Saturday, April 18, 2015

MANDRAKE

by Marta Estrada

In the Harry Potter movies and books, Harry and his classmates deal with mandrakes (mandragora) that resemble screaming infants. In traditional lore, it’s said mandrake resembles a man. In fact, Egyptians called it Phallus of the Field and Arabs called it the Devil’s Testicles, both of which point to its use in love magic and aphrodisiacs. In old England, it was called the love apple.
 
The mandrake is a root plant, and a member of the potato family. Though it is a deadly poison and no longer used in remedies, it was used in many Medieval medicines because it contains an alkaloid that suppresses pain and promotes sleep. It was also used as an aphrodisiac and an amulet to aid fertility and increase wealth. When added to incense, it was supposed to promote fidelity and abundance. In Medieval Europe, mandrake was believed to repair broken bones, ease toothaches, bring the dying back to full life, as an anesthetic, and as a cure for depression, snakebite, ear aches, gout and baldness. It was believed that the mandrake only grew under the gallows where the semen dripping from a rotting corpse caused it to grow.
 
Because the root resembles a man’s body, great care must be taken when harvesting it, as its cries will instantly kill the person pulling it from the ground. Instead, dogs were used to dig them up. 
 
Medieval witches were said to make mandrake look more human by immersing it in human blood and using berries to give it a semblance of eyes and a mouth. It could then actually speak to reveal the future and tell where gold could be located. It also reportedly opened locks (much like the Hand of Glory).
 
The reputation of the mandrake was so sinister that anyone found in possession of it was declared a witch and put to death.

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