Mandrakes, 'Hortus Sanitatis' (1491)

Mandrakes, 'Hortus Sanitatis' (1491)

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Credit: PAUL D STEWART/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Mandrakes, 'Hortus Sanitatis' (1491). Woodblock illustration of a female and male mandrake from Ortus (Hortus) Sanitatis, translated from the Latin as 'Garden of Health'. The mandrake does have medicinal value in relieving pain. Its wrinkled forked root looks like a human body and was believed to be 'alive' in an animal sense. If it was pulled up its scream was said to kill the collector. Meydenbach, the author of the Hortus, says the collector should take a dog and tie its lead to the plant. Then, blocking his own ears to shut out the lethal shriek, he should hit the dog so that it runs and pulls up the root. The Hortus was the first printed natural history encyclopaedia and was published by Jacob Meydenbach in Mainz, Germany in 1491. He describes plants and animals (both real and mythical) together with minerals and various trades, with their medicinal value and method of preparation.

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