A plant, about which there have been a multitude of errors, but in which, there is, in reality, nothing so singular as pretended. There are properly speaking, two kinds of mandrake; the one with round fruit, and broad leaves, called the male; the other with oblong fruit, and narrower leaves, called the female: their virtues are the same, but the male is generally preferred. They are natives of Italy, where they grow in woods, and on the banks of rivers: we keep them in gardens; but they grow there as freely as if native.
The mandrake has no stalk. The leaves rise immediately from the root, and they are very large: they are a foot long, four inches broad in the middle, and of a dusky green colour, and bad smell. The flowers stand upon foot stalks, of four inches high, slender, and hairy, and rising immediately from the root: these flowers are large, of a dingy purplish colour, and of a very bad smell. The fruit which follows, is of the bigness and shape of a small apple, or like a small pear, according to the male or female kind: this is yellow when ripe, and is also of a very bad smell. The root is long and thick; it is largest at the head, and smaller all the way down; sometimes it is divided into two parts, from the middle downwards, if a stone have lain in the way, or any other accident occasioned it; but usually it is single. This is the root which is pictured to be like the human form: it is when single, no more like a man than a carrot or a parsnip is, and when by some accident it is divided, 'tis no more like, than any long root, which happens to have met the same accident. Those roots which are shewn about for money and have the head, limbs, and figure, of a human form, are made so by art, and they seldom use the real mandrake root for that purpose: they are often made of white briony root, sometimes of angelica. The people cut them into this shape, and put them into the ground again, where they will be sometimes in part covered with a new bark, and so look natural. All the story that they shriek, when they are pulled up, and they use a dog to draw them out of the ground, because it is fatal to any person to do it, and the like, are idle, false, and groundless; calculated only to surprise ignorant people, and get money by the shew: there is nothing singular in the root of the mandrake; and as to the terms male and female, the two kinds would be better distinguished, by calling the one, the broader leaved mandrake, with round fruit, and the other, the narrower leaved mandrake, with oval fruit. There are plants which are separately male and female, as hemp, spinach, the date tree, and the like: but there is nothing of this distinction in the mandrakes.
The fresh root of mandrake, is a violent medicine; it operates both by vomit and stool, and few constitutions are able to bear it. The bark of the root dried works by vomit alone, but very roughly. The fruit may be eaten, but it has a sleepy quality, though not strong. The leaves are used in fomentations and pultices. to allay pains in swellings, and they do very well.
Most of the idle stories concerning the mandrake, have taken their origin from its being named in scripture. And from the account there given of it, some have imagined, it would make women fruitful; but this plant does not seem to be the thing intended by the word, nor has it any such virtues. What the vegetable is, which is named in the scripture, and translated mandrake, we do not know.