The root of the mandrake, or mandragora, often divided in two and looking vaguely like a human shape.

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids' singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.
- John Donne

In ancient times, those parts of the roots resembling man were cut out of the root, and had various magical effects ascribed to them. It was believed that they produced fecundity in women (this belief is even mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 30 14-16). For this reason, one of Venus' names is Mandragoritis.

It was also thought that mandrakes could not be uprooted without fatal consequences to the person involved, so a cord would be attached to a root and then tied around a dog's neck. When chased, the dog would then proceed to draw out the mandrake - and supposedly perish as a consequence of this.

In some areas people believed that a small dose of mandrake would make a person very vain and enamoured of his own beauty; whereas a larger dose would make him an idiot.

As for the scream which mandrakes were supposed to let out when uprooted, it was said that a mandrake root was a living being, some kind of semi-human, "engendered under the earth of the seed of some dead person put to death for murder".


Worsworth dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Thomas Newton: Herball to the Bible




Thanks due to dutchess for helping me out with the song.

In reality, a mandrake is a plant whose root resembles a man, and is one of the few safe and effective sleeping agents. In imagination, and story, it is a wonderous herb, with a beautiful sight and smell, and is the origin of the following playground game, of which I am the sole legatee and heir: first you must collect the mandrake. This must be collected through the chain-link fence surrounding the playground. Second, you must declare who is going to be 'touched by the mandrake' and so fall in love with you. The touchee will yell and run. Thirdly, you must touch the person with the piece of mandrake you've collected. Various people may try to help or hinder this chase. Fourthly, he MUST kiss you, with the full three grades watching.

Interesting, how the game is stacked for girls first, then for boys.

Man"drake (?), n. [AS. mandragora, L. mandragoras, fr. Gr. : cf. F. mandragore.]

1. Bot.

A low plant (Mandragora officinarum) of the Nightshade family, having a fleshy root, often forked, and supposed to resemble a man. It was therefore supposed to have animal life, and to cry out when pulled up. All parts of the plant are strongly narcotic. It is found in the Mediterranean region.

And shrieks like mandrakes, torn out of the earth, That living mortals, hearing them, run mad. Shak.

⇒ The mandrake of Scripture was perhaps the same plant, but proof is wanting.

2. Bot.

The May apple (Podophyllum peltatum). See May apple under May, and Podophyllum.

[U.S.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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