narcotic Old World plant, early 14c., mondrake, also mandragge, from Medieval Latin mandragora, from Latin mandragoras, from Greek mandragoras, probably from a non-Indo-European word. The word was in late Old English and Middle English in its Latin form; folk etymology associated the second element with dragoun and substituted native drake in its place, though perhaps with little meaning attached to it. The forked root is thought to resemble a human body and was said to shriek when pulled from the ground. The plant has been regarded as an aphrodisiac.
Meanwhile it should not be forgotten that there was one magical possession, an idol of domestic superstition in mediaeval German households, which is said to have passed at the father's death to the youngest son upon condition that he performed certain heathenish rites in relation to the father's funeral. The "mandrake," a plant with broad leaves and bright yellow flowers and with a root which grew in a semi-human form, was found beneath the public gallows and was dragged from the ground and carried home with many extraordinary ceremonies. When secured it became a familiar spirit, speaking in oracles if properly consulted and bringing good luck to the household in which it was enshrined. [Charles Elton, "Origins of English History," 1882]
updated on November 12, 2018