The mandrake is a plant that grows from Portugal to Greece. In the particular case of Portugal, it only grows in the Algarve and Alentejo and are rare plants to find. It is estimated that there are only 400 plants of this species in the country, spread over nine places, occupying about 60 square kilometres of Portuguese territory.
It is during the autumn that the flowers of this plant bloom, between November and January. The flower has five purple petals, in a shape similar to a triangle. The flower also has five stamens. During the summer, the fruit will grow, but it is not edible. The round orange fruit releases a very toxic smell that is not very pleasant to people’s noses.
The plant grows in unfarmed fields, for example near olive trees and in pine tree forests. Usually, it grows in sunny places, in well-drained soils, filled with minerals. Although it is great at supporting high and low temperatures, the plant does not handle frost or very humid soil.
In Portuguese culture, this autumn plant is linked to traditions, folklore, and superstitions. The root of the plant has a shape similar to a human, leading to various beliefs, such as the scream of the root would make people dizzy, or even drive the person insane. The plant would be harvested during the Full Moon, close to the sunrise, or close to the Spring Equinox. During the Middle Ages, people would tie a black dog’s tail to the plant, to be harvested by the dog, the moment it would run.
Even though harvesting a mandrake could be considered dangerous, people would be brave enough to do it, as people believed that the plant could protect people from evil and even cure every disease, spiritual or not, just like in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where mandrakes were used to cure those who were frozen by the basilisk.
Nowadays, people still believe that a mandrake may protect a house from the Evil Eye, gain richness, or take it from someone. Despite the evolution of science, some people still like to use it medically. The mandrake is used in homoeopathic treatment, for example, but it is advisable to leave this to a professional when using mandrake to cure diseases, as the side effects of incorrect use of the plant may be harder to treat than the disease.
People may know the plant from the Harry Potter saga, but why not go outside and try to find more about this mysterious plant, that is full of tradition and superstition? But be careful, hearing the scream of a mandrake may be the last thing you do!
Deeply in love with music and with a guilty pleasure in criminal cases, Bruno G. Santos decided to study Journalism and Communication, hoping to combine both passions into writing. The journalist is also a passionate traveller who likes to write about other cultures and discover the various hidden gems from Portugal and the world. Press card: 8463.