The mandrake was obviously rare, and was supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. The old-fashioned name of the tomato (Solanum esculentum) was love apple. It is thought that the mandrake is Atropa mandragora, which is like the deadly nightshade, and therefore a member of the same family. This plant bears yellow fruits, somewhat smaller than the tomato, and has an “acquired,” pleasant taste. Because of its “sex” reputation, it is called by the Arabs “a devil’s apple.” The description in Genesis of Rachel’s conversation with Leah certainly gives the impression that the mandrake was thought to be a love potion.
Its near relation, Atropa belladonna, is, of course, the source of Atropine, an important medicinal drug.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary names the plant Mandragora officinarum, and describes the fruit as a globose berry. It gives the alternative name as “devil’s apple.” This plant has a large tap root; it produces leaves like a primrose, and blue or greenish-white flowers similar to those of the potato. The yellow plum-like fruits invariably lie in the middle of the rosette of leaves, rather like the eggs of some bird in a nest.
There is little doubt that its amorous properties are pure superstition, but the plant is certainly found in Pal.
Song of Solomon 7:13 says: “the mandrakes give forth fragrance,” and it is this statement that has made some feel that the plant could not have been Mandragora, which has no definite scent—no more, for instance, than that of the tomato.
Some have therefore argued that the plant must be Citrus medica, the Citron. In view of where the mandrakes were found by Reuben, the writer feels this idea quite unacceptable.
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