Mandrakes (mandragora) are mentioned in the Bible as an aid to fertility (cf. Genesis 30:14), but what exactly are mandrakes? I hear they are poisonous, have narcotic properties, or aid with fertility, but is there a certain plant today that is a mandrake, or are they a sort of mythical plant?
@pnuts Can you migrate my question, please?– GeremiaAug 6, 2017 at 21:22
Mandrake these days is taken to mean Mandragora officinarum, but there is a lot of myth surrounding this plant throughout history; the plant referred to as mandrake in early references may or may not be the same plant. Mandragora officinarum is a relative of deadly nightshade and a member of the Solanaceae famiy of plants, many of which are toxic, or have toxic parts. Any association or possible use of this plant as an aid to fertility was based simply on the appearance of the root rather than any of its chemical properties.
M. officinarum, if consumed, is hallucinogenic, narcotic, purgative and emetic - the fruits are said to be the least toxic part, the roots the worst. Some sources suggest the leaves can be consumed, but other sources say they cannot or should not be eaten. Alkaloids from this plant have been used to produce a form of chemotherapy as a treatment, and I wouldn't be at all keen on consuming any part of it. You might find the historical, mythical background and information here: The Poison Garden website of interest.
It has quite attractive bluish/lilac flowers, with leaves that could be mistaken for borage. It can be grown from seed, is hardy down to -15degC, dislikes root disturbance in much the same way as carrots do, since the root is similar, so best planted where it can be left to grow undisturbed. It tolerates part shade, likes free draining soil conditions (stony soil will cause forking of the root), soil ph acid to neutral; it grows wild in parts of Europe. This plant is no longer used in modern day herbalism.
There are 6 species in Europe and Asia, first described in 1753, 2species in Native to Europe, M autumnalis(purple) and M officinarum(green flowers).The mandrake for famous for being an ancient medicine, used a s a narcotic and an anaesthetic for operations, and thus all sorts of myths surrounded it. The root is liken to a human torso and was said to drive men mad when dug up, therefore a dog was tied to the root and made to pull it up. There's a picture in the Codex Vindobonensis of Dioscorides dated 512AD Showing the homunculus like mandrake being handed to Dioscorides,and the expired dog– olantighAug 9, 2017 at 17:25