The Devil’s Apples (Mandrakes)

The Devil’s Apples (Mandrakes)

By John Cule

Vesalius, Vol.3:2 (1997)

Picture of a man collecting the mandrake root with the help of a dog (Tacuinum sanitatis, manuscript, 1390)

Abstract: The magic of the Mandrake grew with the passage of time. Elusive in its origins, where its associations lay with the age-long mysteries of love, its potency lingers on through the medicine of the Middle Ages, then beyond the Renaissance to find an historical mention even in the mid twentieth century physicians’ vade mecum, Martindale’s Extra Pharmacopoeia.

But before it is stripped of its more dramatic pretensions to stand revealed, there are romantic byways to explore, where it has played a role as powerful as its pharmacological properties; and these are real enough. Its nature is of the essence of mediaeval medicine. Its first secrets were those of love and fecundity and sleep. Sterile marriages were anathema to the Jews. What better authority to search for the means of their correction could be found than in The Bible itself, which records the success of the Mandrake in promoting fertility, when every other subterfuge had been exhausted.

Excerpt: The mandragora root was said conveniently to resemble the whole human form. It was the stuff of which panaceas are made. And when perchance it did not, then the carver’s art could soon effect a resemblance! Joan of Arc (1411- 1431) was reputed to possess a mandrake mannikin which she carried with her.

Thus Saint Hildegard in her Physica could prescribe remedies from it for every part.

If a man suffers from any infirmity in the head, let him eat of the head of this plant: or if he suffers in the neck, let him eat of its neck: or if in his back, from its back: or if in his arm, from its arm : or if in his hand, from its hand, or if in his knee, from its knee: or if in his foot, let him eat from its foot: or in whatsoever member he suffers, let him eat from the similar member of its form, and he will be better.

Click here to read this article from Vesalius

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine