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The Elusive and Mysterious Mandrake Root

Ahh… The elusive and mysterious Mandrake root. A native of Southern Europe, the roots of Mandrake were supposed to bear a resemblance to the human form, on account of their habit of forking into two and shooting “arms” on each side. In the old herbals we find them frequently figured as a male with a long beard, and a female with a very bushy head of hair. Many weird superstitions collected around the Mandrake root. As an amulet, it was once placed on mantelpieces to avert misfortune and to bring prosperity and happiness to the house. It was also once believed that the Mandrake root would kill anybody that pulled it up, so harvesting the roots would be done very carefully on a dark night, usually by tying a rope around the base of the plant, hooking the other end of the rope to a goat and then making the goat run to pull up that plant. In this way, even if it wasn’t dark enough and the Mandrake was able to see who pulled it up, it would “only” result in the loss of the life of a goat, rather than the death of the person. Nowadays, whole mandrake roots are pretty much impossible to find. But, although rare, the seeds are sometime available, from which whole roots can be grown with a bit of care. Cultivation and Propagation: The Mandragora officinarum is hardy. It likes a light, deep soil, as the roots run far down. They will do poorly in a soil that is chalky or excessively gravelly. If the soil is too wet in winter, the roots will rot. It is propagated from seeds which should be sown in deep flats or, better, singly in pots. These should be kept well watered and when they reach a good size they should be carefully set out at least 2 feet apart. Mandragora officinarum are tender perennials that cannot withstand frost and must be wintered indoors in cold climates. Harvesting: The roots should be dug after the second or third year (at your own or your goats risk). If left in the ground they will grow to a great size, and will have large branching roots up to four feet long. Note: Do not confuse this Old World mandrake with the American mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum) whose roots are sold by many herb companies under the name "Mandrake roots." These roots are a powerful cathartic poison. The plants are unmistakably different. Mandrake

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This article was published on Friday 02 July, 2010.
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