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A scriptural plant finds a place in Harry Potter movies

By Staff
Jerry A. Chenault, Urban Regional Extension Agent New &Nontraditional Programs
What do you know about mandrakes? Does the name ring a bell? Are they not a member of the duck, goose, and swan families of waterfowl? Apparently not. This thing, this "mandrake," is a plant – a plant that supposedly has supernatural powers. But can it be true?
It would seem that in these days of fascination with mystic powers and magical spells that the mandrake would fit right in. We might even see it in an upcoming Harry Potter movie! But this Biblical plant really does have some powers . . . so maybe not all the superstitions are just superstitions!
People have long held superstitions about this plant, which can be cultivated here but grows wild in Europe and Asia. It has no stem, and its leaves grow directly from its root. And its root . . . oh, that root, grows in a forked and curved pattern that often looks very much like the figure of a human! This is probably where it all started a long, long time ago.
Superstitions include beliefs that this plant brought good luck, induced fertility, acted as sort of a charm against evil, helped people discover treasure, and was a really powerful "love" potion. Doesn't sound too bad, huh? No wonder there was such a strong belief that mandrakes could help a woman get pregnant. But could it really?
The truth is that this plant (whose leaves grow nearly a foot long and resemble spinach) does have some chemical powers. A dose of the odd-shaped root was sometimes given to patients as a narcotic or anesthetic. And some cultures still use it as an aphrodisiac even today.
Its fruit, which remind me of eggplant, are usually purple to red in color and have a strong smell. Lots of people throughout the world consider them a health-enhancing delicacy, although the taste is definitely an acquired taste (with lots of effort to get there, I'll bet). The Arabs call them "devil's testicles". Sounds delicious, huh?
If we look back in scripture to Genesis 30:1, 14, 22-24 we find Rachel in pursuit of mandrakes as a cure for her barren womb. Was she foolish? Maybe not. I believe God expects us to use all our resources. But scripture does say that God remembered Rachel and answered her prayer for a child. And, regardless, I think a mandrake plant is a good way to teach and remember these things. A definite candidate for a faith-based garden.
Want to know more about faith-based gardens? Good! You're in luck! I'll be offering a workshop on this subject at East Lawrence Memorial Gardens on Monday night, March 6th at 6:00 p.m. The workshop is free, but I do need you to call in to pre-register by Friday, March 3rd at 974-2464. I'm excited about this opportunity!

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