Well…I have found the time out during my seed collection expedition in Italy to update you all on my plant of the week…
So here goes week number 2 and another update on a plant I would most definitely classify as cool (or shall I say Fico!) as f#ck. A plant I’m sure many of you have already heard of or some reference to it, which is one of my favorites, possibly due to its devilish past, but come on who doesn’t enjoy a bit of morbid intrigue?
The plant of reference is the Mandragora officianarium, also commonly known as Mandrake hailing from the Solanaceae family, also commonly known as the deadly nightshade family. Mandragora officianarum has centuries long associations with magical practices and mysticism from love potions to sudden death, as well as a long history in traditional medicine from treating toothache to inducing sleep…..BUT HOW I hear you cry!
Well, my modern day witches and wizards and knowledge seekers, I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of it all as I claim to be many things but a chemist is not one of them, so I’ll break it down for y’all. You see plants contain alkaloids, which are naturally occurring organic compounds that have pronounced physiological effects on humans. Some may be pleasant, others not so, depending on dosage of course as well! Ever drank 4 espressos and thought you were going to die? Yeah well, you’ve overdone it on the alkaloids man.
Just some examples of alkaloids that I’m sure many of us could not live without such as that lovely stimulant CAFFIENE (commonly found in: Coffea arabica) or what about nicotine (Nicotiana tobacum), one which I personally could do with cutting out of my life for good.
Anyway, my lovelies I digress, the alkaloid in question here is scopolamine, which our friend Mandragora offianarum has in abundance. Scopolamine as an anesthetic induces effects of intoxication and narcosis, making users lose all sense of themselves, impairing memory, and inducing a deep sleep, as well as being a narcotic hallucinogen. No, that wasn’t just a beer you were drinking love!
It is no wonder then that is has such a long and shrouded past in medicine and mysticism. The berries, known as ‘the berries of love’ were seen to reflect more feminine parts of the human body and were also used in ‘love potions’ which we would now know as modern day rohypnol. All those saucy witches would make a brew from the berries for their unbeknown ‘lucky’ lover and due to the high concentration of scopolamine would go into a sedated state leaving the women to have their wicked way with them, waking up feeling confused and heavy headed.
However, it is not just from a chemical point of view why I find Mandragora officinarum so intriguing but also the physical appearance of this strange plant. Mandragora officinarum was given its name because its taproot was thought to resemble a small human figure (“man”) and because it was believed to have mystical powers (“dragon”). Harry Potter fans it’s your big moment…..leading to the myth that if uprooted the plant lets out a deathly scream and for whom he hears it is almost certain death. This lead to herbalists use of animals to uproot the plant to save themselves of a fate most deadly such as horses and even dogs, illustrations of which can be seen in medieval herbals, expressing how this plant was also thought to be completely cool as f#ck even in ancient times.
‘Release the hounds Smithers, I have a Mandragora to catch….’