The legendary mandrake,
or mandragora, originates from North Africa. It is interesting that Gaius
Plinius Secundus (23-79) wrote the following with reference to this plant:
"If one drinks a large amount of its sap, one is doomed to death. The one
who uses it in a normal quantity is exposed to its soporific effect.
Some people drink it to inactivate snake poisoning. Plinius Secundus
statement summarizes the effects of the plant, pointing out not only the
danger of its use but also the healing effect, which was much exaggerated
in the past.
It was believed that mandrake
possessed the magic power to heal a great variety of diseases, to induce
a feeling of love, affection and happiness. That is why the roots of mandrake
used to be as expensive as gold. However, except for the myths about this
herb, there is also documented data that it has been widely used in ancient
medicine. A Roman physician reported complicated surgical operations having
been performed in Alexandria under the anaesthetic effect of mandrake.
Arabian physicians also used it for anaesthetic purposes. In 11th and 12th
centuries, mandrake was recognized as an effective painkiller by the famous
at that time Universities of Bolonia and Salerno.
The amazing effects of
this herb are actually due to the high content of the alkaloids scopolamine,
mandragorin, and hyosciamine. Mandrake is no longer used in medicine. All
myths about this plant have already been dispelled and there is no mystery
about it anymore.