The rise and fall of mandrake in medicine

J Ethnopharmacol. 2023 Mar 1:303:115874. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2022.115874. Epub 2022 Nov 14.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Mandrake (Mandragora sp.) is one of the most famous medicinal plants. It has been in continuous medical use throughout written history and is still in use today in popular medicine.

Aim of the study: Mandrake derived drugs once played an important role in medicine and in magical practices. Today, the role of mandrake in popular medicine is marginal. However, natural products present in mandrake such as atropine and scopolamine, as well as their semi synthetic derivatives continue to hold and important role in medicine. Here we aim to trace the development of historical rationales and scientific events that led to the abandonment of mandrake as a medicine.

Materials and methods: We review the medicinal uses of mandrake drugs since antiquity in an attempt to pinpoint use patterns that were popular in certain periods of time and others that are more general. We compare the uses from the native territories to those from regions where the plant got introduced and use literature reporting mandrake's chemistry and pharmacology in order to explain the diachronic changes of use patterns.

Results and conclusion: We found information about 88 different medicinal uses for mandrake, grouped into 39 conditions. According to the number of different medicinal uses, the most versatile period was the medieval (37), followed by the Renaissance (31), the classical (27), and the modern period (21). Considering the higher number of textual sources and use-records collected for the Renaissance period, the decrease of versatility in comparison to the medieval period appears robust. This seems to indicate a more consolidated use pattern, that might be conditioned by the reproduction of classic textual sources as well as by a less experimental approach and reduced popularity of mandrake in medicine. The introduction of the volatile anaesthetics with more reliable narcotic effects set the seal on using mandrake in surgery but opened the way for atropine being used as a prophylactic and antidote during surgical interventions.

Keywords: Diachronic medicinal plant use; Ethnobotany; Herbals; History; Mandragora.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atropine Derivatives
  • Biological Products*
  • Ethnobotany / history
  • Mandragora*
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plants, Medicinal*


  • Biological Products
  • Atropine Derivatives