Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), a poisonous plant from Southern Europe, is said to promote good fortune and keep demons away. But before you go hunting for it in the backyard, be warned. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that once uprooted, this pale, leafy plant would let out a shriek deadly to any soul within earshot.
This toxic member of the nightshade family also helped destroy Shakespeare’s famous couple, Romeo and Juliet. The mandrake-infused sleeping potion Juliet drinks causes Romeo to believe she is dead, leading to the tale’s tragic ending.
Mandrake also has played a romantic role in history. The Greeks used it to concoct love potions, a practice still followed by some in the 21st century. Today, Wiccans add a tiny particle of powdered mandrake leaf to a glass of white wine to encourage romantic love and to red wine to promote passional lovemaking.
Justine Patton is an editorial intern at The Herb Companion