native of Southern Europe and long-time resident in many a witch's
garden has a great variety of magickal uses. It has been part of flying
ointments, made into poppets, worn in the cap for protection and love,
carried for fertility, and consumed to induce love or lust. One of the
baneful herbs, this Saturn plant is sacred to Hekate, but
it is also associated with Diana, and Aphrodite as well as Mercury (apparently because of the androgynous shape of the root).
Black mandrake's flowers are purple instead of white,
as in M. officinarum (var. vernalis).
The supposed difference in root color does not seem to hold true.
This is also called Autumn Mandrake because it flowers in the
fall instead of the summer, as does white mandrake (which is also known
as Spring Mandrake [=vernalis]). The flowers die and turn into
small yellow or orange fruits that some people make into a liqueur;
apparently the ripe fruits do not have the same alkaloids as other
parts of the plant. Information on alkaloid content is contradictory.
Some say the leaves are safe, but an article described 15 people
who had been hospitalized for eating the leaves, which they thought
were spinach. The thick roots definitely contain tropanes, the same
substances as in henbane and other nightshades, so don't chew them, as
some sources recommend. The tropanes, which are
deliriants, connect this plant to Saturn. Clearly, this plant has lots of possibilities.
Also known as Autumn Mandrake and Female Mandrake.
Packet comes with growing sheet. Check out the beautiful root of a two-year-old
plant a customer grew. Top
How to grow: I have had good luck germinating
these seeds by soaking
them in cold water in the fridge for two weeks. Replace the water with new
*cold* water daily to wash away the anti-germination chemicals that leach from the seed.
I use an old vitamin bottle for this. At the end of two weeks, plant in Jiffy-7 pellets with kelp
as described in general growing tips.
Don't plant any seeds that are floating after 24 hours; throw them out.
Another method is to plant them as usual in a Jiffy-7 soaked in kelp solution and then put the
Jiffy-7s seeds and all in the fridge for
4-6 weeks, covered lightly with the kind of plastic bag groceries come in. The fridge should be on the cold side, 41 F,
or put them in the bottom toward the back. Then
take them out to germinate. The idea is to imitate snowmelt. I have gotten them to germinate both ways,
but the cold water method uses less fridge room. Or sow on Winter Solstice
(see the Solstice Sowing page). Top
are slow to come up, but they will. Make sure they stay moist but
not sopping and do not put them in direct sunlight. They do not
come up all at once, like the seeds of bedding plants do. These
are seeds of wild plants, so their germination is staggered.
Plant in partial shade in rich soil. Add peat to the soil to make it
more acidic. If planting in a pot, make your own potting soil
from 2 parts peat, 2 parts sand, and 1 part loam. Although the babies
really seek out the sun, keep the plants in light shade (perhaps
morning sun & afternoon shade, or just dappled shade). Fertilize
regularly. A foliar spray of a solution of liquid kelp and fish
meal is good, and a fertilizer for roots really makes a huge difference
(I tried Rootone this year). They don't like being wet, but they will
become dormant if they don't get enough water. Check the
undersides of the leaves for aphids regularly, and use Safer
Insecticidal Soap to get rid of them if they turn up. I have noticed
that if you let a wet mandrake leaf touch the soil, it will generally
get sick and fall off, so be careful when you water them to water the
soil, not the plant. Top
Once you get a mandrake
going, you can propagate it by dividing its tubers in the late autumn. It's winter hardy only in zones 8-11, the Deep South and
the Northwest. Farther north, try growing on the south side of the house
against the wall and either put them in a cold frame in the winter or keep
them in a pot and take them into the garage or basement for the winter (don't
water while the plant is dormant). For a pot,
use one of the long kind usually sold as rose pots or plant several together in a large pot, so that they have
plenty of room to grow down. The root can get over four feet long. Top
The plant seems to sense when the root is getting near the bottom of the
pot and quits growing; the leaves become weak and fall off. I had some in a
very large pot, but they still stopped growing at a certain point. When I dug
them up, I found that the end of the root was an extremely long thread that
had obviously hit the bottom. Cramped roots become spirals. Planting in lengths
of sewer pipes or garbage cans with holes in the bottom might be a way to remedy
this. Planting in the ground is better if you have good soil, but it is very
difficult to dig up the root without breaking it. Even turning the soil out
of a pot all in one piece and gently pushing away the dirt resulted in a broken
root or two. The plant probably uses this brittle root strategy to propagate
itself, since pieces of root will make a new plant. One possibility is to dig
a good deep hole for your plant and fill it with a fine soil mix that will make
digging up easier. Then water very heavily just before you dig up the root.
This will allow it to come free more easily. I have done this with other plants
and will try it with mandrake next season. Top
After one season of
growth, you get a nice root about finger-length, a good size for work.
Not all roots are forked, but most are. You can keep them fresh in the
fridge wrapped in a slightly dampened paper towel inside an open baggie. Or
you can put them in a jar of alcohol to preserve them, or dry them in a dehydrator.
Don't put them in the microwave to dry, like you can with flowers; they will
get ruined. They lose a substantial amount of weight and volume being dried.
To get fruits, the plant has to be able to go through the winter without going
dormant, a tough call in the US--perhaps in the Pacific Northwest. Without flowers,
you won't get fruits. If
you do get fruits, let them ripen fully before harvesting to get the best seeds. Top
You can also cut the roots and plant them to make more plants
for the following year. In fall, cut the root into 1-2 inch long pieces. On
each piece, cut the upward part straight across, and cut the lower part on an
angle. Dip in rooting hormone and plant in soil in a sheltered spot or in a
pot. Cover with sand. These will grow into new plants the following spring. Top
note about mandrake seed viability: in the past, before I was buying and selling
seeds, I got black mandrake seeds a couple times from seed retailers.
Each time almost all the seeds were completely dead. I thought this
seed must be very short-lived. Not so. Back in September I found
some old packets of this seed under my desk. They had apparently
been knocking around down there for the past 18 months and sure
weren't being stored optimally. I thought what the heck and started
to soak them. I soaked them for 3 weeks because I didn't have time
to plant them after two. Well, they are germinating, so I guess
that these seeds are a bit hardier than I thought. This also means
that this seed will germinate out of season (it's November as I
© 2004, 2016 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission