The Mandragora Root

Mercury

The Mandragora, or Mandrake in English, is often found in European Folklore describing a plant whose roots have magical powers, protecting its owner from evil spirits. It is said that the Odyssey’s sorceress Circe used it both in her potions and to turn men into pigs.

But the most interesting aspect of the Mandragora is, of course, the similarity between the shape of its roots with either the human shape or the shape of human legs. We believe this to have inspired countless tales.

It is very dangerous to uproot it because, according to legend, “(…)when the root is dug up, it screams and kills all who hear it”. Josephus explains how to do it: “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.”

Then, quoting Jean-Baptiste Pitois in The History and Practice of Magic:

“Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For 30 days, water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the 31st day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.”

“Mandragora” - Herbarium Apuleii and other works, Lombardy, c.1400- Yale Medical Library

Despite this horrendous description by Pitois, the mandrake was associated with sexuality as its root was used as an aphrodisiac and fertility drug, as seen in several books and hidden in the Bible. We know, as well, that it has hallucinogenic or narcotic properties and that it was used in medicine as an anaesthetic or to treat several kinds of injuries. It is also said to be highly poisonous, so we cannot advise you to use it for “home cooking”. Be careful out there, folks.

“ΜΑΝΔΡΑΓΟΡΑ - Mandrake” - manuscript of Dioscurides De Materia Medica, Unknown artist, 7th century (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale)
“The Tree of Good and Evil Knowledge” - from Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians, by J. D. U. Eckhardt, 1788
“Fructus mandragore” -Tacuinum Sanitatis, Rhineland, mid- 15th century. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris)
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