A mandrake is the root of a plant, historically derived either from plants of the genus Mandragora found in the Mediterranean region, or from other species, such as Bryonia alba, the English mandrake, which have similar properties. The plants from which the root is obtained are also called "mandrakes". Mediterranean mandrakes are perennial herbaceous plants with ovate leaves arranged in a rosette, a thick upright root, often branched, and bell-shaped flowers followed by yellow or orange berries. They have been placed in different species by different authors. They are highly variable perennial herbaceous plants with long thick roots (often branched) and almost no stem. The leaves are borne in a basal rosette, and are 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/>
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 traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.<ref name=Moore>Template:Cite web</ref>
All species of Mandragora contain highly biologically active alkaloids, tropane alkaloids in particular. The alkaloids make the plant, in particular the root and leaves, poisonous, via anticholinergic, hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects. Anticholinergic properties can lead to asphyxiation. Accidental poisoning is not uncommon. Ingesting mandrake root is likely to have other adverse effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. The alkaloid concentration varies between plant samples. Clinical reports of the effects of consumption of Mediterranean mandrake 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/>
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/>
In the Bible
Two references to Template:Lang (dûdâ'îm)—literally meaning "love plant"—occur in the Jewish scriptures. The Septuagint translates Template:Lang as Template:Lang (mandragóras), and the Vulgate follows the Septuagint. A number of later translations into different languages follow Septuagint (and Vulgate) and use mandrake as the plant as the proper meaning in both the Book of Genesis 30:14–16 and Song of Songs 7:12-13. Others follow the example of the Luther Bible and provide a more literal translation.
In Genesis 30:14, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah, finds mandrake in a field. Rachel, Jacob's infertile second wife and Leah's sister, is desirous of the Template:Lang and barters with Leah for them. The trade offered by Rachel is for Leah to spend that night in Jacob's bed in exchange for Leah's Template:Lang. Leah gives away the plant to her barren sister, but soon after this (Genesis 30:14–22), Leah, who had previously had four sons but had been infertile for a long while, became pregnant once more and in time gave birth to two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Only years after this episode of her asking for the mandrakes did Rachel manage to become pregnant.
Sir Thomas Browne, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, ch. VII, suggested the dudai'im of Genesis 30:14 is the opium poppy, because the word duda'im may be a reference to a woman's breasts.
Magic and witchcraft
According to the legend, when the root is dug up, it screams and kills all who hear it. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example, Josephus (circa 37–100 AD) of Jerusalem gives the following directions for pulling it up: Template:Quote Excerpt from Chapter XVI, "Witchcraft and Spells", of Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual by nineteenth-century occultist and ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi.
- Heiser, Charles B. Jr (1969). Nightshades, The Paradoxical Plant, 131-136. W. H. Freeman & Co. SBN 7167 0672-5.
- Thompson, C. J. S. (reprint 1968). The Mystic Mandrake. University Books.