The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Mandrake (plant)


|- style="text-align:center;" ! style="background: lightgreen;" | Scientific classification |- style="text-align:center;" |

|- valign=top |Kingdom:||Plantae |- valign=top |Division:||Magnoliophyta |- valign=top |Class:||Magnoliopsida |- valign=top |Order:||Solanales |- valign=top |Family:||Solanaceae |- valign=top |Genus:||Mandragora |} |- style="text-align:center; background:lightgreen;" !Species |- | Mandragora autumnalis
Mandragora officinarum
Mandragora turcomanica
Mandragora caulescens |} Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae). Their roots, because their curious bifurcations cause them to have a semblance to the human figure (male & female), have long been used in magical spells and witchcraft.

The mandrake, Mandragora officinarum , is a plant called by the Arabs luffāh, or beid el-jinn (i.e. genie's eggs). The parsley-shaped root is often branched. Magicians mould this root into a rude resemblance to the human figure, by pinching a constriction a little below the top, so as to make a kind of head and neck, and twisting off the upper branches except two, which they leave as arms, and the lower, except two, which they leave as legs. This root gives off at the surface of the ground a rosette of ovate-oblong to ovate, wrinkled, crisp, sinuate-dentate to entire leaves, 6 to 16 in. long, somewhat resembling those of the tobacco-plant. There spring from the neck a number of one-flowered nodding peduncles, bearing whitish-green flowers, nearly 2 in. broad, which produce globular, succulent, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes, which ripen in late spring.

In legend it is alleged that when the plant is pulled from the ground, it shrieks in pain. Supposedly, this shriek is able to kill or deafen an unprotected human; the occult literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example Josephus gives the following directions for pulling it up:

"A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear."


Like many of its relatives of the Solanaceae, Mandragora contains a range of alkaloid drugs: atropine, hyoscine, and others. The plant, alone or as an alcoholic infusion, has a long history of use as an anaesthetic.

A frequently-quoted example of early chemical warfare is an incident from 200 B.C., when Carthaginian defenders of a city withdrew, leaving behind quantities of wine laced with mandragora. The invading Romans drank the wine, were rendered insensible, and were killed by the returning defenders.

Dioscorides alludes to the employment of mandragora to produce anęsthesia when patients are cut or burnt. Pliny refers to the effect of the odour of mandragora as causing sleep if it was taken "before cuttings and puncturings lest they be felt". Lucian speaks of mandragora as used before the application of the cautery. Galen has a short allusion to its power to paralyze sense and motion. Isidorus is quoted as saying: "A wine of the bark of the root is given to those about to undergo operation that being asleep they may feel no pain."

Ugone da Lucca , who was born a little after the middle of the twelfth century discovered a soporific which, on being inhaled, put patients to sleep so that they were insensible to pain during the operations performed by him — the drug he employed is known to have been mandragora.


Mandrake, from Heb., dud‘, meaning "love plant", which Orientals believe ensures conception. All interpreters hold Mandragora officinarum to be the plant intended in Gen., xxx, 14 (love-philtre), and Cant., vii, 13 (smell of the mandrakes). Numbers of other plants have been suggested, as bramble-berries, Zizyphus Lotus, L., the sidr of the Arabs, the banana, the lily, the citron, and the fig. But none of these renderings is supported by satisfactory evidence.

Magic, spells and witchcraft

Extract from Chapter XVI, Witchcraft and Spells : Transcendental Magic its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Levi. A Complete Translation of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie by Arthur Edward Waite. 1896

"... we will add a few words about mandragores (mandrakes) and androids, which several writers on magic confound with the waxen image; serving the purposes of bewitchment. The natural mandragore is a filamentous root which, more or less, presents as a whole either the figure of a man, or that of the virile members. It is slightly narcotic, and an aphrodisiacal virtue was ascribed to it by the ancients, who represented it as being sought by Thessalian sorcerers for the composition of philtres. Is this root the umbilical vestige of our terrestrial origin ? We dare not seriously affirm it, but all the same it is certain that man came out of the slime of the earth, and his first appearance must have been in the form of a rough sketch. The analogies of nature make this notion necessarily admissible, at least as a possibility. The first men were, in this case, a family of gigantic, sensitive mandragores, animated by the sun, who rooted themselves up from the earth ; this assumption not only does not exclude, but, on the contrary, positively supposes, creative will and the providential co-operation of a first cause, which we have reason to call God. Some alchemists, impressed by this idea, speculated on the culture of the mandragore, and experimented in the artificial reproduction of a soil sufficiently fruitful and a sun sufficiently active to humanise the said root, and thus create men without the concurrence of the female. Others, who regarded humanity as the synthesis of animals, despaired about vitalising the mandragore, but they crossed monstrous pairs and projected human seed into animal earth, only for the production of shameful crimes and barren deformities. The third method of making the android was by galvanic machinery. One of these almost intelligent automata was attributed to Albertus Magnus, and it is said that St Thomas (Thomas Aquinas) destroyed it with one blow from a stick because he was perplexed by its answers. This story is an allegory; the android was primitive scholasticism, which was broken by the Summa of St Thomas, the daring innovator who first substituted the absolute law of reason for arbitrary divinity, by formulating that axiom which we cannot repeat too often, since it comes from such a master: " A thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just." The real and serious android of the ancients was a secret which they kept hidden from all eyes, and Mesmer was the first who dared to divulge it; it was the extension of the will of the magus into another body, organised and served by an elementary spirit; in more modern and intelligible terms, it was a magnetic subject."

It was a common belief in some countries that a mandrake would grow where the semen of a hanged man dripped on to the earth; this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who "projected human seed into animal earth". In Germany, the plant is known as the Alraune: the novel (later adapted as a film) Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers is based around a soulless woman conceived from a hanged man's semen, the title referring to this myth of the Mandrake's origins.

In literature

Shakespeare, in the 16th century, as will be remembered from Romeo and Juliet," refers four times to mandrake and twice under the name of mandragora. Examples are :-

"Give me to drink mandragora...
That I might sleep out this great gap of time
My Antony is away."
Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra, i. 5.
"Shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth."
Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, iv. m3.
"Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan"
King Henry VI Part 2 Act 3. Scene II

John Donne's song:

"Go and catch a falling star
Get with child a mandrake root
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot..."

D. H. Lawrence referred to Mandrake as that "weed of ill-omen"

Ezra Pound used it as metaphor in his poem Portrait d'Une Femme:

"You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away: [...]
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves, [...]"

Harry Potter: Used to revive people who have been petrified in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Samuel Beckett, in Act 1 of Waiting for Godot the two attendants discuss hanging themselves and reference is made to the belief that mandrake is seeded by the ejaculated of hanged men.




Yes, but while waiting.


What about hanging ourselves?


Hmm. It'd give us an erection.

Estragon: (highly excited).

An erection!


With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?


Let's hang ourselves immediately!

Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01