1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mandrake

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MANDRAKE (Mandragora officinarum), a plant of the potato family, order Solanaceae, a native of the Mediterranean region. It has a short stem bearing a tuft of ovate leaves, with a thick fleshy and often forked root. The flowers are solitary, with a purple bell-shaped corolla; the fruit is a fleshy orange-coloured berry. The mandrake has been long known for its poisonous properties and supposed virtues. It acts as an emetic, purgative and narcotic, and was much esteemed in old times; but, except in Africa and the East, where it is used as a narcotic and antispasmodic, it has fallen into well-earned disrepute. In ancient times, according to Isidorus and Serapion, it was used as a narcotic to diminish sensibility under surgical operations, and the same use is mentioned by Ḳazwīnī, i. 297, s.v. “Luffāḥ.” Shakespeare more than once alludes to this plant, as in Antony and Cleopatra: “Give me to drink mandragora.” The notion that the plant shrieked when touched is alluded to in Romeo and Juliet: “And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth, that living mortals, hearing them, run mad.” The mandrake, often growing like the lower limbs of a man, was supposed to have other virtues, and was much used for love philtres, while the fruit was supposed, and in the East is still supposed, to facilitate pregnancy (Aug., C. Faust. xxii. 56; cf. Gen. xxx. 14, where the Hebrew דדראמ is undoubtedly the mandrake). Like the mallow, the mandrake was potent in all kinds of enchantment (see Maimonides in Chwolson, Ssabier, ii. 459). Dioscorides identifies it with the κιρκαία, the root named after the enchantress Circe. To it appears to apply the fable of the magical herb Baaras, which cured demoniacs, and was procured at great risk or by the death of a dog employed to drag it up, in Josephus (B. J. vii. 6, § 3). The German name of the plant (Alraune; O. H. G. Alrûna) indicates the prophetic power supposed to be in little images (homunculi, Goldmännchen, Galgenmännchen) made of this root which were cherished as oracles. The possession of such roots was thought to ensure prosperity. (See Du Cange, s.vv. “Mandragora” and Littré.)

Gerard in 1597 (Herball, p. 280) described male and female mandrakes, and Dioscorides also recognizes two such plants corresponding to the spring and autumn species (M. vernalis and M. officinarum respectively), differing in the colour of the foliage and shape of fruit.