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Info about Mandragora officinalis

Scientific Name: European Mandrake

Other Names: Atropa mandragora, Crazy Apple, Dudaim, Herb of Circe, Majnoon, Mandragora, Mandragora officinalis, Mandragora vernalis, Mandrake, Pome Di Tchin, Satan's Apple, Sorcerer's Root, True Mandrake, Witch's Manikin

Who is this for?

Note: European mandrake is very different from Mayapple, which is often called American mandrake. They have very different properties and different uses. They are not interchangeable.

European mandrake contains several chemicals, including atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, from a group known as tropane alkaloids. These alkaloids have narrow therapeutic ranges, which means that a very small decrease in the dose could make the drug ineffective or a small increase could raise the risk of side effects. Frequently, a potentially harmful dose is not much higher than an effective dose.

Historically, a major use of European mandrake has been to treat asthma and other breathing problems. The alkaloids in European mandrake are thought to reduce secretions in all parts of the body, including the lungs. One possible result is that lung congestion may be lessened. Additionally, the tropane alkaloid component may relax muscles in the bronchial tubes, making breathing easier. Although newer prescription medicines use different kinds of chemicals, alkaloids similar to those found in European mandrake were formerly used in prescription medicines to treat asthma. Those drugs have mostly been replaced with safer and more effective products.

Alkaloids of the type found in European mandrake also slow down the activity of the stomach and intestines, and reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach. In the past, these properties made European mandrake useful for easing colic, lessening travel sickness, treating ulcers, and relieving stomach cramps. Some prescription medications used for gastrointestinal conditions still contain tropane alkaloids, but newer drugs generally are more effective with fewer side effects.

European mandrake's alkaloids temporarily paralyze certain muscles in the eyes, resulting in widened pupils that do not shrink normally when exposed to light. In eye drops, the alkaloids are often used by eye doctors performing eye exams or eye surgery.

When should I be careful taking it?

Uncertain amounts of tropane alkaloids in European mandrake make it unsafe to take unless administered by a healthcare professional.

When it is taken by mouth, European mandrake may pass from a pregnant woman into a developing fetus. Some cases of rapid fetal heartbeat have been associated with the mother's use of drugs containing the alkaloids that are in European mandrake. While no major permanent effects are known to result, abnormal fetal heartbeat may complicate pregnancy or delivery. Therefore, pregnant women should not take European mandrake.

European mandrake is believed to pass into breast milk, and it is known to reduce the amount of breast milk that is produced. Women who are breast-feeding should also avoid European mandrake.

Children and older adults may be more sensitive to the effects of European mandrake. In children under 6 years old, cases of seizures have been documented, even with very small doses of European mandrake. Elderly individuals also show a higher tendency to experience side effects from taking tropane alkaloids. Therefore, European mandrake should not be used by individuals under the age of 18 or over the age of 55.

Individuals with brain injuries, Down syndrome, or spastic paralysis also appear to be more sensitive to the effects of tropane alkaloids. Individuals with one of these conditions should not take European mandrake.

Because European mandrake decreases the amounts of saliva and stomach acid and also lessens muscle activity in the gastrointestinal tract, individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach conditions, or ulcerative colitis should avoid taking it.

Men who have enlarged prostates or benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) should not take European mandrake because it may decrease urine output, further worsening bladder obstruction caused by BPH.

Due to the possibility that European mandrake may affect heart rate, it should be avoided by individuals with any heart conditions including high blood pressure.

The alkaloids in European mandrake cause the pupils of the eyes to widen and eye secretions to decrease. The pressure inside the eyes may increase and glaucoma may be worsened by European mandrake. Individuals with dry eye syndrome or glaucoma should not take it.

Rarely, taking alkaloids such as those in European mandrake has been associated with a sudden severe condition called thyrotoxicosis, or thyroid storm, in individuals who take thyroid replacement or who have overactive thyroid glands. Teenaged girls are most susceptible, but cases of alkaloid-induced thyroid storm have been recorded among other age groups, as well. Individuals with thyroid disorders should not take European mandrake.

Individuals who have kidney or liver disease should not take European mandrake because they may not eliminate it from their bodies as quickly as other individuals do. Too much of the alkaloids in European mandrake may build up in the blood, possibly leading to side effects.

Precautions

European mandrake can cause drowsiness, so individuals who need to drive or perform other tasks that require alertness should avoid its use.

Individuals taking European mandrake may produce less sweat, possibly resulting in increased body temperature. Dizziness, unconsciousness, or even heatstroke may occur, especially during extremely hot weather, exercise, or hot baths.

What side effects should I watch for?

In general, the chance of having side effects from European mandrake increase as the dose increases. Some severe side effects have been reported, however, when only small doses were taken.

Major Side Effects

Although side effects from tropane alkaloids may begin as soon as 30 minutes after European mandrake is taken, side effects may last longer than 2 days because stomach contents are retained longer and more of the alkaloids may be absorbed. Among the major side effects that the alkaloids in European mandrake may cause are:

  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Heart stoppage
  • Death

Less Severe Side Effects

Other side effects, even from small amounts of European mandrake, may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased sweating and urine output
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Warm, dry, flushed skin

What interactions should I watch for?

Prescription Drugs

European mandrake may increase the effects of prescription drugs and non-prescription that contain alkaloids or that act in ways similar to alkaloid activity. These drugs are used to treat many different conditions such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Heart rhythm disorders
  • Motion sickness
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Psychiatric illnesses

In addition, because the alkaloids in European mandrake slow down the activity of the stomach and intestines, any drug may stay in the gastrointestinal tract longer. Potentially, more of the drug may be absorbed and its effects and side effects may be intensified. If you take any prescription medication, do not take European mandrake before discussing its use with your doctor or pharmacist.

Herbal Products

A few other herbal products such as belladonna and henbane contain tropane alkaloids. If one of these herbals is used at the same time as European mandrake, the risk of side effects increases.

Foods

No interactions between European mandrake and foods have been reported, but drinking alcohol at the same time as using European mandrake by mouth may result in increased drowsiness.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

Uncommon in the United States, European mandrake plants are increasingly rare throughout the world. Native to warmer parts of the Middle East, they resemble ornamental cabbage plants with several large, crinkled, dark green leaves growing directly from a large taproot that may be as much as 4 feet long. Greenish, lavender, or purple flowers appear on short stems at about the same time as the leaves sprout — early in the spring. Plum-sized fruits ripen to a dark yellow color after the leaves wilt in the late summer. The whole plant has a musty smell. Growing conditions may cause the amounts of alkaloids in European mandrake to differ.

European mandrake has been known to healers since ancient times. Egyptian tomb paintings show its use in healing ceremonies and it was mentioned in the Bible as a fertility enhancer. It is still falsely regarded in many parts of the world as an aphrodisiac, a substance believed to increase sexual desire and performance. European mandrake was used by early Greek physicians to induce sleep and to relieve pain. In the first century, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote of European mandrake's use as an anesthetic before operations. It was also known at that time to produce hallucinations, which may have been part of religious rituals. Other traditional uses of European mandrake include the treatment of bedwetting. Today, European mandrake may be misused to alter consciousness and produce euphoria.

Numerous legends are associated with European mandrake — possibly due to the widespread belief that demons lived in its roots. It was thought to scream, for instance, when it was pulled from the ground. Because they often divide into two parts, therefore roughly resembling a human shape, the roots of European mandrake were thought to have magical properties. Possessing them lead to charges of witchcraft at various times during the Dark and Middle Ages. In some parts of today's world, European mandrake root is carried or placed in homes in the belief that it may repel evil spirits. Currently, the over-harvesting of wild European mandrake threatens to make it an endangered species.

Dosage and Administration

The amounts of alkaloids in European mandrake cannot be guaranteed because they depend on how the plants are grown, harvested, processed, and stored.

Using mandrake without medical supervision is strongly discouraged. No recommendations for dosing amounts or intervals are available in the scientific literature.

Summary

The medical use of European mandrake is mainly outdated. Alkaloids contained in it are included in some prescription medications to treat asthma, gastrointestinal complaints, motion sickness, and other conditions.

Risks

Side effects from taking European mandrake are more likely to occur among individuals:

  • under the age of 18
  • over the age of 55
  • with Down syndrome
  • with brain injury

Because it decreases body secretions, European mandrake may worsen multiple conditions, including BPH, gastrointestinal diseases, and glaucoma.

European mandrake should also be avoided by pregnant and breast-feeding women, individuals with heart diseases, and those with kidney or liver conditions.

Side Effects

Side effects commonly experienced with taking European mandrake may include blurry vision, fast heartbeat, and dry eyes, mouth, or skin. More serious side effects can occur — especially at higher doses. Serious side effects may include difficulty breathing, seizures, heart irregularities, and death.

Interactions

The tropane alkaloids in European mandrake may interfere with the effects of many prescription and non-prescription drugs. Taking European mandrake is not recommended. If you decide to use it, you should seek the advice of a healthcare professional before taking it.

References

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De Salvo R, Sinardi AU, Santamaria LB, Carfi V, Spada A, Pratico C, Falcone M. A rare case of acute mandragora poisoning. Diagnostic and therapeutic criteria. [article in Italian] Minerva Anestesiologica. 1980;46(12):1265-1272.

Goldfrank LR. Anticholinergic plant poisoning: jimson weed. In: Goldfrank's Toxicological Emergencies, Third Edition. Goldfrank LR, Flomenbaum NE, Lewin NA, Weisman RS, Howland MA, Kulberg AG, Eds. East Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century Crofts; 1986. pp 602-608.

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Jimenez-Mejias ME, Montano-Diaz M, Lopez Pardo F, Campos Jimenez E, Martin Cordero MC, Ayuso Gonzalez MJ, Gonzalez de la Puente. Atropine poisoning by Mandragora autumnalis. A report of 15 cases. [article in Spanish] Medical Clinics (Barcelona). 1990;95(18):689-692.

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MedLine Plus. Belladonna Alkaloids and Barbiturates (Systemic). Revised August 9, 2000. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/ uspdi/202082.html#Brands. Accessed July 16, 2003.

Myers JH, Moro-Sutherland D, Shook JE. Anticholinergic poisoning in colicky infants treated with hyoscyamine sulfate. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 1997;15(5):532-535.

Pennefather JN, Lau WA, Mitchelson F, Ventura S. The autonomic and sensory innervation of the smooth muscle of the prostate gland: a review of pharmacological and histological studies. Journal of Autonomic Pharmacology. 2000;20(4):193-206.

Plants for a Future Database. Mandragora officinarum. Last modified: Oct 20, 2002. Available at: http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Mandragora+officinarum&CAN=LATIND. Accessed June 19, 2003.

Rivera-Calimlim L. Drugs in breast milk. Drugs and Therapeutics (New York). 1973;7(12):59-63.

Singhal A, Campbell D. Thyroid storm. Emedicine. Posted July 11, 2003. Available at: http://www.emedicine.com/ emerg/topic2247.htm. Accessed July 16, 2003.

Wagner RA, Keim SM. Plant Poisoning, Alkaloids and Tropane. Emedicine. Last updated: November 29, 2001. Available at:http://www.emedicine.com/ emerg/topic438.htm. Accessed July 16, 2003.


(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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