Celebrating A Birthday (of sorts)

I’m celebrating …

Last Saturday I went into the garden to do a little work (until I realized that what I was doing was aggravating my spasming trapezius muscle, that is). As always, I checked to see what was coming up and lo and behold, three Mandrakes have popped a couple of leaves above ground! I looked again last night and yet another is rearing a couple of leaves.

You may not know that Mandrake Mandragora officinarum is a very difficult plant to start from seed (at least for me and many of my friends). You’re supposed to put them in water in the refrigerator for about a week, changing the water each day, then start them as you would any other seed.  This I did to 12 seeds over a year ago.  I did everything I’d read I should but they didn’t seem to want to come up in the starter pots.  So, I just put them in a bed in the garden, hoping for the best. Nothing happened at all last year but this year, voila! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at least two more finish germinating.

Why am I growing Mandrake? Well, a couple of years ago, I started looking at what herbs I wanted versus what was readily available through my store’s normal supply channels.  That prompted me to change some of my garden beds over to a few more exotics. I don’t plan on using Mandrake internally as it has a low therapeutic margin but I might try the recommended poultice of mashed root for arthritis pain. No, what I wanted it for was the fact that a single mandrake root, placed on the mantel or somewhere close to the center of the house, will give protection and prosperity.

It’s said that a Mandrake root has a human appearance. People even differentiate between “male” and “female” roots. I’ve seen photos of fully-grown roots (2 years old or more) and truthfully, can’t see the resemblance.  I agree with Mrs. M. Grieve that they look more like turnips. I’ll be curious to see what mine look like in 2 years when I harvest them.

I don’t think I’ll be following the old way of harvesting Mandrake. From The Old English Herbarium Manuscript (Latin translation available in Europe ca. 900 CE):

“This plant which one calls ‘mandragora’ is large and splendid in appearance and it is effective … you must dig around it so that you do not touch with with the iron but you must vigorously dig up the earth with an ivory wand, and when you see its hands and feet, bind them, then take the other end and tie it to a dog’s neck – let the dog be hungry, then throw meat in front of him so that he may not reach it unless he should pull up the plant; concerning this plant it is said that it has such great might that whatever thing pulls it up, it will shortly be betrayed in the same way …”

I wouldn’t do that to a dog.

Nor do I think I’ll wear ear muffs as in Harry Potter. No, I’ll harvest it with the same care I give to the rest of my plants, leaving a couple of pieces of root yet in the ground to grow again. Then I’ll pick my favorite one and put in on our fireplace mantel. Even the Old English Herbarium says, “If any should see an oppressive evil in his house, let him take this plant ‘mandragoram’ to the middle of the house, it forces out all evil”.

In the meantime, I’m gonna baby those four plants!