“A hundred or so tufty little plants, purplish green in colour, were growing there in rows. They looked quite unremarkable to Harry, who didn’t have the slightest idea what Hermione meant by the “cry” of the Mandrake.”
— Harry Potter‘s perception of Mandrakes in a Herbology lesson
The mandrake is the root of a plant that thrives in the Mediterranean region. It has a rich history in the Bible, folklore and literature. It’s also omnipresent in the super-popular Harry Potter books. Because mandrakes contain deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids and the shape of their roots often resembles human figures, they have been associated with magic rituals throughout history, including present day contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism. Highly toxic, accidental poisoning is not uncommon.
In the past, mandrake was often made into amulets which were believed to bring good fortune, cure sterility and have many other beneficial effects. In one superstition, people who pull up this root will be condemned to hell, and the mandrake root would scream and cry as it was pulled from the ground, killing anyone who heard it. This folklore reference is integrated into part of the portrayal of the fictional mandrake seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Apparently the mandrake root is also popular in some Italian street markets. On Thursday Italian police withdrew from sale in street markets near Naples lots of vegetables after 10 cases of food poisoning involving the mandragora or mandrake plant. The vegetables were pulled from markets at Pozzuoli and Quarto after 10 people in three families suffered food poisoning after eating mandrake plants. One of them is in serious condition in a Naples hospital. The victims suffered hallucinations and intestinal issues, medical sources said.
One has to question how such a powerful and dangerous mind-altering and toxic “vegetable” could be sold at a street market, free from any regulation.