Mandrake – Mandragora officianalis
Folk Names: Alraun, Satan’s Apple, Mandragora, Devil’s Testicles, Brain Thief, Gallows, Herb of circe, Mannikin, Raccoon Berry, Sorcerer’s Root. The Greek name from which the word ‘Mandragora’ is derived implies a plant that is harmful to cattle.
Deities: Hecate, Hathor, Circe
It was believed that mandrake possessed the magic power to heal a great variety of diseases, to induce a feeling of love, affection and happiness. That is why the roots of mandrake used to be as expensive as gold. However, except for the myths about this herb, there is also documented data that it has been widely used in ancient medicine. A Roman physician reported complicated surgical operations having been performed in Alexandria under the anaesthetic effect of mandrake. Arabian physicians also used it for anaesthetic purposes. In 11th and 12th centuries, mandrake was recognized as an effective painkiller by the famous at that time Universities of Bolonia and Salerno. The “amazing” effects of this herb are actually due to the high content of the alkaloids scopolamine, mandragorin, and hyosciamine.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Mandrake became popular as a magical plant, and was hailed as a miracle talisman, capable of curing just about anything. It was the root in particular that emanated this mysterious power to fascinate and entrance people – most likely due to its shape, which with a little stretch of the imagination could be seen to resemble a human body. Anthropomorphism (projecting human qualities onto non-human things or beings) was an important aspect of the medieval mindset and the Mandrake root lent itself perfectly to such projections. These magical roots came either as ‘Mandrake women’ or ‘Mandrake men’, depending on their shape, but either way they were thought to be powerful allies who could perform true miracles for their masters – anything from attracting love where previously there was none, to getting rich quick and striking unsuspected luck, to warding off misfortunes and evil spells, to becoming invincible in battle.
Though similar in composition to Belladonna and Datura, Mandrake finds little use in modern medical or herbal practice. However, in ancient times it was regarded as a powerful and important medicine. The roots were pressed for their juice, which was combined with wine and then reduced by boiling. This was taken as an anaesthetic prior to surgery. The dosage was rather crucial, as too much would put the patient to sleep permanently. Dioscurides recommends a concoction of this juice mixed with honey mead as a purgative to eliminate ‘mucous and gall’, though again, the dosage was crucial. The juice was also added to a suppository, which would act as a powerful emmenagogoue and abortive. Inserted anally it would induce sleep. The leaves were applied as a poultice to swellings, inflammations and hardened glands.
A Mandrake root, placed on the mantel in the home, will give the house protection, fertility, and prosperity. Mandrake is also hung on the headboard for protection during sleep, carried to attract love, and worn to prevent contraction of illnesses. Where there is mandrake, demons cannot reside, and so the root is used in exorcism.
Magickal Uses: As a talisman or amulet; aphrodisiac, love magic, good luck in business or gambling, counter-magic, protector, warding off of evil spirits or spells, invincible against any kind of weapons, flying ointment.
Money placed beside a mandrake root (especially silver coins) are said to double, the scent of the mandrake causes sleep.
To ‘activate’ a dried mandrake root (to bring its powers out of hibernation), place it in some prominent location in the house and leave it there undisturbed for three days. Then place it in warm water and leave overnight. Afterwards, the root is activated and may be used in any magical practice. The water in which the root has bathed can be sprinkled at the windows and doors of the house to protect it, or onto people to purify them.
The mandrake has also long served as a poppet in image magic, but its extreme scarcity and high cost usually forces the magician and Witch to look for substitutes; ash roots, apples, the root of the white briony, the American may apple and many others have been used.
This plant contains powerful toxic substances, which if ingested can be fatal. Do not use internally and apply extreme caution even with external uses. Sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory hypnotic and hallucinogenic, emmenagogue, abortive, emetic, anodine
Poisonous Plants Org
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs