Sunday, 15 January 2012
It's a boy!
No doubt to protect the trade, the ancient herbalists invented myths about the origins of the roots, and fabulous methods for harvesting them, needed because of their potency. The most famous is that when dug the mandrake shrieks, with fatal effect to all who hear it: in consequence it was necessary to very cautiously excavate the root and for the final tug tie it to a dog, while retreating out of earshot. As the dog responds to a call it yanks out the root, but in so doing hears the scream and dies. This legend dates back to classical times and is charmingly illustrated in this illustration in a Pflanzenbuch of about 1500, by an anonymous herbalist from northern Italy, now kept in Munich (from Blunt & Raphael, 1979, The Illustrated Herbal). I've only dug up one mandrake and was really quite disappointed when it didn't scream, but it re-established, which was more important.