Just like William Shakespeare, our show is supported by patrons. Get access to our entire back catalog of shows (over 100 more episodes!) when you become a patron today.
Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, talks about the shrieking mandrake while Henry IV and Henry VI use the word mandrake as an insult. These very real plants took on legendary qualities due in part to the chemicals in their makeup which make them useful for anesthetics. Our guest this week is an expert in historical plants and historical methods of growing them and we are delighted this week to welcome Michael Brown to the show, the self-styled Historic Gardner, to share with us about the history of mandrakes.
Please subscribe on your favorite listening platform and leave us a rating & review to help others discover our show.
Michael Brown is a retired Head Gardener and College Lecturer in Horticulture who now runs the website Historic Gardner in the UK. He is the author of multiple books on gardening through history including A Guide to Medieval Gardens: Gardens in the Age of Chivalry which talks about todays topics of mandrake plants. As a historian, Michael provides talks, displays and advice on gardening through history from the Romans to modern times, and provides history consultation for the National Trust and English Heritage sites. Learn more about his work and explore other historic plants at http://www.historicgardener.co.uk/
I’ll be asking Michael Brown about:
- What were mandrakes used for during Shakespeare’s lifetime?
- In many drawings from the 16th century, the roots of the mandrake is drawn as a person. Does the real mandrake root look like a person?
- Are mandrakes used for medicine?
- …and more!
Resources You Can Use to Learn More:
More History on Patreon
Get access to our entire back catalog of episodes (100+ shows) right from the beginning for just $5/month. Listen to our patrons-only RSS Feed PLUS access to all the episode show notes from our back catalog, too. That’s hundreds of shows worth of 16-17th century woodcuts, paintings, museum artifacts, and special bonuses that coordinate with each episode, including bonus downloads and sound files donated by our guests just for patrons of That Shakespeare Life.
Dive in and explore when you become a Patron today!
Mandrake plants have male and female forms
The male and female mandrake plants have similar roots and leaves, but will bloom with different color flowers at different times of year.
Mandrake that Deceives
There is a variant of mandrake plant called Bryony, White Bryony, or fake/false mandrake, that is also given the name “English mandrake” because it grows natively in Europe and prolifically in England. It is like a vine, much like Kudzu or Virginia creeper. It will spread out and take over as a ground cover. It is very aggressive and invasive plant, listed as a noxious plant here in the US. All parts of the plant are highly toxic to humans, and it takes only 40 berries to kill and adult human. Stay far away from this one!