- Podophyllumm peltatum L.
- Barberry family
Parts Usually Used
Root (dried tubers)
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
A perennial woodland plant of the barberry family, with shield-shaped
leaves and a single, waxy, large white, cuplike flower 2 inches across,
droops from crotch of leaves; May to June. It has an edible, lemon-yellow,
oval (egg shaped) fruit about 2 inches long, called the "apples".
These are edible when fully ripe with a flavor reminiscent of strawberry.
A popular ornamental, it grows 12-18 inches tall. Leaves may be called
umbrella-like, smooth, paired, distinctive. The dark brown, fibrous,
jointed rootstock produces a simple, round stem which forks at the
top into two petioles, each supporting a large, round, palmately 5-9
lobed, yellowish-green leaf. Some plants, growing from different rootstocks,
are non-flowering. These have only a single leaf on an unforked stem.
Found in low, shady lands, roadsides, deciduous, rich woods, fields,
and clearings in New England to Florida; Texas to Minnesota. It likes
rich, moist soil and is easily increased by division or seed. (This
is not the old-world mandrake or the European mandrake (Mandragora
Antibilious, cathartic, emetic, diaphoretic (increases perspiration),
cholagogue (increases the flow of bile to the intestine), alterative,
emmenagogue, resolvent, vermifuge (expel intestinal worms), and deobstruent
(relieving obstruction), counter-irritant, hydragogue
A neutral crystalline substance, podo-phyllotoxins, podophylloresin,
and amorphous resin, picro-podophyllin, quercetin, starch, sugar,
fat and yellow coloring matter
Legends, Myths and Stories
May apple, or mandrake, thrives under oak trees; the shallow roots
of the mandrake feed on the soil fertilized by tannin bearing leaves
fallen from the oak tree.
This herb, as a drug, seems to be a very ancient one with the Chinese,
as it is mentioned in the Shennung Pentsao (28th century BC) as one
of the five poisons.
At least on one occasion in the Bible, mandrake or may apple played
an important role in the story line. In Genesis, Leah and Rachel,
both wives of Jacob, were constantly vying for his favor. Rachel had
remained barren, while Leah had given many sons to Jacob. When Leah's
son Reuben found a mandrake, a reputed aphrodisiac, Rachel begged
Leah to give it to her. In exchange for the mandrake, Rachel agrees
to let Leah spend the night with Jacob. Leah promptly becomes pregnant,
but later, so does Rachel. To this day, mandrakes are called "love
apples" in the Middle East and are still supposed to be aphrodisiac.
Excellent regulator for liver and bowels.
In chronic liver diseases it has no equal. Valuable in jaundice,
bilious or intermittent fever.
Good physic; is often combined with senna leaves. It is very beneficial
in uterine diseases. It acts powerfully upon all the tissues of the
Native Americans and early settlers used the roots as a strong purgative,
"liver cleanser", emetic, worm expellent,
for jaundice, constipation, hepatitis, fevers, and syphilis.
Resin from the root, podophyllin (highly allergenic), used to treat
venereal warts. Etoposide,
a semisynthetic derivative of this plant, is FDA-approved for testicular
and small-cell lung cancer. The Old Testament recommended mandrake
as a cure for sterility especially in women.
Formulas or Dosages
Small doses given frequently should be used in order to prevent severe
purgative action. Steep 1 tsp. in a pint of boiling water and take
1 tsp. of this tea at a time. Children less according to age. Take
1 capsule a day for no longer than 1 week at a time. Should be administered
under medical supervision.
Mandrake is a potent herb; it should be taken with care. It has toxic
properties that have resulted in birth deformities and fatalities.
Tiny amounts of root or leaves are poisonous. Powdered root and resin
can cause skin and eye problems. Other herbs can give the same results
and are much safer to use. Mandrake should be used only under medical
supervision. Never take during pregnancy.