By White Bryony
Mandrakes belong to a large family of the plants known as the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. There are several different species within the mandragora genus, though the one most commonly used within witchcraft is Mandragora Officinarum. They have oval shaped leaves, small flowers that vary in colour from species to species (the autumnalis variety has quite lovely purple flowers), and fruit that resemble tomatoes (another Solanaceae).
Great swathes of folklore surround the mandrake, as far back as Ancient Egypt where a myth recounts the goddess Sekhmet going on a great rampage against humanity. The gods were unable to reason with her, so they gave her wine with boiled mandrake root which knocked her out. The roots will often be split into two giving them a humanoid appearance (this led to stories of the roots looking like people) and it is said that anyone who hears the mandrake scream when it is uprooted will die. This led to elaborate rituals involving dogs pulling up the plant or loud instruments, such as horns, being played at the moment of uprooting (I will admit my slight disappointment when I uprooted my first mandrake when it didn’t even wail).