Atropa acaulis Stokes
Atropa humilis Salisb.
Atropa mandragora L.
Mandragora acaulis Gaertn.
Mandragora vernalis Bertol.
Mandragora autumnalis Bertol.
Mandragora foemina Thell.
Mandragora haussknechtii Heldr.
Mandragora microcarpa Bertol.
Mandragora officinalis Mill.
Common Name: Mandrake
Mandragora officinarum is a virtually stemless, herbaceous perennial plant forming a rosette of leaves from a deep, often branched taproot. The leaves are very variable in size but are generally up to 45cm long[
Mandrake has a very long history of medicinal use, based mainly on the range of alkaloids contained in its roots which can have hallucinogent and narcotic effects. It is little used in modern herbalism, though has been used as a source of compounds for the pharmaceutical industry[
]. The plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental or medicinal herb in gardens.
All parts of the plant, but especially the roots, contain a range of alkaloids and are poisonous[
]. Only slightly so according to one report[
], which is probably referring to the aerial parts since the roots can be highly toxic[
Mediterranean region - Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Balkans, Greece; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan
Open woodland, deserted fields and stony places[
]. Open woodland, olive groves, fallow land, waysides, railway embankments, ruins, crevices; at elevations up to 1,200 metres[
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
Mandragora officinarum is native to the Mediterranean region, where it experiences hot dry summers (when it dies back to the roots and becomes dormant) and moist, mild winters (when it actively grows). Plants can survive temperatures falling to about -15Â°c for short periods, so long as the plant is grown in well-drained soils[
]. The plant comes into growth in mid to late winter when grown in temperate areas, flowering in early spring and dying down before summer begins[
Prefers a deep humus-rich light soil and a sheltered position in full sun[
]. It also tolerates some shade[
]. Prefers a circumneutral soil[
] and dislikes chalk or gravel[
]. Plants are liable to rot in wet or ill-draining soils[
The roots are somewhat carrot-shaped and can be up to 1.2 metres long[
]. Plants are intolerant of root disturbance and should be put out into their permanent positions as soon as possible[
The root often divides into two and is vaguely suggestive of the human body. In the past it was frequently made into amulets which were believed to bring good fortune, cure sterility etc[
There is a superstition that if a person pulls up this root they will be condemned to hell[
]. Therefore in the past people have tied the roots to the bodies of animals and then used these animals in order to pull the roots out of the soil.
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. A delicacy[
]. The glossy yellow to orange, globose to ellipsoid fruit can be 5 - 40mm in diameter[
]. The fruit is about the size of a small apple, with a strong apple-like scent[
Some caution is advised in the use of this fruit, it is quite possibly poisonous. See notes above on toxicity[
Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, though superstition has played a large part in the uses it has been applied to. It is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism[
], though it contains hyoscine which is the standard pre-operative medication given to soothe patients and reduce bronchial secretions[
]. It is also used to treat travel sickness[
The fresh or dried root contains highly poisonous alkaloids and is cathartic, strongly emetic, hallucinogenic and narcotic[
]. In sufficient quantities it induces a state of oblivion and was used as an anaesthetic for operations in early surgery[
]. It was much used in the past for its anodyne and soporific properties[
]. In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains, ulcers and scrofulous tumours[
]. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions and mania[
]. When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness[
The root should be used with caution, and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[
]. See the notes above on toxicity.
The leaves are harmless and cooling. They have been used for making ointments and other external applications to ulcers etc[
Seed - best sown in a cold frame in the autumn[
]. The seed can also be sown in spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
Root cuttings in winter[
Division. This can be rather difficult since the plants resent root disturbance.