Hello, everyone and happy Friday! Today we update our herbarium section and we talk about a plant that you’ve probably at least heard about, especially if you’ve watched Harry Potter: The Mandrake.
Despite it has been a bit distorted for cinematographic reasons, this plant was quite known, at least in the past, among witches and witchcraft practitioners. But let’s take baby steps and first of all, let’s analyze this plant under a scientific point of view.
Mandrake & Science
The Mandrake is classified in the “Solanaceae” family, and it’s relatable to the Nightshade. (We talked about one species of this family, the Deadly Nightshade,here). There are 5 different specimens of Mandrake (turcomanica, autumnalis, officinarum, caulescens and chinghaiensis). However, the one we usually refer to is the officinarum.
It is important to highlight the fact that this plant, given in wrong quantities, is highly toxic, just like the Deadly Nightshade. The Mandrake has loads of different properties, even though the ones for which is mostly known and used are the narcotic and sedative ones.
Thanks to its chemical components, it can induce a sleep very similar to the REM phase.
Another interesting property is the analgesic one, so the ability to ease the pain (especially for toothache and cramps). According to ancient medicine, this funny plant benefits the sexual sphere as well. It seems that the Mandrake stimulates the sexual desire and potency, and it is a powerful allied against sterility.
As mentioned, this plant MUST be handled with care in phytotherapy with professional assistance and advices since it’s terribly toxic. Needless to say, the DIY is absolutely forbidden. If this is not enough as a deterrent, just know that in high concentration it can cause vomit, hallucinations, tachycardia, and in extreme cases even death. Definitely not a plant to play with.
Mandrake through history…
The myths and legends about the Mandrake are innumerous. It was considered as the witches’ favourite plant, and it was actually employed to make loads of potions and rituals in all the Mediterranean area. It is common (in particular on texts about Alchemy), to see the Mandrake represented as a creature with human resemblances, probably due to the anthropomorphic shape of its root. Its use (magical and medical) dates back to the II millennium a.C., at the point that it became the representation of the European Witchcraft during the Middle Ages. Some actually categorize it as one of the oldest herbs ever employed in witchcraft.
During Ancient Greeks times, it was mostly used to induce sleep. In general, the Mandrake has always been considered as a miracle plant. Its magical use reached its pinnacle during the Middle Ages, probably brought to Europe by the Crusaders from the Holy Land. It was the most expansive remedy against pain, to the point that merchants started to make up a lot of fake stories just to keep its price high. In 1690, a single root costed the annual salary of an average artisan. Not only this: the Mandrake was one of the first aphrodisiacs and was sacred to the goddess Hekate.
For this “hot” aspect, this plant was mentioned in the satyrical play “La Mandragola” (The Mandrake) by the Italian philosopher Nicolò Machiavelli (which I absolutely recommend the reading).
As mentioned, the roots have an anthropomorphic shape, and it is precisely for this characteristic that it’s believed that the Mandrake has power over the entire human body. If you’re wondering, yes, of course, there is also a distinction between female and male. Legends tell that the Mandrake was created by a man that, unfairly hanged, at the moment of his death dropped his seed on the ground, from which this plant grew after some time. For this reason, it seems that it would be easier to find it close to cemeteries and gallows.
Legends also tell that when the Mandrake is extirpated from the ground, it yells like a human being and its screams can cause death. To prevent this terrible consequence, this plant was gathered following specific rituals that included the employment of feminine urine and the extraction from the soil by a virgin or a black dog.
Uses in Magic.
In terms of magic, the Mandrake improves intellectual ability and makes perceptions stronger; most of all, it was very required for its strong protective and hallucinogenic qualities.
Little curiosity: it’s said that a little Mandrake’s root was hidden underneath the precious stone on Solomon’s magical ring. Apparently, it was taken from the Archangel Micheal to subject spirits and heal obsessions.
I hope you enjoyed this article! I’ll see you soon!