By Ana Vice
The mandrake is a notorious (albeit highly poisonous) plant of ancient origins with distinct features. Mandrakes commonly have a short stem bearing a tuft of oval leaves and these leaves form a rosette at the base of each plant. The flowers are bell-shaped and consist of five petals, usually purple or yellow in color, and its fruit is a fleshy orange berry. Mandrake roots are long, thick, and forked – which is often why they are described as human-like. This human resemblance ties back to the idea that when uprooted, the mandrake will "scream."
Some of the earliest accounts of the mandrake date back to ancient Mesopotamia circa 2000 BC (BCE). Long ago in the Middle East, the mandrake was used for both medicinal and magickal purposes. Some surgeons were said to have sedated their patients prior to surgery using the mandrake root. Ancient Arabs called mandrake the Beid el Jinn, or the Eggs of the Jinn (Jinn are dangerous spirits in Islamic mythology and not to be messed with). The mandrake is also mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 30:14, Genesis 30:16, and Songs of Solomon 7:13).
It’s important to note that mandrake is a member of the nightshades, as well as a hallucinogenic and narcotic alkaloid. Nightshades are in the Solanaceae family and there are over 2000 species (herbs, fruits, roots, or vegetables). They contain the alkaloid solanine, which is toxic in high concentrations. Some have been used medicinally for centuries, such as Black Nightshade or Bittersweet Nightshade and some are used in cooking (like tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, goji berries, tomatillos, and eggplants, just to name a few). However, nightshades such as mandrake, henbane, and belladonna are poisonous and can be deadly if ingested by humans or animals.
Mandrake is connected to Circe, as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey. Circe was the daughter of Helios (The Sun God) and Perse (a sea nymph) and she was skilled in both herbalism and transformation. As an enchantress on the Isle of Aeaea, Circe used her talents to transform people who offended her or meant her harm into animals. Mandrake is associated with Circe because of its soporific qualities and Odysseus used mullein to protect himself from her.
Mandrake is also one of the sacred plants growing in the Goddess Hekate’s garden in the Orphic Argonautica. In this myth, Medea (a priestess of Hekate) makes an ointment from the Plant of Prometheus (Mandrake) and rubs onto Jason’s armor to make him invincible in search of the golden fleece. Furthermore, mandrake has been a traditional ingredient in the flying ointment magickal formula of witches.
The European mandrake (often written about during the Medieval and Renaissance periods) originates from the genus Mandragora. Mandragora grows in Europe, the Mediterranean region, and China. Ever popular in Slavic folklore, mandrake is said to have the ability to open any door, promote good luck, and attract money, in addition to aiding in protection. On the mountain Rtanj, mandrake can be found by the aid of a hedgehog or tortoise. Soldiers would stitch a piece of the lower part of the root into the lining of their military uniforms for protection against their enemies. Mandrake (or Raskovnik in Serbian) has the power to collect negative energy and some believe the upper part of the mandrake root can be put into a red bag and kept hidden in the home to keep a family safe from harm.
Did you know that the Mandrake was said to come in male and female varieties? Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides during the 1st century AD (CE) describe these male and female species in great detail. The female has a heavy scent and appears darker with slender leaves, unlike the broader leaves of the paler, sweeter smelling male mandrake. In addition to protection the mandrake has been used for fertility and love magick.
The desire to create artificial life is not a new concept. Mandrake has been associated with the concept of the homunculus (Latin for "little man" and the diminutive of homo or "human being"), as described by Paracelsus. According to alchemical philosophy, the mandrake acts as a homunculus and can be sealed in a bottle to serve or represent a magician themselves. Because of this the magician (or alchemist) would procure a mandrake root and carefully clean and make it ready to become a catalytic or vessel for magickal purposes. The process was completed by placing human semen into the mandrake for a period of time with an application of heat.
American Mandrake or May Apple grows in damp areas in the Northeastern United States and parts of South Canada. It looks like European Mandrake with its human-like root, but has a leaf attached to a long stem that looks like the palm of a human hand. This is why some call it Witch’s Umbrella.
Witchy tip: Spell for protection, prosperity, and good health: Take a mandrake root (or part of one) and place it in a red cloth or bag. Hide it in the hearth of your home where it will be undisturbed. Otherwise, draw or find an image of a mandrake root and place it above the hearth in your home.
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