Saturday, January 5, 2013

a mandrake's scream

Hermann Peters 1899


de Bry's Florilegium 1641

Tacuinum Sanitatis 1474

Folklore names:
love apples
root of folly
servant of health
earth apple
moon plant

Mandrake originates in the eastern Mediterranean 

region and is distributed throughout southern Europe, 
the Middle East and northern Africa, 
where it grows in waste places and abandoned fields 
in sandy and rocky, well draining soil.  There is also 
a species that is endemic to the Himalaya. 
Nowadays it is cultivated in gardens north of the Alps, 
but doesn't naturalize there, as it needs a warm 
and protected setting.  It doesn't tolerate frost well 
and in cultivation needs to be mulched during the winter.

It has a large, brown root, somewhat like a parsnip, 

running 3 or 4 feet deep into the ground, sometimes single 
and sometimes divided into two or three branches. 
Immediately from the crown of the root arise several large, 
dark-green leaves, spread open and lie upon the ground. 
From among these leaves spring the flowers, somewhat 
tinged with purple.  They are succeeded by a smooth, 
round fruit, about as large as a small apple, full of pulp 
and with a strong, apple-like scent.

The leaves are quite harmless and cooling, and have been 
used for ointments and other external application.
The fresh root and dried bark operate very powerfully 
as an emetic and purgative.  Mandrake was much used 
by the Ancients, who considered it an anodyne and soporific. 
In large doses it is said to excite delirium and madness. 

The lore of this plant runs from hermetic, alchemic, and
witchcraft.  The most spellbinding of them all is  
thought to be little dolls or figures given to sorcerers 
by the devil for the purpose of being consulted by them 
in time of need.  Alraune was the name given to these dolls.  
Originally, an Alraune might have been any talisman 
carved into human likeness and possibly inscribed with 
a spell.  The Grimm brothers later write how the alraune
answered questions about the future and told their owner
all they wanted to know.