Back Alley Mandragora Dealings

Back Alley Mandragora Dealings May 8, 2019

On the Hunt For Mandragora

False Mandrake Root. Wikipedia commons.

Mandrake Root, or as it is scientifically known; Mandragora officinarum and Mandragora autumnalis, have long been coveted by individuals seeking to tap into the power of this mysterious plant.  Mandrake was a powerful medicine used in antiquity.  It took the form of an early surgical anesthetic called the spongia somnifera, a sea sponge soaked in wine containing Mandrake, Opium, Henbane and other intoxicating ingredients.  The patient would inhale this concoction and enter a state known as twilight sleep, which would allow them to undergo various medical operations.

In the Middle Ages, Mandrake whose reputation was already infamous, was coveted by many for its magical properties.  It was widely known to bring protection and prosperity to the owner, often being passed down generationally.  It was also used to assist the carrier of the Mandrake to find buried treasure.  A magical cure all Mandrake root, which was rare in Northern Europe and the British Isles fetched a high price.  Due to its value and high demand, the Mandrake root market was exploited by various charlatans and hucksters who were looking to make a buck, or quid, as it were.

The Elusive Mandrake

Mandrake, with its anthropomorphic shape and intoxicating effects has earned its place as one of the most magical plants in the world.  It was believed to be inhabited by a spirit, who would do the bidding of whoever possessed the root.  With the proper preparations and offerings, the Mandrake would be a lifelong helper to its owner.  Many humanoid roots have been passed off as genuine Mandrake.  Other roots would be carved to give them a more humanlike shape.  They would then be replanted so the carvings would heal over, giving them a more genuine appearance while hiding the evidence of their tampering.  White Bryony, a long tuberous root, was the root of choice for this practice, as it grew more abundantly.  White Bryony, or False Mandrake can grow to a large size.  It creates an imposing specimen, and easily convinced unsuspecting customers that they were in possession of the genuine Mandrake root.

Mandragora autumnalis. Flickr.

This practice continues to go on today.  In North America, there is a plant called May Apple known as American Mandrake, Podophyllum petaltum.  This invasive plant grows abundantly in North America, and is often sold under the name Mandrake.  The two plants are not related, and do not share any of the same properties.  Some claim that it is an acceptable substitution, but I personally do not believe this to be the case.  While American Mandrake, produces an apple like fruit that ripens to the same golden color of Mandragora spp. that is where the similarities end.

May Apple. Jack W. Pearce. Flickr.

There are many good intentioned shop owners who go through the trouble of sourcing a supplier of genuine Mandrake, only to be mislead.  Most of them are unaware that they have been duped, and it is the individuals that are passing these inexpensive and abundant substitutes off as the real thing.  If you are looking to buy plant material that is marked as Mandrake you should be familiar with where it is coming from.  Don’t be afraid to ask the shop owner more about their product.  They should be able to provide you with that information.  While more and more people are growing Mandrake themselves, and every now and then genuine Mandrake changes hands through individuals online; there is no large scale supplier of genuine Mandrake root.

Left is May Apple aka American Mandrake and Right is True Mandrake. Photo by the author.

The time and patience it takes seeds to germinate, and the years of growth necessary to develop sizable roots makes any large scale production of this plant difficult.  If you are shopping for Mandrake and you come across a bag of chopped roots, or are getting an ounce for $4.99 there is a very good chance that you are purchasing May Apple.  The best way to ensure you are getting the real thing is to grow the plant yourself, or to befriend someone you can trust that grows Mandrake.  If you are lucky enough to find genuine Mandrake, it is usually seasonal and in limited supply, and priced very high.

This has been a public service announcement.  Happy Hunting!

Strictly Medicinal Seeds: Mandrake

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