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.
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 magical associations throughout history. They have long been used in shamanistic rituals, and are still used today in contemporary pagan traditions as Wicca, Odinism and western occultism.
In his work The History and Practice of Magic, Jean-Baptiste Pitois writes:
‘Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For 30 days, water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the 31st day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.’
In the past, mandrakes were believed to sprout from the earth beneath a gallows, right on the spot a hanged man had dripped his sperm.
In the past, mandrakes were believed to sprout from the earth beneath a gallows, right on the spot a hanged man had dripped his sperm. Mandrakes were made into amulets for good fortune and cure sterility. However, one had to tie an animal to the root, to pull the mandrake from the soil. Otherwise, it would scream and the soul of the harvester would be condemned to Hell. In the Bible it is mentioned that Leah and her sister Rachel used mandrakes to overcome sterility and become pregnant again. In Hebrew the mandrake is called dûdâ’îm, which means love plant. In medieval times juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions, and mania. When taken internally in large doses, however, it could excite delirium and madness.
Mandrake tincture is most likely the only relative safe way to experiment with this herb.
The use of mandrakes for medical or hallucinogenic effects are not without danger. All species of Mandragora contain highly biologically active alkaloids, tropane alkaloids in particular. The alkaloids are concentrated in 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 diarrhoea. 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.
In one of his works on practical magic (Bücher der praktischen Magie, Band VII), the German magician H.E. Douval (pseudonym of Herbert Döhren – 1906-1975), describes two experiments with drops of mandrake tincture. The tincture is most likely the only relative safe way to experiment with this herb, although Douval describes anxiety feelings due to an accelerated pulse, and it cost him a lot of effort to withhold himself from leaving his room and go out, shouting and doing silly things in public. He also describes his worry about a light paralysis effect in his sacrum region, before the first hallucinations, of mostly dark nebula like shapes and phantoms occur. These phantoms and shapes however, change their appearance and nature according to his emotions and gradually he is able to make his visions more light and pleasant. ♦