Sunday, January 15, 2012

Little Shop of Horrors: Mandrakes.


If you are familiar with the fantasy genre, the mandrake (or mandragora) is one of the most notorious plants you will ever come across. The mandrake, a plant with a humanoid root, screams very loudly whenever it is pulled from the ground, enough so that all who hear the scream die instantly. It is, however, magically potent, so people have devised all sorts of crazy tricks to get one. This, for example:

"A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear."

Yep. People would kill puppies to get a mandrake. Mandrakes do exist, but they are not worth killing anything over. 

The plant is actually rather pretty.

Real mandrakes are plants of the genus Mandragora. It is in the nightshade family, meaning that it is related to (obviously) nightshade, tomatoes, eggplants, tittyfruit, datura, and at least one other weird plant on this blog. The type species is Mandragora officinarum, which has been around in Europe (and Israel?) since time began. All parts of the mandrake plant are toxic and should be handled with care.

No, plants have not become so freaky that they have evolved the capacity to scream. Mandrake roots, however, can sometimes look uncannily like people. The way the roots split sometimes create a 'stick figure.' They are not alone in this regard; a few other plants, namely ginger and ginseng, also tend to look like people. Pythagoras, the creator of the Pythagorean Theorem, was such a staunch vegetarian that he refused to eat beans because they resembled human fetuses. Imagine how he would react to a mandrake!


The 'magic' effects of mandrake probably originate from the chemical cocktail found in every part of the plant. Along with several other compounds such as scolopomine and atropine (both trippy on their own), mandrakes have their own substance called mandragorin. Mandragorin produces a hallucinogenic, dreamlike state of mind; in spiritual terms, this is a shortcut to astral plane. They have also been used as medicine for infertility (magic man-plant, remember?) and as a painkiller by many an ancient physician. The jury is still out on whether or not mandrakes have the same zombie-making potential as datura.

Mandrakes are still used in modern tweaks on ancient religions such as Wicca. Bear in mind that some of the mandrakes talked about in ancient texts may instead be referring to things like ginseng and ginger- plants that also have roots that look eerily like people.We really cannot blame them for the mistake (the resemblance to people is uncanny) but please do not take a draft of mandrake to put more junk in the trunk. You might not wake up.

Go catch an Oddish instead.

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