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Mandrake - The Plant that Screams

Updated on October 7, 2016
Mandragora autumnalis (Mandragora officinarum) דודא רפואי
Mandragora autumnalis (Mandragora officinarum) דודא רפואי | Source
The Screaming Plant
The Screaming Plant | Source

The Screaming Plant

Long ago, many people believed that a plant called the mandrake was magical. Witches and wizards used to hunt for mandrake roots to use in magic spells.

But getting a mandrake root wasn't easy. Everyone believed that if a mandrake was pulled out of the ground it would scream. And anyone who heard a mandrake scream would die! So when a witch went mandrake picking, she did her best to protect herself.

First, she waited for a night when there was no moon. Then, with a black dog, a horn, a bone, and a lump of wax she went looking for mandrakes. When she found a mandrake, she tied a cord around it stem. She tied the other end of the cord around the dog's neck.

Then the witch stuffed her ears with some of the wax and waited. At exactly midnight she held out the bone to the dog. The dog ran to get the bone - and pulled the mandrake out of the ground. But the witch was safe. She couldn't hear the mandrake scream because her ears were stuffed up and she was blowing the horn as loudly as she could.

Reference: Childcraft Annual 1972, The Green Kingdom

Mandrake Plant - Facts

Latin Name: Mandragora officianarum (Solanaceae)

Other Names: Mandragora, Satan's Apple, Love Apple, Circe's Plant, Dudaim, Ladykins, Mannikin, Racoon, Berry, Bryony roots, Alraun, Devil's Testicles

Family: Nightshade

Native Home: Herbaceous perennials native to the Mediterranean and to Himalayan areas.

Edible? No! The root, which is rather toxic, has anodyne and soporific properties. In larger amounts it causes delirium and madness.

What's In a Name? Recorded from Middle English, the name comes from medieval Latin mandragora, associated with man (because of the shape of its root) + drake in the Old English sense ‘dragon’. The Arab name mandragora means ‘hurtful to cattle’. This is where the name 'Satan's Apple' comes from. The little yellow fruit resemble apples and the cows will eat them.

Mandragora officinarum, Common Mandrake, fruits
Mandragora officinarum, Common Mandrake, fruits | Source

Mandrake - Traditional Medicine

Mandrake was the most popular anesthetic during the Middle Ages and used as a narcotic in the Elizabethan Age. During operations in Pliny's day, a piece of the root was given to the patient to chew before undergoing operations. The Ancients, including Romans, Greeks and Celts considered it a soporific and an anadyne.

Mandrake - In the Bible

I found a couple of reference to Mandrake in the Bible, so far this is my favorite one.

Song of Solomon

Chapter 7

  1. How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.

  2. Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.

  3. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.

  4. Thy neck is as a tower of ivory: thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.

  5. Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.

  6. How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!

  7. This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.

  8. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof; now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;

  9. And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.

  10. I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.

  11. Come, my beloved, let us go into the field; let us lodge in the villages.

  12. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth; there will I give thee my loves.

  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.

As I finish writing I wonder if the smell that the mandrakes give off are the flowers in bloom.

Mandrake Root : Harry Potter Potion #10

An 18th-century German book called mandrake the strongest "troll herb."

Magic and Medicine of Plants
Magic and Medicine of Plants | Source

Mandrake Plant & Witches

Witches seem to be either good or evil, and the reputation of a "good witch" often came from the ability to come up with herbal brews to satisfy people's wants and needs.

A typical parish priest in those times did not look favorably on this competition. Witches were accused of making deals with the devil, black magic and sorcery!

And yet... none of that mattered, they provided a service that the priest could not.

For a price a man could get a potion guaranteed to soften his lady's heart. Had the family cow dried up? Was the baby ailing for no known reason? No doubt they were bewitched, and if a priests prayers could not help, then perhaps the witch's incantations could.

When discovery could mean death, witches conducted their business in the strictest secrecy. Much of what little of the witches' lore survives, is found in the transcripts of their trials. These transcripts contain testimony extracted under torture, together with descriptions from the witch hunters' manuals, fanciful accounts that seem to owe more to the prosecutors lurid imaginations than to fact.

The witches continued to use the plant lore that the Christian church deemed as "heathen" mysteries. In patches hidden deep in the woods, witches grew forbidden plants. Many of the witches' herbs were poisonous, plants now recognized as containing potent drugs and toxins. Most also had ancient reputations. The familiar henbane and mandrake were witches' standbys. By special treatment, however, witches tried to endow these old plant servants with new powers..

Thus, the witches preferred to harvest mandrakes from beneath a gallows tree. The hanged man had to have been a "pure youth." That meant a congenital criminal who had been wicked from conception and devoted his whole life to crimes. The newly harvested root had to have special treatment. It had to be bathed in wine, clothed in silk and velvet, and fed every week, preferably with a sacramental wafer stolen during communion.

Like other nightshades, the mandrake derives it reputation for magical power partly from its toxicity. This potent herb can kill the unwary, although is has also served as an important source of therapeutic medicines.

Source: Adaptions from Reader's Digest, Magic and Medicine of Plants

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