Hortus Third indicates that there are about 6 species of Mandrake, members
of the family "Solanaceae". It is native to Hamalayas and Mediteranean
region, is propogated by seeds or by division of the roots. The root
contains the alkaloid hyoscyamine that was used for it's medicinal value.
It was used as an anesthetic for surgery, as a seditive, and also a remedy
for melancholy. It was also considered to have magical properties because
of the root's semblance to the human form.
Mangragora autumnalis (Autumn Mandrake) and M. officinarum (European
Mandrake or "satan's apple") are both cultivated by man.
It is poisonous, and an overdose can be fatal.
The American Mandrake is Podophyllum peltatum or Common Mayapple
(Groundlemon, Umbrella-leaf) and is in the "Berberidaceae" (barberry)
family. It is common to woodlands all throughout the Northeast US and as
far south as Texas and Florida. Like the European mandrake it is poisonous.
Indians used it to commit suicide, and it is also known to cause birth
defects. Topical application can cure (venereal) warts, but can also cause
dermatitis in some persons.
The active ingredient podophyllin (a crude resin having more than 16 active
constituents) is found in the leaves, stem, flowers, rootstock and green
fruit. Small amounts raw or cooked can result in diarrhea, vomiting,
abdominal pain. Larger amounts will result in dizziness, headache, pain,
fever, increased breathing, and after 12 hours lethargy, rapid pulse, low
blood pressure and then coma.
The *completely ripe* fruit, when eaten in small quantities, is tasty. This
is the "Mandrake" that is commonly sold in herb stores. It is readily
available in moist woodlands, can be propogated by division or seeds, and
can be obtained from most garden centers and catalogs that carry native
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