Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mandragoras: From Dioscorides' De Materia Medica (Book Four)

Mandagoras has a root that seems to be a maker of love medicines. There is one sort that is female, black, called thridacias, with narrower, longer leaves than lettuce, with a poisonous, heavy scent, scattered on the ground. Among them are apples similar to service berries — pale, with a sweet scent — in which is seed like a pear. The two or three roots are a good size, wrapped within one another, black according to outward appearance, white within, and with a thick bark; but it has no stalk.

The male is white, and some have called it norion. The leaves are bigger, white, broad, smooth like beet but the apples are twice as big — almost saffron in colour, sweetsmelling, with a certain strength — which the shepherds eat to fall asleep. The root is similar to that above, yet bigger and paler, and it is also without a stalk. The bark of the root is pounded and juiced while it is fresh, and placed under a press. After it is stirred the beaters should bottle it in a ceramic jar. The apples are also juiced in a similar way, but the juice from them becomes weakened.

The bark from the root is peeled off, pierced with a thread, and hanged up in storage. Some boil the roots in wine until a third remains, strain it, and put it in jars. They use a wine cupful of it for those who cannot sleep, or are seriously injured, and whom they wish to anaesthetise to cut or cauterize. Twenty grains of the juice (taken as a drink with honey and water) expel phlegm and black bile upward like hellebore, but when too much is taken as a drink it kills. It is mixed with eye medicines, medications to ease pain, and softening suppositories. As much as five grains (applied alone) expels the menstrual flow and is an abortifacient, and put up into the perineum as a suppository it causes sleep. The root is said to soften ivory, boiled together with it for six hours, and to make it ready to be formed into whatever shape a man wants. Applied with polenta, the new leaves are good both for inflammations of the eyes and ulcers.

They dissolve all hardnesses, abscesses, glandular tumours [possibly goitre], and tumours. Rubbed on gently for five or six days it defaces scars without ulcerating. The leaves (preserved in brine) are stored for the same uses. The root (pounded into small pieces with vinegar) heals erysipela [streptococcal skin infection], and is used with honey or oil for the strikes of snakes. With water it disperses scrofulous tumours [glandular swelling], goitres and tumours; and with polenta it soothes the pains of the joints. Wine from the bark of the root is prepared without boiling. You must put three pounds (of the bark of the root) into thirteen gallons of sweet wine, and three cupfuls of it is given to those who shall be cut or cauterized (as previously mentioned). For they do not notice the pain because they are overcome with dead sleep; and the apples (inhaled or eaten) are sleep inducing, as is the apple juice. Used too much they make men speechless. A decoction of the seed of the apples (taken as a drink) purges the womb, and given as a pessary with sulphur that never felt the fire it stops the red excessive discharge [menstrual flow]. It is juiced — the root first incised or cut around various ways — and that which runs out is then gathered into a bowl; and the juice is more effective than the liquid. The roots do not bear liquid in every place; experience shows as much. They give out also that there is another sort called morion growing in shady places and around hollows, having leaves similar to the white mandrake but smaller (as it were), twenty centimetres long, white, lying round around the root. This is tender and white, a little longer than twenty centimetres, the thickness of the great finger. They say as much as a teaspoon of a decoction of this (taken as a drink or eaten with polenta in placetum, or food that is eaten with bread), will infatuate [cause unconsciousness]. For a man sleeps in the same fashion as when he ate it (sensible of nothing for three or four hours) from the time that it is brought him. And physicians also use this when they are about to cut or cauterize [anaesthetic]. They say also that a decoction of the root (taken as a drink with strychnos manicum) is an antidote.

It is also called antimelon, dircaea, circea, circaeum, xeranthe, antimnion, bombochylon, or minon; the Egyptians call it apemum, Pythagoras, anthropomorphon, some, aloitin, thridacian, or cammaron; Zoroastres calls it diamonon, or archinen, the Magi, hemionous, some, gonogeonas, the Romans, mala canina, and some, mala terrestria.

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