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American Mandrake

American Mandrake
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

American Mandrake

Podophyllum peltatum [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Core eudicots: Caryophyllales: Amaranthaceae: Amaranthus: Podophyllum peltatum ]

Common Names:
Mayapple, Devil’s Apple, Hog-apple, Indian Apple, American Mandrake, American May Apple, Racoonberry, Wild Lemon, Witches Umbrella

Eastern North America – Southern Maine to Florida, west to Texas and Minnesota.

American Mandrake, while confused for European Mandrake because of its humanoid root form, is a barberry rather than a nightshade so doesn’t contain tropanes. Some describe it as looking like a small umbrella rising out of the floor of the forest. There could be upwards of thousands of stems in the colonies resembling mini forests since they branch out from the same root system are genetically identical as from a single plant. But it is still beneficial yet deadly. Easy to identify because of its single stem and umbrella-like leaf arrangements. It grows wild in damp North American woodlands. Its a perrenial native that grows in moist soils in rich woods, thickets, and pastures. American Mandrake grows upwards of 18 inches high with the stem separating into 2 large dark green long stemmed palmate lobed leaves that look like umbrellas that are protecting the large white flower that is on a short peduncle that grows right in between the leaves flowering from April to May. Spring flowers of the American Mandrake turn into crab apple sized edible fruits that are gathered in late summer when fully ripe. May Apple colonies do not flower until it is 12 years old, then display blossoms resembling small satellite dishes followed by the fruit. The colonies grow very slowly averaging 4 inches a year. Mandrake roots are in humanoid shape, dark brown, fibrous, and jointed.

American Mandrake is fairly easy to grow using seedling transplans or seeds sown in the fall and prefers rich well drained soil and partial shade. Roots are usually gathered after the foliage dies back and then dried for later use.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:
Its ripe fruit is edible, but the rest of the plant (especially the root) contains a powerful cytotoxin (cell killer). Fruit is eaten when fully ripe either raw, cooked, or made into jams, jellies, marmalades, and pies. May apple is very aromatic and has a sweet flavor. The seeds and rinds are poisonous and not edible.

Medicinal Uses:
This plant is currently used in chemotherapy against cancer. Most of the plant contains a powerful cytotoxin (cell killer), especially he root. Root and plant contain Quercetic, Kaempferol, Podophyllin, Isorhamnetin, Gallic acid, Berberine, and Alpha-peltatin; all of which are utilized in healing and anticancer remedies. It is also used for skin cancer treatment. The root is the most medicinal part of the plant as it is antibilious, cathartic, cytostatic, hydrogogue and purgative. Resin from the root is used in the treatment of warts. The herb produces nausea and vomiting, inflammation of the stomach and intestines, and can be fatal. Even in moderate doses it is a drastic purgative with cholagogue action. Native Americans used the plant for a powerful laxative, treating intestinal worms, as a cure for warts, snakebite, and insecticide for their crops. It was also used commonly to committ suicide. Pioneers made an extract from the roots as a cathartic and cure for constipation. Reports from pharmaceutical workers describe severe skin sores and eye inflammations just from handling the poisonous root. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems the plant as “unsafe”.

Magical Uses:
An extremely magical plant, Mandrake (American or European) is utilized in much spellcraft because its root takes on a humanoid form and good to use in sympathetic and contact magic. It is ruled by Saturn.

Folklore and History:
The plant is extensively used by Native Americans. American witches have and still use the plant as a poison, cure, and medicine. Just as its European counterpart, its often nicknamed Manroot (mandrake) for its shape, and believed to be alive screaming when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane.