Satan's Apple

Mandragora officinarum

Herbs gallery - Satan's Apple

Common names

  • Mandrake
  • Satan's Apple

Satan's apple, also known as mandrake, is a perennial plant having a chubby root resembling that of a parsnip. The root of this plant bifurcates resembling a pair of legs. Satan's apple bears large, oval-shaped leaves that have a rotten smell. The leaves normally grow up to 30 cm or 12 inches in length and are positioned on the ground having undulating edges. The flowers of satan's apple emerge on detached stalks and have a whitish-yellow hue with shades of purple. The flowers develop into round orange-colored fruits that look like a small apple.

The mandrake plant possesses a huge root that has a brownish hue - resembling a parsnip, and runs approximately three to four feet under the ground. Occasionally, the root is solitary and at time, it is bifurcated or trifurcated into branches. Many large, profoundly green colored leaves emerge right from the crown of the roots. However, when the plant is full grown, these leaves that initially stand upright, spread open and stretch out on the ground. The leaves of the mandrake plant are sharply piercing at the tip and have a rotten smell. The flowers of this plant emerge from among the leaves - each flower appearing on a separate foot-stalk that is approximately three to four inches in height. The flowers of satan's apple are fairly of the shape and size of a primrose. The corolla resembles a bell and cut into five extending segments that have a whitish hue with a shade of purple. The flowers give rise to smooth, rounded fruits that are of the size of a small apple and have a deep yellow hue when ripe. The fruit is pulpy and has a potent fragrance similar to that of an apple.

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The satan's apple or mandrake is a noxious and intoxicating/ mood altering plant and since the early days of the Egyptians it has been associated with the supernatural. While the fruit of the mandrake was discovered in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, the root was said to be a preferred ingredient of witches' brew. In addition, mandrake plant was also believed to be a love potion and it was used as a fertility charm in the Old Testament. In the old Anglo-Saxon herbal medicine, mandrake was widely used to get rid of evil spirits that had possesses some people. However, the most well-known legend involving the plant is related to the dangers of digging up the mandrake plant. It was believed by the ancients that when the mandrake plant was uprooted it gave out loud shrieks and awful moaning that certainly resulted in the death of the person taking part in digging up the plant. Hence, the diggers tied a dog to the plant before digging up the plant and subsequently, the unfortunate dog died when the task was completed. They believed that had any person tried to dig out the plant, he would have met the same fate as the dog. When Henry VIII was ruling England, people were of the belief that human shaped images made from the mandrake's roots brought prosperity and happiness to their homes. Such images were a rage in those days and were sold for large sums.

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The roots of the mandrake plant possesses pain-killing properties and, hence, the ancient Greeks as well as people in the Middle Ages used them to prepare mandrake wine that was applied as an anesthetic before any operation. The mandrake root is soporific, meaning that it helps in inducing sleep and in earlier times it was used as a sedative to provide relief from convulsions, rheumatic pains as well as nervous disorders. However, when used in high doses, the mandrake root is a terrible purgative and may even produce hallucination. Mandrake root is hardly used in contemporary herbal medicine.

The mandrake has a long history of use as an herbal medication and people have been using this plant over several centuries to cure various health problems. Occasionally, mandrake is also known as the umbrella plant since when the plants appear first every spring, they have the appearance of a closed umbrella. Usually, the mandrake plants grow in clusters and they also produce a fruit, which is somewhat unpleasant to taste. In the early days, mandrake was an extremely important plant that was used in rituals, to prepare intoxicating drinks as well as for medicinal purpose. This plant finds mention in the Old Testament as well as the Assyrians' cruneiform tablets.

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Apart from its medicinal and magical uses, in ancient Egypt, people gifted mandrake fruits as a token of love during courtship and were in all probability consumed as aphrodisiacs. It appears that this love plant is somehow related to Hathor, the ancient Egyptian Goddess of love, beauty, music and motherhood. The mandrake plant has numerous medicinal uses - it is used as an anesthetic, analgesic, aphrodisiac, sleeping aid as well as to cure several other ailments. In addition, mandrake is also used for manufacturing beer or wine and is brewed in the same process as Henbane beer. Around 50 grams of dehydrated mandrake root is used for preparing 20 litres of beer and cinnamon sticks are added to the brew to enhance its flavour. In ancient times, the Greeks usually added dehydrated root of the vine to wine, which was used as a love drink.

Parts used

Leaves, fresh juice, root of mandrake.

Uses

Mandrake has been used medicinally for a long period of time. Contemporary practitioners of herbal medicine hardly prescribe mandrake. However, this plant encloses a substance known as hyoscine that is the usual medication given in pre-operative stage with a view to provide comfort to the patients as well as lessen the bronchial secretions. In addition, this herb is also given to cure travel sickness.

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The roots of mandrake, whether dehydrated or fresh, enclose extremely poisonous alkaloids and are known to be narcotic and cause hallucination. When taken in large quantities, it brings about a condition of unconsciousness and in the early days of surgery it was used as an anesthesia prior to operations. In the earlier days, this herb was extensively used for its anodyne (sedative) and soporific (sleep inducing) attributes. In addition, in the past, people applied the juice extracted from the finely shredded roots topically to alleviate rheumatic pains. This herb was also used internally to cure depression, spasms as well as obsession. However, when this herb is taken in excessive amounts internally, it is known to cause hallucination and insanity.

While the roots of satan's apple are extremely poisonous, the leaves are somewhat safe and cooling. As a result, the leaves of this plant have been used as an ingredient in several ointments that are meant for external application. The Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhaave boiled the leaves of satan's apple in milk and used the solution as a poultice to treat sluggish ulcers. The freshly obtained root of mandrake works as a very potent emetic (a medication that causes vomiting) and purgative. The dehydrated bark of the plant's root was also given to patients as a forceful emetic.

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In the ancient times, people extensively used the herb mandrake. They mainly used the herb to obtain rest and sleep when suffering from persistent pain. In addition, they also used the herb to treat depression, spasms, scrofulous tumour (a cushion-like swelling in any organ) as well as rheumatic pains. The ancient people primarily used the bark of the plant's roots. They either extracted the juice of the root bark or infused the root in water or wine. They grated the root finely and made it into a pulp which was mixed with brandy to prepare a herbal medication that was said to be highly effective in treating chronic rheumatism.

According to available documents, the satan's apple was also used during the period of the Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus, popularly known as Pliny the Elder, in the form of an anesthetic for surgery. In this case, the physicians gave a piece of the root to the patient to chew before undergoing the surgery. The ancients also used the herb in small doses to treat maniacal problems. In present day homeopathy, a tincture prepared from the fresh plant is still in use for treating a number of health conditions.

The Anglo-Saxons believed that the herbal medications prepared with mandrake and periwinkle possessed inexplicable powers and used them to cure people who were said to be possessed by evil spirits.

It is interesting to note that the mandrake root was surrounded by several bizarre superstitions. The root of the plant was once used as a talisman and placed on the mantelpiece with a view to keep away from misfortunes and also usher in affluence and bliss to the house. In effect, some times roots of bryony (an old world vine belonging to the genus Bryonia) were also cut into intricate forms and sold off as mandrake. Sometimes, the bryony vines were also grown on moulds with a view to give their roots the desired fancy shapes. Interestingly enough, during the reign of Henry VIII, attractive little images made from the bryony roots, resembling the figure of a man with millet grains inserted into their faces to make their eyes were sold for high prices. Such images were known as mammettes or puppettes and were said to be endorsed with miraculous powers. It has also been learnt that the Italian ladies were so fascinated by these images made from artificial mandrake that they purchased them paying as much as thirty golden ducats for each.

It needs to be mentioned that the ancient writers had several references regarding the mandrake or satan's apple. Since the prehistoric days, people in the East have an impression that the mandrake plant would obliterate sterility.

Habitat and cultivation

Indigenous to the Himalayas, south-Eastern Europe, Jordan and Israel, mandrake usually grows on inferior, light and sandy soils. Generally, satan's apple or mandrake is propagated by its seeds that are sown on a bed of sparse earth immediately after they mature. The seeds are more certain to germinate when they are sowed soon after they ripen, rather than waiting to sow them in the spring.

As the seedlings of satan's apple emerge in the spring, it is important to maintain them properly by watering the young plants all through the summer and keep them free from invasion by weeds. The seedlings or young plants ought to be picked up very cautiously one at a time during the end of August and transplanted in their permanent position. It is important that the soil where the young plants are transplanted ought to be sparse and deep, since the roots of the plant run far under the ground. In case there is excessive watering and the plants are extremely wet, they are most likely to decompose in winter. Similarly, if the plants are transplanted in an area near to chalk or gravel, they would grow very sluggishly. The plants will grow best when planted in rich soil that is left undisturbed. In such places, the mandrake plants develop into a large size within just a few years and produce large quantities of fruits and flowers.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the roots of the mandrake has shown that it encloses substances like atropine, tropane alkaloids, mandragorine and apoatropine. The dehydrated roots of the plant encloses around 0.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent alkaloids. It may be noted that tropane alkaloid belladonnie is only present in the dried roots of satan's apple.

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