The Poisonous Path: Mandrake

The Poisonous Path: Mandrake

Pake Nielson

During the changing of seasons, we begin to show our true colors. Whether by nature or by the hunter's moon, drastic change is called forth in order to realize the lives we have always wanted. Our shadows begin to reveal more of ourselves as the earth moves away from the brilliant honesty of the sun. Days become shorter and we are faced with more and more unavoidable indecisions. Left with fewer hours of the day to think things through, little subconscious slips create a domino effect of change in our lives.

The Mandrake Root

The Mandrake root, or Atropa mandragora, has long been revered for its powerful presence in chemistry and magic alike. From cursed spirits to love potions and anesthesia. Medicine, science, and folklore all seem to have an important relationship with this plant. Mandrake can be found under many herbal and substance classifications, such as entheogen, hypnotoxin, hallucinogenic, hypnotic, anticholinergic, emetic, narcotic, sedative, aphrodisiac, and purgative. And if you were to take Mandrake internally, you should expect nothing less. This is due to Mandrake’s overwhelming number of plant constituents and more specifically, the secondary metabolites Tropane Alkaloids.

In fact, Mandrake root remains in the apothecary of herbalists on the Poisonous Path specifically for the high amounts of alkaloids found within the plant's roots and leaves. Scopolamine and hyoscyamine are the chief toxic alkaloids found within Atropa mandragora. These alkaloids are commonly found throughout the Solanaceae family of plants, which includes Deadly Nightshade, or Atropa belladonna. This family is notorious for deadly plants, and yet vegetable produce such as the common potato and tomato are all filed under the same family name.

Alkaloids mainly play a part in the plant's defense mechanisms against herbivores and pathogens, which is why they can have such intoxicating effects on our system. Yet it seems our ancestors found a use for just about everything and anything, even the likes of Mandrake. Traditional Western medicine calls for a milk-based poultice made from the leaves of Atropa mandragora for its strong cooling effects and ability to aid in the healing of ulcers. Formulas from ancient Greece call upon opium and Mandrake root alike for their narcotic characteristics in order to induce anesthesia for patients undergoing surgery.

The toxicity of these plants is in fact due to the potency, or amount of alkaloids and other plant constituents contained within these super-deadly foods. Our bodies simply can't handle the complexity of chemical interactions taking place in these green beings. However, when taken in therapeutic dosage, these otherwise deadly plants can aid and heal ailments other more common herbs might not be able to touch. This is the dangerous nature of poison, and yet the only difference between a poison and a non-poison is the amount you take. The alkaloids of Mandrake root are soluble both in water and alcohol, meaning a plant extract can be prepared as a tincture, cordial, or tea.

It is of course stressed that you should be under the supervision of a Naturopathic Doctor or Registered Herbalist who is experienced in working with Mandrake root. It is all too easy to ingest a toxic dose of any of the herbs classified as an entheogen or toxic medicinal plant. The damages of Mandrake root when consumed may be irreversible, whether they be physical or psychological.

The Magic and Folklore of Mandrake Root

Mandrake root has a long-standing history of growing alongside the Human race, which makes its human-like resemblance even more alluring. The first accounts of Mandrake root appear in Mesopotamia, and soon after, in Babylonian accounts. More definitively, it's found in the Jewish mystical practices of the wise king Solomon. Mandrake was used as a ceremonial incense during the first temple period 1200-586 BCE (Fez Inkwright). Today, Mandrake is smoked and similarly used as incense in order to bring on its spiritual and otherwise visionary works.

There is a great deal of folklore surrounding the actual harvesting of Mandrake root, among the most famous is of course the cautionary tale of a terrible scream. When harvested without the need for the Mandrake's medicine, it is said that the Mandrake inflicts a deadly scream upon the poacher's ears. The only way to insure your safety was to plug one's ears with candle wax and tie a rope linking the head of the mandrake to the tail of the dog. Doing so was said to direct the scream at the poor dog while harvesting the Mandrake root.

The leaves and aerial parts of the Mandrake are said to be of Venus, and the roots of Saturn. This helps explain its classification as both an aphrodisiac and a toxin. As if in a strange dream, we have become close to the Mandrake plant, and as we continue to learn more about the powerful constituents stored within its leaves and roots, Mandrake seems to be waiting nearby. Waiting to be unearthed with a scream as if babe at birth held and wrapped, cradled like a root-like man from the earth.

Our world becomes strange and cold this time of year, signaling all of life to hide away and rest. The change gives birth to mind-altering dreams. Our bodies are not separate from nature, no matter how many cement jungles we build. Remember to be kinder to your body during this time of year. Naturally, you will want to do less, conserve your energy, and dream of a brighter and more lively world awaiting you in the spring.

Thank you for joining us on The Poisonous Path this month, and for the final edition of the year 2022. Continue to watch your step as we walk down this toxic, slippery slope, you never know what screams you might come across.


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