Mandrake (pictured), or Mandragora, is a perennial plant that grows in the Mediterranean. You’ll find them throughout Sicily in the fall and spring. They have long roots with a very short stem. When pulled from the earth, the plant and roots together resemble the human body–both men and women. The mandrake has medicinal and toxic properties, so it’s advised not to handle this narcotic without the guidance of a knowledgeable person.
Strewn with mythology since ancient times, legends and rituals have been associated with mandrakes–the most significant that it screams when pulled from the ground and those who hear the scream will die! It is believed to possess evil spirits or thought that demons reside in it.
The Brothers Grimm documented that it is “dangerous to pull a mandrake out of the ground because it groans and screams when pulled up, and those who hear the mandrake scream will soon die. So to safely pull up a mandrake root, stop up the ears and take a black dog to the site before sunrise on a Friday. Make three signs of the cross over the mandrake and loosen the soil around the root. Fasten a rope around the root and to the dog’s tail. Take some bread, show it to the dog, and them run away from the dog. He will lunge to get the bread, pulling the mandrake out of the ground. The mandrake will let out a scream and the dog will die.” (From an article by Arsdall, Klug, and Blanz, “The Mandrake Plant and Its Legend: A New Perspective”)
And there you have it. So be aware when you see a Mandrake, and be respectful.