Mandragora - Mandragora officinarum
© Mikell Y Worley, Mandrake, Watercolor and Pen and Ink, 5" x 7'
This year I'm featuring the Deadly Herbs of Halloween. We'll begin with Mandrake, the root of Mandragora. Legend states that the plant sprung from the dripping blood and semen of men who were hanged at the gallows.
Mandrake, translated as the dragon resembling man, (Atropa mandragora, Mandragora officinale) is one of the most powerful of the Halloween Herbs. The root, said to resemble the form of a human body, can grow to a length of three or four feet. It is most often associated with males (Man-drake, Mandragan, Mandragor, Mannkin), but other names include a feminine reference (Ladykins and Womandrake). And there are other folk names including Brain Thief, Wild Lemon, and Raccoon Berry. Do you see why I love herbs?
Another name is Herb of Circe, as it is thought to be the herb used in the brew made by the sorceress Circe (Kirke) to turn Odysseus's trespassing men into swine. And there is more than one herb of Circe. More on that later.
If that weren't enough, there are additional benefits! It can protect your home and assure affluence and abundance. Silver coins placed next to this handy root will double in amount over night. Even those of us who aren't known for our mathematical expertise can see the benefit!
Mandrake can be used to attract love if you hang the root on the headboard of your bed. Keep in mind, this is a three to four foot long hairy root that looks something like a person. I'm just wondering how I'd react if I woke up in the middle of the night and . . . .oh, never mind. Once true love is guaranteed it will ensure fertility and the scent ensures a peaceful night's sleep - at least until the baby arrives!
But there is a problem. Mandrake roots are rare and expensive, and, well they should be, considering the challenges involved with obtaining one. To ensure that the magic is intact, there are certain procedures that must be followed. You don't just go out with a shovel to your nearest mandrake patch and start digging.The root must be obtained on a moonless night, ideally yanked out just at the stroke of midnight.
There is another problem. The mandrake does not want to be removed from the ground. It shrieks in protest. The shrill screams seem to have a derogatory effect on all that hear them and drive them to insanity, so as you can imagine, people aren't lining up to be harvesters of the mandrake root.
There is a solution but Zippy, my Puggle, and I don't like it. "The safest way to secure a mandrake was to tie a dog to the plant on a moonless night. Plugging one's ears with beeswax and blowing a horn to drown out the shrieks, the dog was whipped at the stroke of midnight and the jumping animal pulled the screeching root from the ground and died."
Died. A dog, at least one or we know they wouldn't have given this example, died so that someone could tie a hairy root to their bedpost.
One more thing to keep in mind when considering the use of mandrake is that is is poisonous. It is a member of the Solanaceae family and the berries and roots contain anticholinergic alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine.
There is good news though! If you're looking for a substitute for your spell this Halloween, you can use the root of an ash, which might be even more difficult to dig up than the Mandrake. It is a tree, after all. The root of betony or may apples have also proved to be worthy alternatives. For an even more easily obtainable solution, apples are said to work just as well. I hope you have read this far before running out to dig up a mandrake root. You may even have an apple readily available in your 'fridge!
In addition to it's many attributes, Mandrake inspired poetry from the hauntingly talented Erica Jong. Enjoy. I'm on my way to tie an apple to my bedpost.
Lehner, Ernst and Johanna (1960), Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, Tudor Publishing Company
Stories from my grandmother
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!