Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Male and female mandrakes

Posted on by royvickery |

Amots Dafni is interested in ‘male’ and ‘female’ mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum), and their use to produce male or female children.
Any information on this would be appreciated.

1. There are a number of images, mostly poorly documented, of male and female mandrakes in the Bob Richel collection at the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall; see the Museum’s website – [RV, 8 July 2013].
2. I’m not sure how relevant this is, but in her Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, 1969, pp.46-7, Enid Porter records:
‘W.H. Barrett [b.1891] remembers old Fenmen digging up roots [of mandrake; not true mandrake, but white bryony, Bryonia dioica], selecting those most human in shape, washing them carefully and putting on their marks – few of the older generations could read or write. On their visits to the local in the men took their roots with them to join others arranged on the taproom mantelshelf ready to be judged in a competition for which each entrant paid a small fee. On Saturday night the landlord’s wife would be called in to judge the exhibits, a prize being awarded for the root which most resembled the female figure. These ‘Venus Nights’ were popular with both landlord and customers, because the entrance fees were spent on beer and tobacco.
After the prize had been awarded the winning root stayed on the shelf until it was ousted by a finer specimen. Even then the first one was not discarded, for if it was suspended by a string from the rafters of a sow’s sty it was reckoned that more piglets would be produced’ [Josie Smith, 9 July 2013].
3. The following is from Anna J. Papamichael’s Birth & Plant Symbolism, 1975, p.38; she cites as her source Medical History 6: 342, 1962:
‘In an investigation undertaken in Delhi under the Ayurved Research Council of India, Lakshmana has been found capable of controlling the sex of the prospective child. Lakshmana is known to the medico as Mandragora officinarum … and is available in both the male and female varieties. The male shaped variety is used for begetting a son, the female to produce a daughter, by administering it in the second month of pregnancy …’ [RV, 16 July 2013].

Image: Mappa Mundi, c. 1300, Hereford Cathedral, July 2018.

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