Mandragora officinarum var.
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 solution, as described in general growing tips. 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
They are slow to come up (some sources advise waiting a year before tossing them), but they will. Make sure they stay moist but not sopping and do not put them in direct sunlight--more than any other plant I have grown, mandrakes dislike sun. 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 full 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 shade with perhaps morning sun, depending on how warm your climate is. 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 (or if it's too hot or too cold or not the right time of year--this is a very persnickety plant). Check the undersides of the leaves for aphids regularly, and use Safer Insecticidal Soap to get rid of them if they turn up. top
Once you get a mandrake going, you can propagate it by dividing its roots 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). This plant needs plenty of pot length to make a good root. Otherwise, the root will twist all around upon itself and the plant will go dormant. You can 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 (this usually takes 3-4 months, and I have some roots in the ground that are a year old that are not dead but that haven't produced any top growth either). 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. It is very nice to do the traditional unearthing: dig up the root using a piece of antler or horn at midnight, smudge it, and anoint it with a few drops of wine, then wrap it in silk. You can even rebury it then, or 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 if they are not too thick (thick roots will rot before they dry all the way through). 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--possible in the Pacific Northwest or by using grow lights to keep them going through the winter in more hostile climes. 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. General growing info. top
Right now I am out of seeds, but I have fresh European mandrake roots
Mandragora officinarum (vernalis)
Get some black mandrake seeds to go with them!
I hope to have live mandrake plants in spring. Sign up to be notified when they are ready
See how the mandrake experiment is going!
Uses in Witchcraft & Magick:
© 2004, 2013 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission