COMMON NAMES: Abu’l-ruh (Old Arabic, “master of the life breath”), Adamova Golowa (Russian, “Adam’s head”), Alrauinwortel (Dutch), Alrune (Swedish), Antimelon (“In The Apple’s Place”), Antimenion (Greek, “Counter Rage”), Apemum (Egyptian/Coptic), Baaras (Hebrew, “The Fire”), Bayd Al-jinn (modern Arabic, “Testes of the Demon”), Bombochylos (Greek, “A Juice that Produces Dull Sounds”), Ciceron (Roman, “Plant of Circe”), Diamonon, Dukkeurt (Danish, “Mad Root”), Kamaros (Greek, “Subject to Fate”), Love Apple, Luffah Manganin (Arabic, “Mad Apple”), Main de Gloire (French), Mala Canina (Roman, “Dog Apple”), Mala Terrestria (Roman, “earth apple”), Mandrake, Mannikin (Belgian, “little man”), Mardom Ghiah (Persian, “man’s plant”), Matragun (Romanian, “witch’s drink”), Matryguna (Galician), Mehr-egiah (Persian, “love plant”), Mela Canina (Italian, “dog apple”) Namtar Ira (Assyrian, “the male [plant] of the god of the plagues”), Natragulya (Hungarian), Pevenka Trava (Russian, “the plant that screams”), Pisdiefje (Dutch), Planta Semihominis (Roman, “half-man plant”), Pomo di Cane (Italian, “dog apple”), Satan’s apple, Siradsch Elkutrhrub (Andalusian Arabic, “root of the demon El-sherif”), Sirag El-kotrub (Arabic/Palestine, “devil’s lamp”), Taraila (Morocco), Tufah Al-jinn (modern Arabic, “apple of the demon”), Tufah Al-Majnun (Arabic, “[love] apple of Majnun”), Womandrake (English), Yabrough (Syrian Arabic, “life giver”), Yabruh (Arabic), Ya Pu Lu (Chinese), Yavruchin (Aramaic)
“The Mandrake is the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ and the burning love ignited by its pleasure is the origin of the human race.” – Hugo Rahner
Mandragora officinarum, or mandrake, is an herb most famous for its root, which can grow up to 100 cm (39”), and often takes on an unusual shape. M. officinarum is a perennial plant whose lengthy and wide leaves grow directly from its roots once each spring. The leaves form a rosette, from the center of which bell-shaped blue or violet flowers grow, making this rosette uniquely identifiable to the mandrake. At all other times throughout the year the plant is hidden underground. The mandrake also produces yellow berries that smell fruity but are more similar in flavor to tomatoes, and its leaves smell much like fresh tobacco (Ratsch 1998, 346).
Mandragora officinarum is found in Southern Europe, and is particularly common in Greece and Italy. It is also found in North Africa, the Middle East, and most Mediterranean islands. It thrives in dry, sunny areas, particularly around ancient temples, but is nevertheless one of the rarest plants in Europe (Ratsch 1998, 346).
TRADITIONAL USES: The mandrake holds a special distinction as being the most famous of all magical plants, due to its many ritual and medical uses and the immense amount of mythology it has generated. Historians have determined that the earliest known mention of the mandrake refers to its use in Babylon; various records are contained in the cuneiform tablets of the Assyrians and the Old Testament. The earliest evidence of ritualistic use occurs in an Ugaritic cuneiform text from Ras Shamra, dated between the fifteenth and fourteenth century B.C.E. There is also evidence in Mesopotamian cuneiform texts that mandrake root was combined with wine to create a psychoactive beverage called “cow’s eye”. This unusual name can probably be attributed to the dilating effect this concoction had on the pupils (Hirschfeld & Linsert 1930 cited in Ratsch 1998, 345).
Ornamentation involving mandrake root was found in the grave of Tutankhamen in Egypt; the plant began to appear widely there after it was brought from Palestine during Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. It became popular as a houseplant and as part of sacred gardens devoted to the goddess Hathor. The yellow fruits were also mentioned frequently in Pharonic art and in love songs of the New Kingdom, often in conjunction with lily flowers (Nymphaea caerulea) (Ratsch 1998, 351).
It is widely believed that the Old Testament contains multiple references to the “love apples” (fruits) of the mandrake as an aphrodisiac (though some disagree that the Old Hebrew term in question actually does translate to “mandrake”). The first of these instances is in Genesis, wherein the scent of the mandrake’s yellow fruits are described as having aphrodisiac properties. These fruits are still prized today as aphrodisiacs in the Near East (Fleisher & Fleisher 1992).
Some evidence exists that the mandrake was used in secret mystical rites in ancient Israel; one of the factors supporting this hypothesis is the significance of the mandrake in Kabbalism as a symbol for “becoming one.” Similarly, in ancient Egypt it appears that mandrake fruits may have been eaten as aphrodisiacs. The ancient Greeks also used the mandrake as a sacred love plant. Records left by the botanist Theophrastus indicate that there was an elaborate ritual even for its collection, enacted under the auspices of the love goddess Aphrodite. Elephants have even been observed eating mandrake directly before copulation (Ratsch 1998. 348-349).
Several accounts exist in various ancient cultures of the mandrake root being used as a protective amulet. It has been carved into anthropomorphic “mandrake men”, and in shamanic societies that were influenced by Christianity, has even been made into crucifixes. Some of these latter specimens are still on display in certain churches throughout these regions (Bauer 1993 cited in Ratsch 1998, 350).
The mandrake was used as part of the ‘witches’ brew’ of ancient European witchcraft, and was probably the most potent entheogenic ingredient of the blend. It was said that if the plant was collected improperly the human-like root would shriek, driving anyone who heard the noise mad. This resulted in many rituals regarding the collection of the root, mostly involving using a dog to pull up the root. The dog would usually die afterward. Those roots that were more anthropomorphic would sometimes be dressed and cared for as “alraun” or “elf-whisperers”, and it was thought that if they were not properly cared for, terrible misfortune would result (Voogelbreinder 2009, 227).
Ancient Germanic people often made use of the plant. In particular, Germanic seeresses, who were known for their clairvoyant abilities far outside of Europe, used mandrake regularly as an ally. The modern German name alraune can be traced back to the ancient Germanic term “Alrun”, which translates to “all knowing” or “he who knows the runes” (Schmidbauer 1969 cited in Ratsch 1998, 345).
The demonization of mandrake begun once Germany became dominated by Christianity. In the Middle Ages, mandragora root was often counterfeited due to its popularity as a talisman. This trend continued even up until the previous century. In more modern but still historic times, there have been many notable mentions of the mandrake by well-known authors, including Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Flaubert (Ratsch 1998, 351).
Closer to our own era, there have been several telling instances of the mandrake in comic illustrations, including in an early Smurfs comic from 1979. This can perhaps be attributed to comic authors’ and readers’ fascination with the magic and the occult, and mandrake’s rich history in that realm. Various psychedelic rock bands have incorporated mandrake lore into their works as well, including Deep Purple and Gong (Ratsch 1998, 353).
Despite mandrake’s rich history, it has become less significant in modern times, apart from the scant few references listed above. This is mostly due to its lack of availability. The plant has not attained a prominent place in subcultures that use psychoactive plants, and it has never been the subject of a modern scientific study.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Burning and inhaling the smoke of the mandrake is the least effective method of experiencing its psychoactive properties. The leaves are picked before the end of the fruiting season, dried in the shade, and used in a smoking blend (either with tobacco or other herbs) or as incense. The root works as incense as well; the smoke is rather easy to inhale, although its smell is not entirely pleasant (Ratsch 1998, 347).
Fresh leaves may be chewed, and fresh mandrake fruits may be consumed. Consuming fresh mandrake fruits is incredibly safe; there have been no known overdoses even after consuming multiple fruits. The root is hardly ever eaten. It is mostly extracted either into water or alcohol; both methods seem to be equally effective (Ratsch 1998, 346-347).
Mandrake root has long been implemented in the making of beer and wine, either as an additive or the basis of the fermentation. When mandrake root is the main ingredient in the brewing process, cinnamon and saffron are sometimes added to improve its taste. Mandrake beer is quite potent, with dosages rarely exceeding one liter — drink with caution! (Ratsch 1998, 347).
The ancient Greeks used fresh or dried mandrake in wine as an aphrodisiac. To make mandrake wine, add a handful of chopped mandrake root to a .75 liter bottle of wine and steep for one week. For maximum potency, it is best not to filter the root pieces out until the wine is gone, and the more sour the wine, the more effective the extraction. Two or three cinnamon sticks and a tablespoon of saffron can be added to improve the flavor (Ratsch 1998, 347-348).
Another popular recipe involves chopping up a large handful each of cinnamon sticks, rhubarb root, vanilla pods, and mandrake root, and steeping in a bottle of white wine for two weeks. The plant matter is then drained, and the beverage is colored with St. John’s wort or saffron and sweetened if desired, most effectively with a combination of royal jelly and honey. Spirits are also an effective choice for mixing with mandrake, though the only place in the world where this practice is still prevalent is Romania (Ratsch 1998, 348).
MEDICINAL USE: It has been said that the mandrake had perhaps the greatest number of uses of any medicinal plant of ancient times. It was used as a an analgesic/anesthetic, abortifacient, antidote, aphrodisiac, inebriant, and as a sleeping agent. And indeed, it was the most heavily utilized narcotic/anesthetic of ancient/late ancient times and the Middle Ages (Ratsch 1998, 353).
Specifically, mandrake root was used for the following conditions: abscesses, arthritis, bone pains, callosities, cramps, discharge, erysipelas, eye disease and inflammation, gout, headaches, hemorrhoids, hip pains, hysteria, infertility, inflammation, labor complications, liver pains, loss of speech, melancholy, menstrual problems, pain, painful joints, possession, scrofula, skin inflammation, sleeplessness, snakebite, spleen pains, stomach ailments, swollen glands, tubercles, tumors, ulcers, uterine inflammation, worms, and wounds. It was also used as a treatment for anxiety and depression (Ratsch 1998, 353).
Mandrake was used by the ancient Assyrians in two main medical contexts: as an analgesic and an anesthetic. More specifically, mandrake was commonly used as a treatment for toothaches, childbirth complications, hemorrhoids, and stomach ailments. This latter use involved adding powdered root to beer (Ratsch 1998, 353).
The Hippocratics in ancient Greece used mandrake as a cure for melancholy. Aristotle categorized it as a sleeping agent, while Plato described it as a powerful anesthetic. The physician Aretaios used it for this purpose when performing surgery. Another physician and scientist, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, used mandrake fruits as sedatives, and root extract as a cure for runny eyes and toothaches. Early medieval Persian manuscripts show that they used mandrake as sleeping aid, along with hemp and opium (Ratsch 1998, 353).
Within the realm of Romanian, Russian, and European folk medicine, mandrake has often been used as part of a salve to treat skin ailments externally. The fresh leaves are also chewed to ward off pain from toothaches, while the smoke from burning dried leaves is inhaled to help with coughs and headaches. Homeopathic physicians prescribe mandrake for headaches (and certain other maladies) in the form of root extractions. Brandy infused with mandrake root is said to be effective in combating the symptoms of chronic rheumatism (Ratsch 1998, 354-355).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The root of Mandragora officinarum contains 0.4% tropane alkaloids. The principle alkaloids present are hyoscyamine and scopolamine. Atropine, and mandragorine are also present (Ratsch 1998, 355).
The ancient lexicographer Suidas noted mandrake’s “hypnotic” effects, while Hildegard von Bingen claimed it produced “illusions”. In 1950’s, one experiential report described mandrake as bringing on “inebriation, narcosis, hallucinations, visions”. More modern research, including within the realm of homeopathy, has shown that the effects of mandrake are very similar to belladonna, including the following clinical symptoms: dry mouth, nose, and throat; muscular atony; an increase in pulse frequency; eye issues such as farsightedness and pupil dilation; and the immediate short-term memory loss (Ratsch 1998, 355).
Modern accounts with mandrake wine describe a more enjoyable experience, including sensations of pleasure coursing through the body, a mild euphoria, and dream activity, with a greater frequency of sexually oriented dreams. Slight cranial pressure and visual hallucinations may occur. An increased proclivity towards music, particularly rhythm, has been noted, as has a diminished sense of ego. Farsightedness and dry mouth are both reportedly very mild. The sensations begin roughly 15 – 20 minutes after consumption, and the effects of the alcohol are negligible. More recent accounts of the consumption of mandrake fruits do not contain any mention of direct psychoactive effects, but Christian Ratsch noted an increase in erotic dreams (Ratsch 1998, 356).
Fleisher, A., and Z. Fleisher. “The Odoriferous Principle of Mandrake, Mandragora Officinarum L. Aromatic Plants of Holy Land and the Sinai. Part IX.” Journal of Essential Oil Research 4 (1992): 187–188.
Grieve, Maud. “Mandrake.” A Modern Herbal. 1931. Web. 6 Dec. 2009
Ratsch, Christian. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2005. Print.