Mandrake, (male form), 1497.

Mandrake, (male form), 1497.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

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Woodcut of the plant whose roots were supposed to bear a resemblance to the human form. The mandrake was often illustrated as a male with a long beard, or a female with a very bushy head of hair. Many superstitions were associated with the mandrake root. Illustration from 'Hortus Sanitatis', ('Garden of Health'), printed by Johann Pruss in Strasbourg in 1497. Hortus Sanitatis was the most popular and influential herbal of its time, and served as an encyclopaedia of all knowledge and folklore on plants, animals, and minerals. It combines elements of natural history with subjects traditionally found in herbals, and includes many mythical creatures. Many of the woodblock engravings were taken from the German 'Herbarius' (1485), itself derived from earlier herbals, repeating many of their errors.
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