Growing mystical plants requires a certain amount of consciousness on the part of the gardener, and for best results one allows the plants to call the shots. This is only to the extent of one’s willingness to let go of control. One never really knows where it will all go. Simply wishing the plant to do well seems to be the best approach.
I never had much luck with growing Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) until I checked with people from where the plant grows in the wild. They told me it grows near rocks in very alkaline soil. So I started planting my 2 and 3-year-old seedlings (that had been living in pots) into a specially prepared bed that had a good deal of ground limestone and oyster shell dug in. I placed every plant at the north side of a rock (rocks from the very local creek, laid on the surface). Around the transplants I scattered more coarse, sharp sand and white pumice as a means to increase drainage at the crown. Then I started to have some luck!
As I write this it is late winter and the mandrake patch is again alive. One of the largest plants already is emerging, primary leaves like blunt-fingered hands raised up in prayer, piercing through the sand. The leaves part to show a cluster of nascent flowers, already glowing distantly purple. The moist sand around the crown is filled with weedlings which I pull out or sever with my knife. A few mullein volunteers are vigorously excluded as the mullein would soon overpower the mandrake. Right around the crown of the emergent mandrake I remove some necrotic tissue, blackened stems from last year’s growth. These would only invite insects and slugs. So then the clean sand is firmed up around the crown of the plant and tamped securely. A cedar wood stake is pushed in, slanted over the plant, to mark and protect it. All this is the main upkeep required in early winter.
The delicate transition from potted seedling to outdoor-growing plant is best accomplished while the plant is in vegetative phase, not dormancy. Gradual acclimatization is very important, and actually burying the potted plant near the proposed planting site and allowing it to accommodate for a week or two before barerooting and planting may significantly improve success rates.
Therefore the best time for planting is in the early spring, when the plant can still be expected to hold on to its green leaves for a month or more while the root digs in. Then, as always, it will succumb to summer dormancy. Fruiting plants will last somewhat longer, and even after the largest leaves dry up and curl back, the fruits make a buxom display, first green-skinned, then yellow. The scent they emit attracts all kinds of takers, including ‘possum and skunk if not the black cat of the local wisewoman. I’ve lost several and have learned my lesson. One is well-advised to pick in the green, turgid stage and allow the fruits to safely ripen on an indoor windowsill. I’ve heard that shepherds in the Middle East do the same. One would think this practice might produce immature seed , but actually fruits picked green do produce mature seed. It takes a little cure-time.
What you do with your mandrake is up to you. The plants themselves seem to be able to bring up lingering sins of the soul, what are known in Vedic terminology as “vasanas,” tendencies toward avarice, pride, jealousy, fear. Like I said in the beginning, it requires consciousness to grow them without being overly affected. Since I know the psychic pitfalls, I can avoid falling into them. On a more gut level, I’ve eaten mandrake fruits and come to no harm. They taste like a cross between a tomatillo and a withered apple ripened on the twig, neither picked nor pecked, shriveled in the sun, developing a deep alcoholic sweetness emitting a beguiling autumnal aroma just shy of rot. I advise against consuming the seeds, though, they are serious repositories of alkaloids mandragorine and scopalamine, which are not fun. Besides, the preciousness of the seeds is in the planting. The fresh seeds may be immediately planted in Cactus mix and set to the warm shade. They will germinate in about 8 months time. Dried seeds take a whole year to come up. Someone once told me they refrigerated the seeds in pure water for some weeks before planting. I tried this, and found that it did reduce germination time. Place the fresh or dried seeds in a well-lidded (and labeled!) jar of cold willow tea (directions on how to make this in “Growing Plant Medicine,”) in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, shaking daily. Then, plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep in sand in a flat positioned about 18 inches below an 8-bulb T-5 grow light. Tamp securely and water once a day. Leave the light going night and day, maintaining a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees F. App. 80% germination occurs within 3 weeks.
You can read more on how to grow Mandrake in my book Growing Plant Medicine, A Guide for Cultivating Plants that Heal Volume 1.
47 thoughts on “Growing Mandrake — Beyond the Basics”
Hi Richo! What is your advice about trying to germinate mandrake seeds in Jiffy peet pellets? The process is already underway for me and they have been in the pellets for over two months now with no signs of life. I did the refrigerator bath with the seeds for a month as well. Is light essential for germination? I’ve got the pellets outside right now absorbing the sun’s rays as that ~feels~ right….
hi jamie, sorry for the long wait, that is often the case with mandrake, I waited 12 months for my first sprout. I think it would be better to use a fast draining mix. one looks to the native substrate and finds a rocky, sandy, alkaline soil. That is the same kind of soil that one uses for planting the seeds. See “Growing Plant Medicine” for great recipes on making your own fast-draining mix. richo
You mention that you didn’t have much luck with your Mandrakes initially, but then started using oyster and rocks and things got better. I am on my second year with these guys and they are coming up. How do I know how well they are doing? I have them in pots and one of them put its taproot through the bottom of a 10″ pot last year. Should I just let them go for a few years as long as they seem happy enough?
As long as the pots are left indoors, the plants will never grow as happily as if they were out in nature. One caveat is if your winters are too cold, they might not make it. Check the zone requirements on our website at strictly medicinal seeds or in my new book “Growing Plant Medicine” on page 152. After growing them in pots for a couple of years, consider planting them outdoors. Or at least keep the potted plants outdoors to give them more freedom. Usually works best to transplant while aerial and with leaves–works less well to transplant dormant roots–counterintuitive–works best to transplant between years 2 and 3. The value of having them outdoors is that they will fruit more reliably.
I so appreciated what you said about consciousness in raising mandrakes, as well as harboring fond, nurturing wishes that they do well. I live in a condominium, so they will probably always be indoors and potted. I’m planning for large pots, so that they can go deep and spread out, however they wish, and I can give them full sun, which is very warm here, near the south coast of Texas. When they are older, I can take the pots outside during the day, assuming I can lift them. Any other hints for happy mandrakes indoors?
Hi Lynne, Thanks for writing. My main observation is that Mandrakes are happier outdoors than in, as long as the zone and planting conditions are amenable, that is. I never had much luck bringing them to fruition in pots although over the years i’ve had a few. I think putting them in very large containers and surrounding by large stones is one approach that works, although that will make it impossible for you to carry them outside. Indoor plants. Right. Sometimes if you plant them in a very coarse mix and train a t-5 light on them from about a foot away and water them daily they can go into a fast growth phase. Set your lights to 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Read “Growing Plant Medicine” Vol 1 for much more info on successful indoor growing of medicinals and more info on mandrakes specifically. richo
Will these grow in the same conditions as American Mandrake(May apples)? I have a yard full of these.
hi mark, similar in name only, the Mandragora we’re talking about here take a drier and sunnier exposure than does Podophyllum. r
Solveig Neunteufel, Austria, June 2022
Seed of Mandragora caulescens germinated well in April, but it seems as the seedlings are going dormant in June. I would like to know if they are suffering or if they are behaving like my Mandragora caulescens which has made seed and has gone dormant in May.
hello solveig, a short first cycle on mandrake is common. it is not a good sign, either. it is better to keep them in the right conditions and get them to grow on for 6 months or more, to establish a good root, before they go dormant. however this is difficult and early dormancy is common. can be common in second and third year, as well. once established, they normalize and early dormancy may be avoided by growing in sandy soil near a rock, alkaline in pH, and actually after they break dormancy they do need to be watered occasionally. it is pretty tricky. that’s why it is a rare plant. r
I am so intriguiged with the mandrake plant. I would love to grow. Any idea how it might do in Connecticut? Thank you!
hi loralee, thanks for contacting. this plant calls to many. very tricky to get started yet long-lived once acclimatized, it can be grown throughout the temperate north including Connecticut. As we continue to disseminate more and more plants from strictly medicinal seeds, there is a groundswell of growers reporting success. r
Just received my mandrake seeds confused, package said plant immediately in soil. What about the cold stratification? Does this not apply to fresh seeds? Please clarify.
Sounds like you received the fresh seeds that have already been cold conditioned and, just like the packaging says, are ready to plant in warm conditions. Plant them! they will soon come up. Richo
thank you for the video. I got a pack of the turkomanic seeds with instructions to sow right away, unfortunatly I got hemmed up and couldnt get them in the dirt till March. I stored them in willow tea in the fridge for about 4 weeks before i put them in dirt but still nothing came up. I was wondering how do i store the container? can i just put it back in the fridge for a few weeks and try again or do i have to wait for the whole year to pass by?
sow as soon as possible. long germination times are typical although sometimes the willow water trick gives fast results. keep trying.
Well, it’s been an interesting couple years.
How are those Mandragora caulescens doing, Richo?
Mandragora caulescens has been challenging but is not off the roster. We did get fruits on Mandragora autumnalis, turcomanica and officinarum this year. it has been a good year for mandrake. r
Glad to hear the rest of the mandrakes are doing so great & stoked to see turcomanica available again! I hope caulescens reveals what it needs to thrive.
Does anyone have any safe methods for insect control on Mandragora?
Hi Bobbi, All these solanacea (ashwagandha, tomatoes, peppers, belladonna, mandragora, etc. etc.) are going to tend to get “riddled” by flea beetles and other critters in the spring. They are all fast growers, and so usually grow out of it and that’s that. If it looks like your plant is really small and really getting hit hard, then one useful approach is to use neem cake. Pile the neem cake in a hand-held screen (1/8 inch) and shake it over the plant, allowing the particles of neem cake to generously fall upon and around the plant. Leave it like that for a couple of days, then water it in. Richo
Sorry for the late recognition, but thank you!
What medicinal value does mandrake have? I have been scared of growing mandrakes since I read of the tussles with them in Harry Potter. I’d like to know that the advantages outweigh the problems.
Hello Susan, Harry Potter is a fictional story and is meant to entertain, not stoke fears. I tried through the above blog to give some perspective on the value of growing rare plants. One does not ingest mandrake physically. For me, just seeing the flowers is a transformational experience. Richo
One example it has been used historically as a pre-op anesthetic, also as a topical pain reliver, induced deep sleep. Mania and depression were treated. However if youre judging to cultivate mandrake based on medicinal value you might want to pass, chances are will you kill the patient unless a qualified practitioner. IMO its more important as a mystical plant, has a strong magick spirit, theres a reason it was featured in the Potter movies. Its a main ingredient in Flying Ointment and a staple in a witches garden. Theres pages and pages of info, just keyword search medicinal mandrake. This page has been most helpful.
very nicely written, thank you, do you have a recipe for the medium? alkaline and dry sure but any particular ratio? how deep and wide should a bed go for long term?
One of my indoor beds is 3 feet deep and 8 by 12. Make standard cactus mix (50% white pumice and 50% compost) and mix a handfull of ground limestone underneath each plant. r
Any problems with gophers eating mandrake?
No, they come close but they will not eat it.
Super excited to get my seeds on monday. I will absolutely use the willow tea soak method. Thanks alot for the email notification! You guys are the best.
Halo Richo, Is this basically how you grow M. turcomanica as well? I’m preparing beds for planting out after they emerge from dormancy.
And have you grown M. caulescens yet?
Best regards & thanks for all you do there.
Thanks, yes, turcomanica is known to be even more fond of rock and dry soil than officinarum. Yes, I have a large planting of caulescens in seedling stage. Hope they make it!
That’s wonderful! I hope they love it there.
I also have a very local creek here (within 20-30′ of my intended mandrake bed). We are in north central WA, so already on the dry side & the soil is very sandy. Should I be concerned about the roots being to close to the water table?
Mandrake must not have wet feet but if the water table stays lower than the taproots probably fine.
Thanks for all the advice. This helps greatly.
Where can I buy this plant?
As of end of March 2019 we still have some Autumn Mandrake plants in stock, and they can be purchased online at http://www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com
Inspirational writing, thank you! I will have to come and buy some of these!
We just re-inventoried our Mandragora autumnalis plants at http://www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com and found an additional 30 plants, nice ones, these will be order-able until they sell out. Richo
Thank you for this post! I will be ordering more seeds to try again soon!
An extremely interesting and helpful article.
ha, I did this wrong; I transplanted them into the garden last fall, but they all made it. I did plant them on the north side of rocks in the drier area, but they made it through the snow and have lovely lush leaves. 🙂
well, the proof is in the pudding, if it worked for you, then it was… right.
Why raise mandrake? Are they actually good for anything? I do raise many plants just for the beauty. thank you.
Hi Zelda, You don’t have to grow mandrake, there are many more edible plants on Earth and you can get pretty flowers with petunias. Mandrake exerts a strange pull on certain growers–if you’re not feeling that, then, you’re free! richo
I’m sure the love put into the seeds stock helped, too. 🙂
it does help