Other Names: Mandragora, Satan's Apple
The Mandrake, the object of so many strange superstitions, is a native of Southern Europe and the Levant. The name Mandragora is derived from two Greek words implying 'hurtful to cattle. ' The Arabs call it 'Satan's apple.'
Among the old Anglo-Saxon herbals both Mandrake and periwinkle are endowed with mysterious powers against those thought to be demon-possessed. The thinking was that demons cannot bear its smell or its presence. Some claim it was certain death to touch this plant, except under certain circumstances. (Source: Wars of the Jews)
The roots of Mandrake supposedly bear a resemblance to the human form (but it really resembles a carrot or parsnip). 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.
The plant was fabled to grow under the gallows of murderers and was believed that death would occur instantly should one attempt to dig up the root. Fables say the plant would "utter a shriek and terrible groans" when dug up, which none might hear and live. It was held, therefore, that he who would take up a plant of Mandrake should tie a dog to it for that purpose, who drawing it out would certainly perish, as the man would have done, had he attempted to dig it up in the ordinary manner.
Mandrake as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The medicinal parts are the dried underground part, the fresh herb and the root. The leaves are all the same size, pubescent, short petiolate, ovate-lanceolate. They have a disgusting smell.
The leaves of the Mandrake are quite harmless and cooling, and have been used for ointments and other external applications. Boiled in milk and used as a poultice, they were used to calm indolent ulcers.
In ancient times, Mandrake was used as an anaesthetic for operations. A piece of the root was given to the patient to chew before undergoing an operation. In small doses it was employed in maniacal cases.
They also used it for procuring rest and sleep in continued pain, also in melancholy, convulsions, rheumatic pains and scrofulous tumors. They mostly employed the bark of the root, either expressing the juice or infusing it in wine or water. The root was finely scraped into a pulp and mixed with brandy to be aid chronic rheumatism.
Native American groups ate the fruit of the plant and used the leaves to make poison (Meyer 1975) or as a cathartic (Vogel 1981). In Southern Appalachian folk medicine, it was the most common folk remedy for constipation and worms (Cavender 2003).
Mandrake is a very strong gland stimulant. It was once used to treat skin problems, digestion, and chronic liver diseases. It was most often combined with other herbs.
In folk medicine, a tincture of Mandragora radix was used for stomach ulcers, colic, asthma, hay fever and whooping cough. Today, Mandrake is only used in homeopathy.
The herb is rarely used in medicinal preparations; in fact, it is pretty much obsolte. In homeopathy, dilutions from the fresh herb are used.
Culinary Uses of Mandrake
Mandrake is a very powerful herb - and very toxic. Therefore, Mandrake should be used with extreme caution and in very small doses.
No health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. Skin reddening, dryness of the mouth, tachycardiac arrhythmias, mydriasis (the 4 early warning symptoms of a poisoning), accommodation disorders, heat build-up through decline in sweat secretion, micturition disorders and constipation can occur as side effects, particularly with overdoses.
Pregnant women should not use this herb.
In large doses Mandrake is said to excite delirium and madness.
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