Mandragora officinarum
Mandragora officinarum is a species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of the plant genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

Mandrake (plant)
Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora, particularly the species Mandragora officinarum, belonging to the nightshades family...

. It has a variety of medicinal uses, especially anodyne
In medicine before the 20th century, an anodyne was a medicine that was believed to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the sensitivity of the brain or nervous system In medicine before the 20th century, an anodyne was a medicine that was believed to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the...

 and soporific, though in the past much of the use was due to superstition.

Physical characteristics

Perennial growing to 0.1m by 0.3m. It is in leaf from late winter to mid summer, in flower from late winter through early spring, and the seeds ripen in late summer. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.

The roots are somewhat carrot-shaped and can be up to 1.2 metres long; they often divide into two and are vaguely suggestive of the human body.

The leaves grow in a rosette, and are ovate-oblong to ovate, wrinkled, crisp, sinuate-dentate to entire leaves, 5 to 40 cm (2 to 15.7 in) long, somewhat resembling those of the tobacco-plant. A number of one-flowered nodding peduncles
Peduncle (botany)
In botany, a peduncle is a stem supporting an inflorescence, or after fecundation, an infructescence.The peduncle is a stem, usually green and without leaves, though sometimes colored or supporting small leaves...

 spring from the neck bearing whitish-green or purple flowers, nearly 5 centimetres (2 in) broad, which produce globular, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes. All parts of the plant are poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....

ous. The plant grows natively in southern and central Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and in lands around the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

, as well as on Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....


The plant requires well-drained soils that are acidic or neutral; it prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) ones. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.


Woodland, cultivated beds, sunny edge and dappled shade in locations where temperature never drops under about -15°C.

Medicinal uses

Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, although superstition
Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events....

 has played a large part in the uses it has been applied to. It is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy...

, 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 alkaloid
Alkaloids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that contain mostly basic nitrogen atoms. This group also includes some related compounds with neutral and even weakly acidic properties. Also some synthetic compounds of similar structure are attributed to alkaloids...

s and is hallucinogenic and narcotic
The term narcotic originally referred medically to any psychoactive compound with any sleep-inducing properties. In the United States of America it has since become associated with opioids, commonly morphine and heroin and their derivatives, such as hydrocodone. The term is, today, imprecisely...

. In sufficient quantities, it induces a state of oblivion
Oblivion may refer to:*The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a 2006 video game*Oblivion , a Marvel Comics character*Oblivion , a 1994 western/science fiction film from Full Moon Entertainment...

 and was used as an anaesthetic for operations in early surgery
Surgery is an ancient medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate and/or treat a pathological condition such as disease or injury, or to help improve bodily function or appearance.An act of performing surgery may be called a surgical...

. It was much used in the past for its anodyne
In medicine before the 20th century, an anodyne was a medicine that was believed to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the sensitivity of the brain or nervous system In medicine before the 20th century, an anodyne was a medicine that was believed to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the...

 and soporific properties. In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic
Rheumatism or rheumatic disorder is a non-specific term for medical problems affecting the joints and connective tissue. The study of, and therapeutic interventions in, such disorders is called rheumatology.-Terminology:...

 pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsion
A convulsion is a medical condition where body muscles contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly, resulting in an uncontrolled shaking of the body. Because a convulsion is often a symptom of an epileptic seizure, the term convulsion is sometimes used as a synonym for seizure...

s and mania
Mania, the presence of which is a criterion for certain psychiatric diagnoses, is a state of abnormally elevated or irritable mood, arousal, and/ or energy levels. In a sense, it is the opposite of depression...

. When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium
Delirium or acute confusional state is a common and severe neuropsychiatric syndrome with core features of acute onset and fluctuating course, attentional deficits and generalized severe disorganization of behavior...

 and madness.


In the past mandrake was often made into amulet
An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

s 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
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

. 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.
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