European Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) is found in small areas of northern Italy, and the coast of the former Yugoslavia. Its large brown root, which extends as deep as three or four feet into the soil, frequently forks and branches, at times looking very like a small human figure. In ancient times mandrake root was used as a surgical anesthetic, and as a sleep aid for patients in pain. It is both hallucinogenic and narcotic. The fresh root is strongly emetic (induces vomiting) and purgative (find the bathroom quickly), while the dried root is merely mildly emetic. Nowadays, the internal use of mandrake is limited primarily to homeopathic medicines for asthma or hay fever. Not only the root, but also the entire mandrake plant is extremely poisonous.
In witchcraft, one time honored – and non-internal – use of the European mandrake is as a magistellus, or guardian for the home. This is an operation that takes full advantage of the mandrake’s naturally interesting shape. While the moon is waxing, the witch uses an athamé (ritual knife) to carve the mandrake root into a doll of the opposite gender. While carving, the witch repeats something like, “Guard this home in Gaia’s (or any Earth goddess’) name.” For maximum potency, the witch then takes the root to a churchyard or a crossroads – or if those aren’t possible, any other patch of earth – where the witch draws a deosil (clockwise) circle in the soil, and buries the mandrake. For the next twenty-eight days, the witch waters it regularly, either with twelve parts distilled water mixed with one part blood, or twelve parts distilled water mixed with one part milk.
When the twenty-eight days have elapsed, just before midnight, the witch again draws a deosil circle around the spot where the mandrake is buried, and digs it up with the athamé. Then, the witch takes it home to be thoroughly cleaned and dried. The witch may elect to dry it in a 100-degree oven, accompanied by vervain leaves allowed to smoke, or choose to air dry the root, passing it through the smoke of burning vervain once a day. Lemon verbena is a more commonly available substitute for vervain. How long the oven drying method takes depends on the size of the mandrake root; the air-drying method takes about three months. Once the mandrake root is dry, the witch places it as near the hearth as possible, or in the room in the home that is used the most.