Mandrake, Mandragora

Mandragora officinarum

Mandrake is a plant with a very short stem, long leaves, and extraordinary roots that are very similar in shape to a human figure, which explains why Columella named it planta semiliominis which means “semi-plant, semi-human”. 

The legendary mandrake, or mandragora, originates from North Africa. It is interesting that Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79) wrote the following with reference to this plant: "If one drinks a large amount of its sap, one is doomed to death. The one who uses it in a normal quantity is exposed to its soporific effect.  Some people drink it to inactivate snake poisoning.” Plinius Secundus’ statement summarizes the effects of the plant, pointing out not only the danger of its use but also the healing effect, which was much exaggerated in the past.

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. Mandrake is no longer used in medicine. All myths about this plant have already been dispelled and there is no mystery about it anymore.