The mandrake is a perennial herbaceous plant with long thick roots and thick leaves often arranged like the petals of a rose. The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times. The root and leaves are toxic and poisonous, and can lead to madness if eaten in large quantities.
In folklore, many legends and tales have been told about the mandrake. The best known is probably that the plant screams when pulled up. Another superstition adds that those who do pull a mandrake out of the ground will be condemned to hell while all others who heard the mandrake's 'scream' will be killed shortly afterwards. Such stories may have evolved because the forked root is shaped like a human (see image below). In the past, people who wanted to remove a mandrake plant from the ground would have tied the roots to an animal then used the animal to pull up the plant.
Mandrakes have been called devil's apples and another legend says that if a dog is used to remove a mandrake from the earth it dies of fright when the plant screams. In the play Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare are the lines: And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth, that living mortals hearing them run mad. Believe it or not, mandrakes are poisonous relations of the potato and belong to the group of plants called mandragora.
Copyright, license and article source information.
Reproduced and/or adapted for educational purposes.