Uses. In some cultures European mandrake has traditional association with the devil, perhaps because a little imagination can envision the plant's root as a small humanoid figure. The plant's ominous connotation is illustrated in Romeo and Juliet as Juliet approaches death and shudders about hearing "shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth," referring to a belief that the plant screams if harvested. Witches reputedly made preparations from the plant that enabled them to fly.
Medicinal usage of European mandrake may date back as far as ancient Egypt, but in twenty-first-century Western medicine, only practitioners of homeopathy use the substance for healing. (Homeopathy uses extremely weak preparations of medicines.) Folk practitioners have given European mandrake to fight depression, asthma, hay fever, whooping cough, colic, and stomach ulcers. The plant has also been administered as a folk treatment to promote fertility, perhaps inspired by the story in Genesis 30: 14-17. Such usage is referred to by the line "Get with child a mandrake root" from John Donne's sonnet "Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star." The plant is linked with romance (Song of Solomon 7:13) and is a traditional aphrodisiac, although such a characteristic has not received scientific confirmation. Sedative and pain relief actions made the plant one of the first surgical anesthetics, and an image of it appears on the coat of arms of the British Association of Anaesthetists. European mandrake contains the so-called belladonna alkaloids atropine, hyo-scyamine, and scopolamine; therefore, European mandrake produces actions similar to those of belladonna.
Drawbacks. Unwanted effects can include rapid heartbeat, elevated body temperature, decrease in sweat and salivation, and difficulty with urination and bowel movements. The natural product initially acts as a sedative, but a strong enough dose converts mandrake into a stimulant that can cause manic behavior, delirium, and hallucinations. An amount sufficient to bring on those latter effects may be an amount sufficient for dangerous poisoning. Expert guidance is recommended for anyone using the plant.
Abuse factors. Not enough scientific information to report about tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, or addiction.
Drug interactions. Not enough scientific information to report.
Cancer. Not enough scientific information to report.
Pregnancy. Not enough scientific information to report.
Additional information. Podophyllum peltatum (CAS RN 9000-55-9 for resin) is the American mandrake, a different plant from the European one and one that persons sometimes use accidentally when they are seeking the European variety. The American version is also known as Devil's Apple, Duck's Foot, Ground Lemon, Hog Apple, Indian Apple, May Apple, Peca, Raccoon Berry, Umbrella Plant, Vegetable Calomel, Vegetable Mercury, Wild Jalap, Wild Lemon, Wild Mandrake, and Yellowberry. American mandrake is not a controlled substance.
Odor from the flowers may be unpleasant, yet the small fruit is not only edible but enjoyed by some persons. Leaves and stems are described as poisonous.
American mandrake is a traditional Native American medicine, and in former times it was considered a substitute for mercury's medical employment. Folk medicine uses the plant to treat fever, worms, constipation, warts, syphilis, jaundice, liver disease, and cancer. Etoposide, a substance derived from the plant, is scientifically known to work against cancer. American mandrake contains podophyllotoxin, a substance that acts against viruses causing measles and herpes simplex type I. A study found podophyllotoxin and podo-phyllin (another American mandrake substance) to be effective against a type of wart. Application of American mandrake natural product preparations to the skin must be skillful because the plant can injure the skin and even be fatal if too much drug content is absorbed.
Animal experiments with the natural product have produced salivation, vomiting, pain, and straining to defecate. Those unwanted effects also appear in humans, with enough force to cause hemorrhoids and displacement of the rectum. One authority warns that if someone eats too much of the fruit, its laxative effect can become overpowering. Ulcers of the small intestine have developed in animals that ingest American mandrake. A case is known of damage to nerves providing sensation to limbs after a person drank an American mandrake preparation. Persons working in an environment containing American mandrake dust have suffered irritated eyes and noses, along with coldness in their hands and feet.
The plant is suspected of causing birth defects, and usage is supposed to be avoided during pregnancy. A case report tells of fetal death after American mandrake was used to treat warts on a pregnant woman.
Additional scientific information may be found in:
Frasca, T., A.S. Brett, and S.D. Yoo. "Mandrake Toxicity: A Case of Mistaken Identity."
Archives of Internal Medicine 157 (1997): 2007-9.
Lust, J.B. The Herb Book. New York: Benedict Lust Publications, 1974. 259-60. Millspaugh, C.F. American Medicinal Plants. Philadelphia: John C. Yorston & Company,
1892. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1974. 61-64. Morton, J.F. Major Medicinal Plants: Botany, Culture and Uses. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1977. 87-89.
Vlachos, P., and L. Poulos. "Case of Mandrake Poisoning." Journal of Toxicology: Clinical
Toxicology 19 (1982): 521-22. Weiner, M.A. Weiner's Herbal. New York: Stein and Day, 1980. 124-25.
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