of the mandrake is whitish including violet. The stamens in the center are clearly visible. The flowers are in the center of the leaf rosette. The flowers appear at the end of April or at the beginning of May, depending on the weather. The fruit of the mandrake is a berry that reaches 4 cm in diameter. They are first green and get orange when they are ripened. The fruit contains several light brown seeds. The root of the mandrake is a thick tape root that can get 60 cm long. From the tape root emerge in addition lateral roots. A myth tells that the roots look like a little man. If one digs out the root to repot the plant, the little man will scream very, very loud. This scream is deadly. In recent time this myth was again told by the author of Harry Potter. There the young magicians had to repot the screaming mandrakes. In the story of Harry Potter the mandrake was used in magic elixirs against bad and evil magic. The mandrake is one of the most famous herbs of the witches. One associates automatically magic with that plant. M. officinarum is highly poisonous. In former times it was used to kill people. The toxicity of the mandrake is due to the alkaloids it contains. The mandrake contains amongst others atropine and hyoscyamin. Those substances lead to paralysis of the respiration tract and in the end to death. All parts of the mandrake are poisonous, including the seeds. One should keep them away from kids!

Cultivationof common mandrake from seeds

The seeds of Mandragora officinarum need a pretreatment. They should be first put into water for 24 h. After that they can be planted into the substrate. The seeds in the substrate should be put into the fridge for 4 to 6 weeks (Substrate should be kept moist). This stratification is necessary for the germination success. At a temperature of about 20°C and constantly moist substrate, germination occurs after 1 month. Alternatively the seeds can be sown outside in fall. M. officinarum is winter hardy to a certain degree. It should be put into the house during winter. Alternatively one can leave the plant outside and put a protection around. Due to the extremely long root the adult plant should not be repotted anymore.

What Is The Mandrake Plant: Is It Safe To Grow Mandrake In The Garden

Long absent from American ornamental gardens, mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), also called Satan’s apple, is making a comeback, thanks in part to the Harry Potter books and movies. Mandrake plants bloom in spring with lovely blue and white blossoms, and in late summer the plants produce attractive (but inedible) red-orange berries. Keep reading for more mandrake information.

What is the Mandrake Plant?

Wrinkled and crispy mandrake foliage might remind you of tobacco leaves. They grow up to 16 inches long, but lie flat against the ground, so the plant only reaches a height of 2 to 6 inches. In spring, flowers bloom at the center of the plant. Berries appear in late summer.

Mandrake roots can grow up to 4 feet long and sometimes bear a remarkable resemblance to a human

figure. This resemblance and the fact that eating parts of the plant brings on hallucinations have resulted in a rich tradition in folklore and the occult. Several ancient spiritual texts mention the properties of mandrake, and it is still used today in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.

Like many members of the Nightshade family, mandrake is poisonous. It should only be used under professional supervision.

Mandrake Information

Mandrake is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 8. Growing mandrake in deep, rich soil is easy; however, the roots will rot in poorly drained or clay soil. Mandrake needs full sun or partial shade.

It takes about two years for the plant to become established and set fruit. During that time, keep the soil well watered and feed the plants annually with a shovelful of compost.

Never plant mandrake in areas where children play or in food gardens where it may be mistaken for an edible plant. The front of perennial borders and rock or alpine gardens are the best places for mandrake in the garden. In containers, the plants remain small and never produce fruit.

Propagate mandrake from offsets or seeds, or by dividing the tubers. Collect seeds from overripe berries in fall. Plant the seeds in containers where they can be protected from winter weather. Transplant them into the garden after two years.

The Powerful Solanaceae: Mandrake

Mandrake contains the powerful tropane alkaloids scopolamine, hyoscyamine, atropine, and mandragorine, which have an intense affect on the central nervous system. It was used as a soporific (sleep inducing) and pain-killing plant for many hundreds of years. Mandrake is a powerful narcotic, emetic, sedative, and hallucinogen; its poisons can easily lead to death.

Blue blossoms and flowering period of the autumn mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis) are two main differences between this species and M. officinarum. Photo: Teresa Prendusi.

Mandrake flowers grow on short stalks originating from the center of the rosette-forming leaves. Photo: Teresa Prendusi.

Illustration of Mandragora officinalis showing the diagnostic large roots, pale flowers and golden fruits from a European Herbal.

There are six species of mandrake, mostly distributed throughout southern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. The most well known species are Mandragara officinarum and M. autumnalis, the former blooming in springtime and the latter during the fall. Mandrakes are stemless, perennial herbs with large taproots that can grow up to two feet in length. The flowers emerge in a cluster from the center of the plant, and depending on the species, range in color from a yellow-green to bluish-purple. The sweet-smelling fruits resemble small yellow apples.

The magical power of mandrake was thought to be so potent that it would scream terrifyingly as it was pulled from the earth and kill anyone within earshot.

Podophyllum peltatum is also known as American mandrake or mayapple. Known for its own potent medicinal properties, it should not be confused with the European mandrake plant. Photo: Teresa Prendusi.

Did You Know?

  • In the Middle Ages, it was believed mandrake could only be uprooted in moonlight by a dog attached to the base of the plant by a rope, otherwise a person would go insane from the plant’s screams.
  • The Greek physician Dioscorides (A.D. 40-90) was the first to describe the early use of mandrake as an anesthetic used to numb and sedate patients.
  • In the Odyssey, the Greek enchantress Circe used Mandragora in a brew to turn Odysseus’ men into swine.
  • American mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum) is an entirely different plant belonging to the barberry family and should not be confused with the poisonous European mandrake which is a member of the Solanaceae family
  • An extract of American mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum) is used for treating warts. Podophyllotoxin is extracted from the roots and rhizomes of Podophyllum species.

Mandrake Roots

Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) has a long history and many superstitions attached to it. There are references to it in the Bible as well as in ancient books of magical practices.

Perhaps the most widespread superstition attached to mandrake is the belief that the root screams as it is pulled from the ground. This belief stems from the fact that the root of the plant grows in a shape that can be interpreted as humanlike. It is also said that if you hear the scream, you will die. There are many instructions on how to use animals to pull the root from the ground so that the humans can stay out of earshot. Some sources claim that the unfortunate animals pulling the root from the ground and hearing the scream drop dead.

Mandrake is a member of the nightshade family. The roots and leaves are poisonous, containing alkaloids that cause hallucinations, vomiting and diarrhea. There are also reports of symptoms similar to atropine poisoning.

Surprisingly, mandrake also has narcotic effects. In small quantities, it will induce unconsciousness. In ancient times, it was used as an anesthetic for surgery. In larger doses, death will occur.

Mandrake Flowers

Mandrake is native to the Mediterranean region. It is hardy in zones 6 – 8. In colder climates, it can be grown in containers and brought indoors during the winter. Make sure that the container is deep enough to contain the root which can grow to 4 feet in length. If the container is too shallow or the crown of the plant is planted too deep, the plant will be stunted. The crown should be planted even with the top of the soil. Planted too far above the soil, the foliage will have no support because there is no main stem.

Mandrake prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade. Well-drained soil is a must or the roots, which resemble parsnips, will rot. The leaves can be grow as long as 16 inches but because they grow in a rosette rather than growing upright, the plants are only 2- to 6-inches high. The flowers, which appear in the spring, are bell-shaped and violet followed by orange or yellow berries in the late summer.

Mandrake Berries

Propagation is usually by division of the roots or via offsets. Mandrake can be grown from seeds, but it can be a little tricky to germinate. The seed must be fresh, no more than six months old. It’s best to collect seed from the ripe berries in the fall. The seeds need a period of cold stratification either planted outdoors during the winter or in a bag for a month in the refrigerator. Germination should occur in 14 days after stratification. Be aware that not all of the seeds will germinate. If planted outdoors, a few will germinate in the fall or even the following spring.

Mandrake is a cool season plant. The foliage may disappear in the heat of the summer and then reappear in the cooler fall weather. It takes two years for plants to become established, bloom and produce berries. The roots can be harvested when they are 3- to 4-years old. When you harvest, there is no need to wear earplugs. They do not actually scream when pulled from the ground!

The Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, is a plant called by the Arabs luffâh, or beid el-jinn (“djinn’s eggs”). Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae).
Mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, and hyoscyamine. The roots sometimes bifurcate, causing them to resemble human figures. Their roots have long been used in magic rituals, and today are valued by members of neopagan religions such as Wicca and Germanic revivalism religions such as Odinism.
The roots of Mandrake were supposed to bear a resemblance to the human form, on account of their habit of forking into two shoots which form a rough figure of a human. In the old Herbals we find them frequently figured as a male with a long beard, and a female with a very bushy head of hair. Many weird superstitions collected round the Mandrake root.
It was common belief in some countries that mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged murderer had dripped on to the ground. And it was believed to cause death to whoever dug it up, as the plant would let out a shriek upon being dug up, which none might hear and live. Therefore if you would dig up a Mandrake you should either do it from a distance using string, or tie the string to your dog and let him pull it up. Of course, then the dog would die from the terrible scream from the plant.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the author makes use of the legend of the mandrake’s scream, and anyone tending mandrakes wears earmuffs to dull the sound.
As an amulet, it was once placed on mantel to bring luck and happiness. Bryony roots were often cut into fancy shapes and passed off as Mandrake. Small images made from Bryony roots, cut to look like the figure of a man, with millet seed inserted into the face for eyes, were sold to the foolish and uneducated. They were known as puppettes and were credited with magical powers. Italian ladies were known to pay as much as thirty golden ducats for these artificial Mandrake amulets.

Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, though superstition has played a large part in the uses it has been applied to. It is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism, though it contains hyoscine which is the standard pre-operative medication given to soothe patients and reduce bronchial secretions. It is also used to treat travel sickness. The leaves are quite harmless and cooling, and have been used for ointments and other external application.
The fresh or dried root contains highly poisonous alkaloids and is hallucinogenic and narcotic. In sufficient quantities it induces a state of oblivion and was used as an anaesthetic for operations in early surgery. It was much used in the past for its anodyne and soporific properties. In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions and mania. When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness.
Mandrake can be propagated by seeds, sown upon a bed of light earth, soon after they are ripe in the fall. This way they are more apt to germinate than if sown in the spring. When the plants come up in the spring, they must be kept well watered through the summer and kept free from weeds. At the end of August they should be taken up carefully and transplanted where they are to remain. The soil should be light and deep, as the roots run far down – if too wet, they will rot in winter, if too near chalk or gravel, they will make little progress. Where the soil is good and they are not disturbed, these plants will grow to a large size in a few years, and will produce great quantities of flowers and fruit.
It is in leaf from March to July, in flower from March to April, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant requires well-drained soils that are acidic or neutral; it prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) ones. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.
It has a large brown root, similar to the parsnip, which can run 3 feet deep, sometimes divided into two or more branches. Broad, dark green leaves rise from the crown of the root which at first stand erect, but then spread open and lie upon the ground as they grow larger. From amid the leaves flowers shoot up, each on a separate stalk, about 4 inches high. They are small and bell-shaped, cut into five spreading segments, whitish in color and tinged with purple. Their fruit is smooth and round, resembling a small apple. They are yellow when ripe and have a strong, apple-like scent, hense the nickname “Satan’s Apple.”
Well, it looks like mandrake is best sown in the fall, so I will probably get some seeds and try to start some seedlings in the spring and hold off on some for an October start. Either that, or try to find someone selling young plants. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Mandrake (plant)

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Mandragora

Mandragora autumnalis
Mandragora officinarum
Mandragora turcomanica
Mandragora caulescens

Mandrake is the common name for any of the herbaceous, perennial plants comprising the genus Mandragora of the nightshade family Solanacea, and in particular Mandragora officinarum, whose long, fleshy, often forked root can roughly resemble the human body and has long had medicinal, mystical, and magical properties associated with it. The term mandrake also is commonly used for the roots of these plants, which contain poisonous alkaloids and have been used medicinally for their anodyne (relieves pain through external application) and soporific properties, but also can lead to delirium and hallucinations. Mandragora species are native to the Mediterranean and the Himalayas.

References to the importance of mandrake in human culture trace back as far as the book of Genesis and in ancient Greek and Roman societies. With roots that sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures, mandrakes long have been associated with mystical properties and with magic rituals. Even today, in neopagan religions such as Wicca and Germanic revivalism religions such as Odinism, the mandrake continues to play a role.


  • 1 Overview and description
    • 1.1 Tropine alkaloids
  • 2 Medicinal uses
    • 2.1 Cultural references, myths, and magic
    • 2.2 Hebrew Bible
    • 2.3 Myths and magic
    • 2.4 Literature
  • 3 References
  • 4 Credits

Overview and description

The genus Madragora belong to the nightshade or potato family Solanaceae, a taxon of flowering plants in the Solanales order. Members of this family are characterized by five-petaled flowers, and alternate or alternate to opposite leaves. This family also is are known for possessing a diverse range of alkaloids, which for humans can be toxic, beneficial, or both. For the plants, they reduce the tendency of animals to eat the plants.

Mandrakes, comprising genus Madragora, are herbaceous, perennial plants native to areas of the Mediterranean and the Himalayas.

Mandragora officinarum

The most well known mandrake is Mandragora officinarum. This plant has a parsley-shaped root that is often branched. This root gives off at the surface of the ground a rosette of ovate-oblong to ovate, wrinkled, crisp, sinuate-dentate to entire leaves, 6 to 16 inches long, somewhat resembling those of the tobacco plant. Springing from the neck are a number of one-flowered nodding peduncles, bearing whitish-green flowers, nearly two inches broad, which produce globular, succulent, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes, which ripen in late spring. The plant grows grow natively in southern and central Europe and in lands around the Mediterranean Sea, as well as on Corsica. This plant is called by the Arabs luffâh, or beid el-jinn (“djinn’s eggs”).

Tropine alkaloids

Mandrake twin roots.

One of the most important groups of alkaloid compounds found in members of the Mandragora genus are tropane alkaloids, which also are found in the Solanaceae genera Atropa (the belladonna genus), Datura, and Brugmansia, as well as many others in the Solanaceae family. Chemically, the molecules of these compounds have a characteristic bicyclic structure and include atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. Pharmacologically, they are the most powerful known anticholinergics in existence, meaning they inhibit the neurological signals transmitted by the endogenous neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Symptoms of overdose may include mouth dryness, dilated pupils, ataxia, urinary retention, hallucinations, convulsions, coma, and death.

All parts of the mandrake plant are poisonous. The fruit likewise causes poisoning in cattle. The Arab name mandragora means “hurtful to cattle” (Blakemore and Jennett 2001).

Medicinal uses

Mandrake’s medicinal uses date back to ancient times, with references to it being used as a cure to sterility in Genesis 3:14-16 and in the time of Pliny (23-79 C.E.) it was being given to patients before surgery by having them chew of pieces of root (Blakemore and Jennett 2001). The root can be very toxic, but also is used as an adnodyne to relieve and soothe pain (by lessening the sensitivity of the brain or nervous system) and for its soporific properties (inducing sleep). It historically also has been used as emetic (induces vomiting) and purgative (induce bowel movements) (Blakemore and Jennett 2001).

From ancient times, the root was promoted for such uses as an aphrodisiac and for fertility. Dioscorides, a Greek physician of the first century, described how a wine made from mandrake produces anesthesia, noting it can be used for those who cannot sleep, or have severe pain, or are being cauterized or cut, with the use of it resulting in that they will not feel pain (Peduto 2001).

Cultural references, myths, and magic

In Genesis 30, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah, finds mandrakes in the field. Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, the sister of Leah, is desirous of the mandrakes and she barters with her sister for them. The trade offered by Rachel is for Leah to spend the next night in Jacob’s bed. Soon after this Leah, who previously had had four sons but had ceased to become pregnant for a long while, then became pregnant once more and gave birth to a son. There are classical Jewish commentaries which suggest that mandrakes help barren women to conceive a child.

Mandrake in Hebrew is דודאים (dûdã’im), meaning “love plant.” Most interpreters hold Mandragora officinarum to be the plant intended in Genesis 30:14 (“love plant”) and Song of Songs 7:13 (“the mandrakes send out their fragrance”). A number of other plants have been suggested such as bramble-berries, Zizyphus Lotus, the sidr of the Arabs, the banana, the lily, the citron, and the fig.

Myths and magic

Mandragora, from Tacuinum Sanitatis (1474).

The mandrake has been a source of considerable superstition, with the mystical properties likely attributed because the root may resemble a human form, with arm and leg appendages.

According to the legend, when the root is dug up it lets out a horrible shriek that kills all who hear it or drives them mad. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example, Josephus (c. 37 C.E. Jerusalem – c. 100) gives the following directions for pulling it up:

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 endeavors 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. (V.A. Peduto, translating Greek physician Dioscorides)

This superstition, with the plant letting out a deadly scream and using a dog to remove the mandrake, is well known in the literature. Other superstitions quoted by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder, noting the dire consequences of uprooting a mandrake, stated that these could be avodied by making circles around the plant on the ground with a sword and then facing west while digging (Peduto 2001).

Mandrake has been used for expelling demons and was an important ingredient for lunar rituals, being sued to produce moon water. The moon water was produced by placing small pieces of root in a chalice of water and exposing it to moonlight every night until the full moon (Blakemore and Jennett 2001).

Some of the magical qualities of mandrake can be found in this passage from Chapter XVI, “Witchcraft and Spells” of Arthur Edward Waite’s edited translation of Eliphas Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1896):

…we will add a few words about mandragores (mandrakes) and androids, which several writers on magic confound with the waxen image; serving the purposes of bewitchment. The natural mandragore is a filamentous root which, more or less, presents as a whole either the figure of a man, or that of the virile members. It is slightly narcotic, and an aphrodisiacal virtue was ascribed to it by the ancients, who represented it as being sought by Thessalian sorcerers for the composition of philtres. Is this root the umbilical vestige of our terrestrial origin? We dare not seriously affirm it, but all the same it is certain that man came out of the slime of the earth, and his first appearance must have been in the form of a rough sketch. The analogies of nature make this notion necessarily admissible, at least as a possibility. 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. Some alchemists, impressed by this idea, speculated on the culture of the mandragore, and experimented in the artificial reproduction of a soil sufficiently fruitful and a sun sufficiently active to humanise the said root, and thus create men without the concurrence of the female. (See: Homunculus) Others, who regarded humanity as the synthesis of animals, despaired about vitalising the mandragore, but they crossed monstrous pairs and projected human seed into animal earth, only for the production of shameful crimes and barren deformities. The third method of making the android was by galvanic machinery. One of these almost intelligent automata was attributed to Albertus Magnus, and it is said that St Thomas (Thomas Aquinas) destroyed it with one blow from a stick because he was perplexed by its answers. This story is an allegory; the android was primitive scholasticism, which was broken by the Summa of St Thomas, the daring innovator who first substituted the absolute law of reason for arbitrary divinity, by formulating that axiom which we cannot repeat too often, since it comes from such a master: ” A thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just. The real and serious android of the ancients was a secret which they kept hidden from all eyes, and Mesmer was the first who dared to divulge it; it was the extension of the will of the magus into another body, organised and served by an elementary spirit; in more modern and intelligible terms, it was a magnetic subject.

It was a common belief in some countries that a mandrake would grow where the seed of a hanged man dripped on to the earth; this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who “projected human seed into animal earth.” In Germany, the plant is known as the Alraune: the novel Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers is based around a soulless woman conceived from a hanged man’s seed, the title referring to this myth of the mandrake’s origins.

The following is taken from “Paul Christian’s “The History and Practice of Magic:

Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For thirty days water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the thirty-first day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.


There are innumerable literary references to the mandrake. The following are some of the more well-known examples.

  • In the Bible

In Genesis 30:14, Leah gives Rachel mandrakes in exchange for a night of sleeping with their husband.

During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

Song of Songs 7:13 KJV

“The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my lover.”

  • Machiavelli wrote a play Mandragola (The Mandrake) in which the plot revolves around the use of a mandrake potion as a ploy to bed a woman.
  • Shakespeare refers four times to mandrake and twice under the name of mandragora.

“…Not poppy, nor mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep Which thou owedst yesterday.” Shakespeare: Othello III.iii

Aton Re Luven Angel 4 —–

“Give me to drink mandragora… That I might sleep out this great gap of time My Antony is away.” Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra I.v “Shrieks like mandrakes’ torn out of the earth.” Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet IV.iii “Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake’s groan” King Henry IV part II III.ii

  • Thomas Lovell Beddoes uses the name of mandrake for a character in his play, Death’s Jest Book.
  • John Webster in The Duchess of Malfi:

Ferdinand “I have this night digged up a mandrake…”

  • John Donne’s song:

“Go and catch a falling star Get with child a mandrake root Tell me where all past years are, Or who cleft the devil’s foot…”

  • Ezra Pound used it as metaphor in his poem “Portrait d’une femme”:

“You are a person of some interest, one comes to you And takes strange gain away: Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else That might prove useful and yet never proves, “

  • Blakemore, C., and S. Jennett. 2001. The Oxford Companion to the Body. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019852403X.
  • Pitois, C. and Paul Christian. (1963) 1972. The History and Practice of Magic, edited by Ross Nichols; James Kirkup and Julian Shaw (Translators). New York: Citadel Press. ISBN 080650126X.


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