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Mandragora officinarum


Mandragora officinarum is the type species of the plant genus Mandragora. It is often known as mandrake, although this name is also used for other plants. Template:As of, sources differ significantly in the species they use for Mandragora plants native to the Mediterranean region. The main species found around the Mediterranean is called Mandragora autumnalis, the autumn mandrake. In a broader circumscription, all the plants native to the countries around the Mediterranean Sea are placed in M. officinarum, which thus includes M. autumnalis. The names autumn mandrake and Mediterranean mandrake are then used.<ref name=GRIN/> Whatever the circumscription, Mandragora officinarum is a perennial herbaceous plant with ovate leaves arranged in a rosette, a thick upright root, often branched, and bell-shaped flowers followed by yellow or orange berries.

Because mandrakes contain deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids and the shape of their roots often resembles human figures, they have been associated with a variety of superstitious practices throughout history. They have long been used in magic rituals, today also in contemporary pagan practices such as Wicca and Odinism.<ref name=Moore>Template:Cite web</ref> However, the so-called "mandrakes" used in this way are not always species of Mandragora let alone Mandragora officinarum; for example, Bryonia alba, the English mandrake, is explicitly mentioned in some sources.


Mandragora plant from Israel that some sources would place in Mandragora autumnalis rather than Mandragora officinarum

Template:As of, Mandragora officinarum has three or four different circumscriptions (see Taxonomy below). The description below applies to a broad circumscription, used in a 1998 revision of the genus, in which the name is used for all the plants native to Mediterranean region.<ref name=Ungr98/> Thus defined, Mandragora officinarum is a very variable perennial herbaceous plant with a long thick root, often branched. It has almost no stem, the leaves being borne in a basal rosette. The leaves are very variable in size and shape, with a maximum length of Template:Convert. They are usually either elliptical in shape or wider towards the end (obovate), with varying degrees of hairiness.<ref name=Ungr98/>

The flowers appear from autumn to spring (September to April). They are borne in the axils of the leaves. The flower stalks (pedicels) are also very variable in length, up to Template:Convert long. The five sepals are Template:Convert long, fused together at the base and then forming free lobes to about a half to two-thirds of their total length. The five petals are greenish white to pale blue or violet in colour, Template:Convert long, and, like the sepals, joined together at the base with free lobes at the end. The lobes are between half as long as the petals to almost as long. The five stamens are joined to the bases of the petals and vary in length from Template:Convert. The anthers of the stamens are usually yellow or brown, but are sometimes pale blue.<ref name=Ungr98/>

The fruit which forms in late autumn to early summer (November to June) is a berry, shaped like a globe or an ellipsoid (i.e. longer than wide), with a very variable diameter of Template:Convert. When ripe, the fruit is glossy, and yellow to orange – somewhat resembling a small tomato. It contains yellow to light brown seeds, Template:Convert long.<ref name=Ungr98/>

Earlier, a different circumscription was used, in which Mandragora officinarum referred only to plants found in northern Italy and part of the coast of former Yugoslavia, most Mediterranean mandrakes being placed in Mandragora autumnalis.<ref name=FE/><ref name=JackBerr79/> The description above would then apply to both species combined, with M. officinarum having greenish-white rather than violet petals, up to Template:Convert long rather than usually Template:Convert or longer, and a berry that is globose rather than ellipsoid.<ref name=FE/> More recently, plants native to the Levant have been separated out as Mandragora autumnalis, leaving those found in the rest of the Mediterranean area as M. officinarum. One difference then is that the size of the seeds of M. officinarum is less than half the size of those of M. autumnalis.<ref name=TuVoliDillSun10/>


Mandragora officinarum was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in the first edition of Species Plantarum.<ref name=IPNI_Mandragora_officinarum/><ref name=Linn53/> It is the type species of the genus Mandragora.<ref name=JackBerr79/> (Linnaeus later changed his mind and in 1759 placed M. officinarum in the genus Atropa as A. mandragora.<ref name=TPL_kew-2506563/>) Linnaeus regarded M. officinarum as the sole species in the genus, at that time only known from the Mediterranean region. Jackson and Berry (1979)<ref name=JackBerr79/> and Ungricht et al. (1998)<ref name=Ungr98/> have documented some of the subsequent confusion over the number of Mediterranean species of Mandragora and their scientific names. Ungricht et al. describe the confusion as "incredible" and a "morass".<ref name=Ungr98/>

The first confusion relates to the name "Mandragora officinalis Mill.", dated to 1768 in the eighth edition of Philip Miller's The gardener's dictionary. However, this work uses the epithet officinarum, not "officinalis".<ref name=Mill68/> There is a reference to "Mandragora officinalis" as a synonym in the 9th edition of The gardener's dictionary of 1807. However, there was no such earlier use of the name, and Ungricht et al. say that "officinalis" is an orthographic error for the correct epithet officinarum, so that the name "Mandragora officinalis Mill." (and any subsequent uses of this epithet) have "no real nomenclatural standing".<ref name=Ungr98/>

The second confusion relates to the number of Mediterranean species of Mandragora (a confusion which continues). At different times, between one and five taxa have been recognized.<ref name=Ungr98/> Dioscorides was among those who distinguished between "male" and "female" mandrakes,<ref name=JackBerr79/> a distinction used in 1764 when Garsault published the names Mandragora mas and Mandragora foemina. Flowering time was also used to distinguish species; thus in the 1820s, Antonio Bertoloni named two species as Mandragora vernalis, the spring-flowering mandrake, and Mandragora autumnalis, the autumn-flowering mandrake.<ref name=Ungr98/> Since the late 1990s, three main circumscriptions of Mandragora officinarum have been used and all three will be found in current sources.

  • Identifying the spring-flowering mandrake as Linnaeus's M. officinarum, works such as Flora Europaea list two Mediterranean species of Mandragora: M. officinarum and M. autumnalis. On this view, the main Mediterranean species is M. autumnalis rather than M. officinarum, which is a rare species, confined to northern Italy and a small region of the coast of former Yugoslavia.<ref name=FE/><ref name=JackBerr79/>
  • Using statistical analysis of morphological characters, Ungricht et al. in 1998 found no distinct clusters among the specimens they examined and concluded that Linnaeus's M. officinarum is a single, variable species. They thus include M. autumnalis in M. officinarum, which on this view is the only Mediterranean mandrake.<ref name=Ungr98/>
  • M. autumnalis was again separated from M. officinarum by Tu et al. in 2010 in a molecular phylogenetic study. They regard M. officinarum as the main species in the Mediterranean, but separate out plants native to the Levant as M. autumnalis, which was then shown to be more closely related to Mandragora turcomanica than to their circumscription of M. officinarum.<ref name=TuVoliDillSun10/>

Distribution and habitat

In the circumscription in which Mandragora officinarum is the only Mediterranean species, it is native to southern Portugal and countries around the Mediterranean sea: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in north Africa; southern Spain, southern Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Cyprus in southern Europe; southern Turkey; Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in the Levant. It is usually found in open habitats, such as light woodland and disturbed sites, including olive groves, fallow land, waysides, railway embankments and ruins, from sea level to Template:Convert.<ref name=Ungr98/>

When Mandragora autumnalis is regarded as the main Mediterranean species, M. officinarum is native only to north Italy and part of the coast of former Yugoslavia.<ref name=FE/> Alternatively, M. officinarum is absent from the Levant, where it is replaced by M. autumnalis.<ref name=TuVoliDillSun10/>


All species of Mandragora contain highly biologically active alkaloids, tropane alkaloids in particular. Hanuš et al. reviewed the phytochemistry of Mandragora species. More than 80 substances have been identified; their paper gives the detailed chemical structure of 37 of them.<ref name=HanuRezaSpizDemb05/> Jackson and Berry were unable to find any differences in alkaloid composition between Mandragora officinarum (using the narrowest circumscription of this species) and Mandragora autumnalis (viewed as the main Mediterranean species). Alkaloids present in the fresh plant or the dried root included atropine, hyoscyamine, scopolamine (hyoscine), scopine, cuscohygrine, apoatropine, 3-alpha-tigloyloxytropane, 3-alpha,6-beta-ditigloyloxytropane and belladonnines. Non-alkaloid constituents included sitosterol and beta-methylesculetin (scopoletin).<ref name=JackBerr79/><ref name=HanuRezaSpizDemb05/>

The alkaloids make the plant, in particular the root and leaves, poisonous, via anticholinergic, hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects. Anticholinergic properties can lead to asphyxiation. Ingesting mandrake root is likely to have other adverse effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. The alkaloid concentration varies between plant samples, and accidental poisoning is likely to occur. Clinical reports of the effects of consumption of Mandragora officinarum (as Mandragora autumnalis) include severe symptoms similar to those of atropine poisoning, including blurred vision, dilation of the pupils (mydriasis), dryness of the mouth, difficulty in urinating, dizziness, headache, vomiting, blushing and a rapid heart rate (tachycardia). Hyperactivity and hallucinations also occurred in the majority of patients.<ref name=JimeMontLopeCamp90/><ref name=PiccMondMoro02/>


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The so-called "female" and "male" mandrakes, from a 1583 illustration

Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, although superstition has played a large part in the uses to which it has been applied. It is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism.Template:Citation needed

The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic. In sufficient quantities, it induces a state of unconsciousness and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times.<ref name=Grieve/> In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains.<ref name=Grieve/> It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions, and mania.<ref name=Grieve/> When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness.<ref name=Grieve>Template:Cite book</ref>

In the past, mandrake was often made into amulets which were believed to bring good fortune, cure sterility, etc. In one superstition, people who pull up this root will be condemned to hell, and the mandrake root would scream as it was pulled from the ground, killing anyone who heard it.<ref name=Moore/> Therefore, in the past, people have tied the roots to the bodies of animals and then used these animals to pull the roots from the soil.<ref name=Moore/>



Further reading

External links

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