Mandragora officinarum is a poisonous plant growing up to 30 cm tall. It is native to southern and central Europe and lands around the Mediterranean Sea. It grows in woodlands and dappled shade. Mandrake roots are hallucinogenic and narcotic.
The leaves grow in a rosette, are oblong and up to 40 cm long. The white-green or purple flowers grow up to 5 cm in width and are borne on stems springing from the neck. The flowers are hermaphroditic (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by insects. After flowering the plant produces globular, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Above ground the mandrake is relatively unremarkable – it is below ground where the magic and mystery of this plant reveals itself. The fresh or dried root contains highly poisonous alkaloids, including atropine and hyoscyamine. The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic, and in sufficient quantities induces a state of oblivion.
Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, although superstition has played a large part in the uses to which it has been applied, and it is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism.
In ancient times it was used as an anaesthetic for surgery. Juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions and mania.
In the past, mandrake was often made into amulets which were believed to bring good fortune and cure sterility.
One superstition says that anyone who pulls up the root of a mandrake will be condemned to hell, and it is thought the root would scream as it is pulled from the ground. This led to people tying one end of a rope to the plant and using animals to pull the roots from the soil. With its uniquely varied history, the mandrake seed makes a fascinating seed for adoption as a gift.