Journal Mobile

MR Lee
Journal Issue: 
Volume 36: Issue 3: 2006




In this second article on the plant family, the Solanaceae (the mandrake) is discussed. This plant (Mandragora officinarum) was well known to the ancients, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and Hebrews.  Regarded by them all as  having  magical  powers, it  was  thought  to  be  possessed  by  a  Satanic  spirit.  In order to gather it safely, a number of elaborate rituals were developed by these different  ethnic  groups.   It  was  also  thought  to  be  propagated  at  scenes  of execution where the body of the felon released urine and semen. In later medieval times, these superstitious beliefs were rejected but the mandrake was still highly valued as a powerful anaesthetic and had considerable use as one constituent of the  soporific  surgical  sponge.   Eventually, nitrous  oxide, ether  and  chloroform consigned the mandrake to obscurity.  Nevertheless, its story remains one of the most fascinating in the history of medicine.