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American Mandrake

  • Podophyllumm peltatum L.
  • Berberidaceae
  • Barberry family



Common Names

herbsAmerican mandrake
herbsDuck's foot
herbsGround lemon
herbsHog apple
herbsIndian apple
herbsLang-tu (Chinese name)
herbsLove apples
herbsMandragora
herbsMay apple
herbsRacoon berry
herbsWild lemon
herbsWild mandrake


Parts Usually Used

Root (dried tubers)


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

A perennial woodland plant of the barberry family, with shield-shaped leaves and a single, waxy, large white, cuplike flower 2 inches across, droops from crotch of leaves; May to June. It has an edible, lemon-yellow, oval (egg shaped) fruit about 2 inches long, called the "apples". These are edible when fully ripe with a flavor reminiscent of strawberry. A popular ornamental, it grows 12-18 inches tall. Leaves may be called umbrella-like, smooth, paired, distinctive. The dark brown, fibrous, jointed rootstock produces a simple, round stem which forks at the top into two petioles, each supporting a large, round, palmately 5-9 lobed, yellowish-green leaf. Some plants, growing from different rootstocks, are non-flowering. These have only a single leaf on an unforked stem.


Where Found

Found in low, shady lands, roadsides, deciduous, rich woods, fields, and clearings in New England to Florida; Texas to Minnesota. It likes rich, moist soil and is easily increased by division or seed. (This is not the old-world mandrake or the European mandrake (Mandragora officinarum))


Medicinal Properties

Antibilious, cathartic, emetic, diaphoretic (increases perspiration), cholagogue (increases the flow of bile to the intestine), alterative, emmenagogue, resolvent, vermifuge (expel intestinal worms), and deobstruent (relieving obstruction), counter-irritant, hydragogue


Biochemical Information

A neutral crystalline substance, podo-phyllotoxins, podophylloresin, and amorphous resin, picro-podophyllin, quercetin, starch, sugar, fat and yellow coloring matter


Legends, Myths and Stories

May apple, or mandrake, thrives under oak trees; the shallow roots of the mandrake feed on the soil fertilized by tannin bearing leaves fallen from the oak tree.

This herb, as a drug, seems to be a very ancient one with the Chinese, as it is mentioned in the Shennung Pentsao (28th century BC) as one of the five poisons.

At least on one occasion in the Bible, mandrake or may apple played an important role in the story line. In Genesis, Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob, were constantly vying for his favor. Rachel had remained barren, while Leah had given many sons to Jacob. When Leah's son Reuben found a mandrake, a reputed aphrodisiac, Rachel begged Leah to give it to her. In exchange for the mandrake, Rachel agrees to let Leah spend the night with Jacob. Leah promptly becomes pregnant, but later, so does Rachel. To this day, mandrakes are called "love apples" in the Middle East and are still supposed to be aphrodisiac.


Uses

Excellent regulator for liver and bowels. In chronic liver diseases it has no equal. Valuable in jaundice, bilious or intermittent fever. Good physic; is often combined with senna leaves. It is very beneficial in uterine diseases. It acts powerfully upon all the tissues of the body.

Native Americans and early settlers used the roots as a strong purgative, "liver cleanser", emetic, worm expellent, for jaundice, constipation, hepatitis, fevers, and syphilis. Resin from the root, podophyllin (highly allergenic), used to treat venereal warts. Etoposide, a semisynthetic derivative of this plant, is FDA-approved for testicular and small-cell lung cancer. The Old Testament recommended mandrake as a cure for sterility especially in women.


Formulas or Dosages

Small doses given frequently should be used in order to prevent severe purgative action. Steep 1 tsp. in a pint of boiling water and take 1 tsp. of this tea at a time. Children less according to age. Take 1 capsule a day for no longer than 1 week at a time. Should be administered under medical supervision.


Warning

Mandrake is a potent herb; it should be taken with care. It has toxic properties that have resulted in birth deformities and fatalities. Tiny amounts of root or leaves are poisonous. Powdered root and resin can cause skin and eye problems. Other herbs can give the same results and are much safer to use. Mandrake should be used only under medical supervision. Never take during pregnancy.

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