Plan a Hydrosol Garden

This year, I plan on using the plants from my garden in an entirely new way by making hydrosols or “floral waters.” Hydrosols are steam distilled water-based plant essences that can be used in body care products, flavored waters, baked goods, aromatherapy sprays, and more. Rose water is the most recognizable form of hydrosol on the market.

Hydrosol is stronger than tea but much weaker than essential oils. In Suzanne Catty’s book Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy she explains that tea typically has a 0.08:1 herb to water ratio, whereas hydrosols have 3 or 4:1 herb to water ratio. Catty calls hydrosols “herbal espressos,” and just like you wouldn’t drink an herbal tea that may contraindicate medication or a known medical condition, you should also research hydrosols before consuming them internally.

There’s evidence that humans were making hydrosols as long as 5,000 years ago, and the useful floral waters predate essential oils by hundreds if not thousands of years. The original hydrosols were made by putting herbs and water in a pot and bringing the concoction to a boil. A sheep’s skin was hung above the pot to catch the steam, and when the pot was finished boiling the sheep’s skin would be wrung and the hydrosol collected. You can also make hydrosols at home using more modern equipment that you probably already own (read “Rose Water Recipe” for step-by-step instructions), and this year I plan on taking my hydrosol creations to the next level by investing in a 10 liter copper alembic still (see photo, below), which will also allow me to collect very small amounts of essential oil. I’ll blog my way through this learning experience, so be sure to check back in over the course of the summer!

Grow Your Own Hydrosol Ingredients

You need a lot of fresh plant material to make hydrosols, so I’ll add a few new plants to my garden this year including holy basil (tulsi) and clary sage. However, to save on seed costs and weeding/watering time, I’m going to prioritize using plants that already grow in my kitchen garden.  I’ve done some research to see which easy-to-grow plants will now double as tasty and useful hydrosol ingredients.

Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile)

With a sweet, apple-like aroma, this is a great all-purpose hydrosol with a shelf life up to four years. This is the go-to hydrosol for babies and can safely be added to their bath water, used for homemade wet wipes, or rubbed on sore, teething gums. For adults, this astringent hydrosol can be used as a skin cleanser, toner, makeup remover, or soothing eye wash for those suffering from computer fatigue. Internally, chamomile hydrosol can be used much like chamomile tea, as a soothing bedtime drink; simply add a teaspoon to a cup of warm water.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender hydrosol has a floral, soapy taste and many people prefer to sweeten it when taking internally. This hydrosol is ideal for all skin types when used externally, so consider mixing it with oatmeal for a deep cleanser, using it as a makeup remover or aftershave, or spraying it lightly on the skin when experiencing a sunburn, rash, or itch. Like chamomile, it’s safe to use in a baby’s bath water, and it will help people of all ages sleep deeper when it’s sprayed onto linens before bedtime. Keep a spritzer bottle in your car or your desk drawer to enjoy the calming aroma when traffic is frustrating or work feels tedious. Lavender hydrosols should last about two years.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

A member of the mint family, lemon balm spreads like crazy and begs for uses beyond sun tea. I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty using a plethora of lemon balm for homemade hydrosols, which is reassuring because the finished product tastes good and is quite useful.

The citrusy, slightly bitter flavor of lemon hydrosol is best diluted for a refreshing, uplifting, summer beverage. This hydrosol is safe to ingest in limited quantities during pregnancy and can be helpful with morning sickness, water retention, and digestive issues. Suzanna Catty recommends drinking a diluted lemon balm hydrosol for three weeks during cold and flu season to act as a possible prophylactic (dilute 2 tbsp of hydrosol in 1 liter of filtered water per day).

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Like lemon balm, mint can become invasive so I relish it’s abundance while filling a big wicker basket with armloads of this uplifting herb. When taken internally, peppermint hydrosol is stimulating to both the mind and the digestive system; try drinking some in the morning for an instant pick-me-up or spritzing some on your face after spending a hot afternoon in the garden. Peppermint also helps ease pain associated with headaches, so if you feel a headache coming on then spray the air around you. An anti-inflammatory, peppermint hydrosol can be applied externally to help ease the pain of sore or sprained muscles or to soothe uncomfortable bug bites.

Do not give peppermint hydrosol to children under three-years-old, and this fairly unstable hydrosol won’t last longer than one year.

Basil (Ocimuun basilicum)

Basil hydrosol has an intense licorice-like flavor and needs to be diluted to bring out the basil taste we all know and recognize. Play with this hydrosol while cooking savory dishes by mixing a bit into your homemade pesto or salad dressings.

Basil is an effective digestive aid and will help ease a nervous stomach. Also a carminative, add a few tablespoons of basil hydrosol to a glass of water for fast-acting relief from gas and bloating.

For aromatherapy, basil’s crisp and refreshing scent is both balancing and calming. Externally, basil’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties make it an especially good option for oily, acne-prone or aging skin.

Rose (Rosa damascena)

The hot pink “rose water” typically sold at grocery stores is too overpowering and artificial tasting for most people. Homemade rose hydrosols, on the other hand, are gentler, subtle, and absolutely delicious. A homemade hydrosol should evoke the feeling of walking through a fresh rose garden and this relatively shelf-stable hydrosol should keep for two years or more.

Rose is a recommended hormone balancer for all ages and can be used to help combat symptoms of PMS, including cramps and moodiness. Externally, rose adds and retains moisture and is particularly beneficial to dry mature, or sensitive skin. Try using rose hydrosol on a cotton ball to remove excess makeup or dirt after washing your face, or add a few tablespoons to a hot bath for an act of pure self-love.

Rose water has a time-tested role in the kitchen, as well, and is used in sweet and savory dishes alike. Trade rose water for vanilla in baked goods, combine it with saffron and cinnamon for a Middle Eastern rub, combine it with fruit syrups or sorbet, or add a splash to a glass of celebratory champagne. After you taste true, high-quality rose water, you’ll start looking for excuses to use it as often as possible!

New Additions

There are a few plants that I plan on adding to my garden this year specifically for the purpose of making hydrosols: holy basil (tulsi) and clary sage. I’ll also experiment with cedar, which I can forage locally and year-round. People who are lucky enough to live where eucalyptus or Douglas fir grow wild can experiment making hydrosols with those two native plants, and a few other hydrosol experiments could include the use of catnip, cucumber (use whole fruit), calendula, and rose geranium.

rose-flower-water-june-2011-005Rose Water Recipe

Delightful rose water can be a flavorful culinary addition, a great base for beauty products, or a natural freshener for air and linens.

Total Hands-On Time: 1 hr 45 min

Preparation Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 1 hr 30 min

Yield: 1 cup

Fragrant Rose Water

Roses aren’t just beautiful to look at — they can also be used to make delightful, delicious rose water. It appears in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese cuisines in ice cream, cakes, baklava, and marzipan, and rose water can also flavor lemonade, sodas, shrubs, or cocktails. Also called a “hydrosol,” this aromatic floral water can be added to the base of homemade lotion, sprayed on linens to refresh the scent, or used as a natural air freshener.

Making your own rose water is easy, and it will last for months in the fridge. Find the most fragrant roses possible, and, of course, make sure they’re free of toxic pesticides. (If you use store-bought roses, make sure they’re intended for culinary use.) Try this recipe with other fresh flowers and herbs, such as orange blossoms, lemon balm, or lavender.

For this recipe, use a lidded saucepan with about a 12-quart capacity and a convex lid (a glass lid is ideal for seeing what’s going on inside the pot). You’ll also need two small and sturdy heat-safe bowls, such as ramekins, ceramic bowls, or glass bowls. If you have one, a heat-safe glass measuring cup works well for the second bowl.

Ingredients:

• 6 cups fresh rose petals
• 6 cups water
• Large zip-close plastic bag filled with ice cubes, plus more ice cubes as needed

Instructions:

1. Gently shake the petals to remove any dirt or insects.

2. Place a small and sturdy heat-safe bowl upside down in the center of a very large saucepan.

3. Arrange the rose petals around the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour just enough water into the saucepan to cover the rose petals; the water level should remain below the top of the upside-down bowl.

5. Balance another bowl right side up on top of the first bowl; this is what will catch your rose water.

6. Cover the pot with the lid flipped upside down.

7. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. After it starts to simmer, put the bag of ice on the inverted lid.

8. Adjust the heat if necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.

9. When the ice cubes melt, pour out the water and add new ice cubes to the bag.

10. As the steam rises inside the pot, it will condense on the underside of the cold lid and drip into the open bowl.

11. Peek inside the pot occasionally; when you have about 1 cup of rose water in the bowl (which will take approximately 1-1/2 hours), turn off the heat. Let cool.

12. Uncover the pot and carefully lift out the bowl of rose water.

13. Using a funnel, transfer the rose water to a sterilized glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or until cloudy material forms on the liquid.


Aromatic Rose Cultivars

These exceptionally fragrant cultivars will make delicious rose water.

‘Madame Hardy’ (pictured above): white damask rose; hint of lemon; grows 4 to 6 feet tall
‘Leda’: white flowers with red edges; winter hardy
‘Jaques Cartier’: large, pink flowers; bushy plant; repeat blooming
‘Madame Isaac Pereire’: raspberry-purple flowers; grows as a shrub but will climb; one of the most fragrant roses
‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’: pale, pink flowers; continuous bloomer
‘Gertrude Jekyll’: popular; pink rosettes; repeat flowering


Antique Roses

Some antique rose cultivars can be traced back to the Roman Empire, but the term “antique” refers to any cultivar that dates prior to 1867. These cultivars are known for their especially rich fragrance and longevity, requiring little upkeep. In fact, many older cultivars shrink with the amount of pruning usually done for newer cultivars — spring pruning or too much pruning can reduce blooms. Most older cultivars that bloom only once per year do well with light pruning after they flower, in midsummer.

The Rose and the Mandrake

Two of the plants most commonly assigned magical properties are the rose and the mandrake. We have all seen bouquets of roses in grocery stores around Valentine’s Day. But the most beautiful roses are the species roses or heirloom varieties that were bred before the first hybrid tea rose, La France, appeared in 1867. Those old roses have the true rose scent and are still used in the making of perfumes and oils.

There are more myths associated with the rose (Rosaceae species) than with any other flower. One concerns how the rose was created. A Corinthian maiden named Rodanthe was so beautiful that she had many suitors. But she had dedicated herself to Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, and vowed to remain unmarried in honor of the goddess. One day, as she was walking outside, she was surrounded by her suitors, each asking her to choose him. They began clutching at her, tearing her dress. Rodanthe fled into the nearby temple of Artemis. Her suitors followed, breaking into the temple. Artemis was furious. Wanting to avenge the desecration of her temple and protect Rodanthe, she turned the maiden into a rose. The blush on her cheeks became the color of the rose’s petals. Then, Artemis turned her suitors into the rose’s thorns so they could guard her forever.

Another myth concerns how the rose originally became red. The goddess Aphrodite fell in love with the mortal youth Adonis. Unlike Artemis, who was a Goddess of the Hunt, Aphrodite did not relish hunting, and would rather have spent her time bathing and adorning herself. But Adonis was a hunter, so she even went on the hunt with him. The god Ares was jealous and vowed to revenge himself on Adonis. One day, Aphrodite left to visit her shrine in Paphos, taking her chariot drawn by swans. Adonis went out hunting in her absence. Seeing his opportunity, Ares disguised himself as a wild boar. He led Adonis’ hounds on a long chase through the forest, then circled back and charged straight at Adonis, goring him in the side. Adonis was badly wounded, and Ares left him to die. But Aphrodite heard his cries and turned her chariot, flying back through the sky to Adonis. When the chariot touched down in the forest, she ran to her beloved. Her feet were torn by the tangled briers that covered the ground, and her blood fell on the white roses, turning them red.

As these myths demonstrate, the rose has always been associated with both love and death. After the battle of Roncesvalles, where the knights of Charlemagne fell, the battlefield is said to have bloomed with roses and twined roses grew out of the grave of the lovers Tristan and Isolde. Roses were often planted on graves, and modern rosarians have resurrected a number of old varieties after finding them in graveyards. It was once believed that if a maiden scattered rose petal over a tombstone on Midsummer’s Eve, she would have a vision of her future husband; if she kept a posy of roses sprinkled with pigeon’s blood under her pillow, his identity would be revealed in a dream. Roses also made for an effective love charm. If a maiden took three roses, white, pink, and red, and kept them next to her heart for three days, then steeped them in wine for three more days and gave the wine to the man she loved, he would be hers forever. More prosaically, a red rose was considered to be a charm against nose-bleed.

Roses have always been used medicinally. Because the Romans believed roses protected against drunkenness, they put rose petals in wine and scattered them over the floors of banquet rooms. Rose teas have been used to sooth sore throats, and to fight colds and chest infections. Dried rose leaves were used for sore eyes, as in this eighteenth-century recipe:

Take half a pint of Alum Curd, and mix it with a sufficient quantity of Red Rose Leaves powdered, to give it a proper consistency. This is an excellent application for sore moist eyes, and admirably cools and represses defluxions.

Roses were also used for cosmetic purposes. Dew gathered from a rose could be used to bathe the face, creating a beautiful complexion. A gall that grows on roses could be mixed with bear grease and massaged into the scalp to cure baldness. The Roman naturalist Pliny lists more than thirty cures prepared with roses, and by the eighteenth century, about a third of all medicines contained some part of the rose.

You may be familiar with the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) from the Harry Potter books or films, in which mandrake roots look like particularly unattractive infants and have an intolerable scream. Mandrakes were so important, magically and medicinally, that twenty-two treatises on them were published between 1510 and 1850. The Egyptians were familiar with the mandrake, which was associated with the goddess Hathor. Egyptian families would keep a mandrake plant in a corner of the house, with a lamp burning before it, and make offerings to it daily as the guardian of the household. It was also known to the Assyrians, who mentioned it on clay tablets as a cure for a toothache. The mandrake was even mentioned in the Song of Solomon:

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.

Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourishes, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranate bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.

The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIt may have been mentioned in the Song of Songs because the mandrake was believed to be an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks called the fruit of the mandrake “apples of love,” and dried mandrake roots were carried as a charm to promote fertility.

Perhaps the most famous lore about the mandrake concerns how it must be gathered. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus, who is often thought of as the first botanist because of his treatises Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, says that the person gathering a mandrake should draw three circles around the plant with a sword and cut it facing west. When cutting it, the gatherer should dance around the plant and talk about the mysteries of love. Perhaps all that talk of love has to do with the mandrake’s use in love potions; like the rose, it was also associated with Aphrodite, who was called the Lady of the Mandrake. The Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus, written between 1000 and 1050, provides more specific instructions on gathering the mandrake:

When first thou seest its head, then inscribe it thou instantly with iron lest it fly from thee; its virtue is so mickle and so famous, that it will immediately flee from an unclean man when he cometh to it not with the iron but thou shalt earnestly with an ivory staff delve the earth.

And when thou seest its hands and its feet, then tie thou it up. Then take the other end and tie it to a dog’s neck so that the hound be hungry; next cast meat before him so that he may not reach it except he jerk up the wort with him.

This is a confusing account, but the iron is probably a sword used to draw the magic circle, and the ivory is likely a staff used to loosen the earth around the roots. Why does the hound appear in this account? The Anglo-Saxon poet Philip de Thaun, in his Bestiary of 1121, makes clear that the hound is there to act as a scapegoat for the gatherer: when the plant is gathered, “Such virtue this herb has, that no one can hear it but he must die and if the man heard it he would directly die. Therefore, he must stop his ears and take care that he hear not the cry, lest he die as the dog will do which shall hear the cry.”

Mandrakes were so important because of the doctrine of signatures, the belief that plants resembling parts of the body could be used to treat those parts of the body. The root of the mandrake can look like a human being. Therefore, it was believed to cure a variety of diseases. Hippocrates thought that a dose of the wine would relieve depression and anxiety although he was aware that if given in large quantities, the mandrake was a dangerous plant, causing delirium and even death. According to Pliny, the root beat with oil and wine cures “defluxions of the eyes and pains in these organs, and indeed, the juice of this plant still forms an ingredient in many medicaments for the eyes.” The Romans commonly used mandrake as an anesthetic and to put patients to sleep before surgery.

In the Middle Ages, since mandrake roots were difficult to come by, the roots of other plants were artificially shaped and manipulated to look like mandrakes, and sold at a high price. Andrea Mattioli, whose Commentaries on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides was published in 1544, says that a doctor he met in Rome would sell such false mandrake roots: “These false mandrakes he palmed off on childless women, some of whom gave him as much as 5, 20, or even 50 gold pieces for a single specimen, fondly expecting to become joyful mothers of children.” These false mandrake roots often carved to resemble small men, look much more like the ones from Harry Potter than natural mandrake roots ever could. Since they resembled human children, it was believed that they would aid conception. But they were also believed to bring good fortune. As part of her trial for witchcraft, Joan of Arc was accused of carrying a mandrake root in her bosom in the hope of acquiring riches; of course, she denied the accusation.

The Rose and the Mandrake.

Two of the plants most commonly assigned magical properties are the rose and the mandrake. We have all seen bouquets of roses in grocery stores around Valentine’s Day. But the most beautiful roses are the species roses or heirloom varieties that were bred before the first hybrid tea rose, La France, appeared in 1867. Those old roses have the true rose scent and are still used in the making of perfumes and oils.

There are more myths associated with the rose (Rosaceae species) than with any other flower. One concerns how the rose was created. A Corinthian maiden named Rodanthe was so beautiful that she had many suitors. But she had dedicated herself to Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, and vowed to remain unmarried in honor of the goddess. One day, as she was walking outside, she was surrounded by her suitors, each asking her to choose him. They began clutching at her, tearing her dress. Rodanthe fled into the nearby temple of Artemis. Her suitors followed, breaking into the temple. Artemis was furious. Wanting to avenge the desecration of her temple and protect Rodanthe, she turned the maiden into a rose. The blush on her cheeks became the color of the rose’s petals. Then, Artemis turned her suitors into the rose’s thorns, so they could guard her forever.

Another myth concerns how the rose originally became red. The goddess Aphrodite fell in love with the mortal youth Adonis. Unlike Artemis, who was a Goddess of the Hunt, Aphrodite did not relish hunting, and would rather have spent her time bathing and adorning herself. But Adonis was a hunter, so she even went on the hunt for him. The god Ares was jealous and vowed to revenge himself on Adonis. One day, Aphrodite left to visit her shrine in Paphos, taking her chariot drawn by swans. Adonis went out hunting in her absence. Seeing his opportunity, Ares disguised himself as a wild boar. He led Adonis’ hounds on a long chase through the forest, then circled back and charged straight at Adonis, goring him in the side. Adonis was badly wounded, and Ares left him to die. But Aphrodite heard his cries and turned her chariot, flying back through the sky to Adonis. When the chariot touched down in the forest, she ran to her beloved. Her feet were torn by the tangled briers that covered the ground, and her blood fell on the white roses, turning them red.

As these myths demonstrate, the rose has always been associated with both love and death. After the battle of Roncesvalles, where the knights of Charlemagne fell, the battlefield is said to have bloomed with roses and twined roses grew out of the grave of the lovers Tristan and Isolde. Roses were often planted on graves, and modern rosarians have resurrected a number of old varieties after finding them in graveyards. It was once believed that if a maiden scattered rose petals over a tombstone on Midsummer’s Eve, she would have a vision of her future husband; if she kept a posy of roses sprinkled with pigeon’s blood under her pillow, his identity would be revealed in a dream. Roses also made for an effective love charm. If a maiden took three roses, white, pink, and red, and kept them next to her heart for three days, then steeped them in wine for three more days and gave the wine to the man she loved, he would be hers forever. More prosaically, a red rose was considered to be a charm against nose-bleed.

Roses have always been used medicinally. Because the Romans believed roses protected against drunkenness, they put rose petals in wine and scattered them over the floors of banquet rooms. Rose teas have been used to sooth sore throats, and to fight colds and chest infections. Dried rose leaves were used for sore eyes, as in this eighteenth-century recipe:

Take half a pint of Alum Curd, and mix it with a sufficient quantity of Red Rose Leaves powdered, to give it a proper consistency. This is an excellent application for sore moist eyes, and admirably cools and represses defluxions.

Roses were also used for cosmetic purposes. Dew gathered from a rose could be used to bathe the face, creating a beautiful complexion. A gall that grows on roses could be mixed with bear grease and massaged into the scalp to cure baldness. The Roman naturalist Pliny lists more than thirty cures prepared with roses, and by the eighteenth century about a third of all medicines contained some part of the rose.

You may be familiar with the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) from the Harry Potter books or films, in which mandrake roots look like particularly unattractive infants and have an intolerable scream. Mandrakes were so important, magically and medicinally, that twenty-two treatises on them were published between 1510 and 1850. The Egyptians were familiar with the mandrake, which was associated with the goddess Hathor. Egyptian families would keep a mandrake plant in a corner of the house, with a lamp burning before it, and make offerings to it daily as the guardian of the household. It was also known to the Assyrians, who mentioned it on clay tablets as a cure for a toothache. The mandrake was even mentioned in the Song of Solomon:

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.

Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourishes, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranate bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.

The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

It may have been mentioned in the Song of Songs because the mandrake was believed to be an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks called the fruit of the mandrake “apples of love,” and dried mandrake roots were carried as a charm to promote fertility.

Perhaps the most famous lore about the mandrake concerns how it must be gathered. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus, who is often thought of as the first botanist because of his treatises Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, says that the person gathering a mandrake should draw three circles around the plant with a sword and cut it facing west. When cutting it, the gatherer should dance around the plant and talk about the mysteries of love. Perhaps all that talk of love has to do with the mandrake’s use in love potions; like the rose, it was also associated with Aphrodite, who was called the Lady of the Mandrake. The Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus, written between 1000 and 1050, provides more specific instructions on gathering the mandrake:

When first thou seest its head, then inscribe it thou instantly with iron lest it fly from thee; its virtue is so mickle and so famous, that it will immediately flee from an unclean man when he cometh to it not with the iron but thou shalt earnestly with an ivory staff delve the earth.

And when thou seest its hands and its feet, then tie thou it up. Then take the other end and tie it to a dog’s neck so that the hound be hungry; next cast meat before him so that he may not reach it except he jerk up the wort with him.

This is a confusing account, but the iron is probably a sword used to draw the magic circle, and the ivory is likely a staff used to loosen the earth around the roots. Why does the hound appear in this account? The Anglo-Saxon poet Philip de Thaun, in his Bestiary of 1121, makes clear that the hound is there to act as a scapegoat for the gatherer: when the plant is gathered, “Such virtue this herb has, that no one can hear it but he must die and if the man heard it he would directly die. Therefore, he must stop his ears and take care that he hear not the cry, lest he die as the dog will do which shall hear the cry.”

Mandrakes were so important because of the doctrine of signatures, the belief that plants resembling parts of the body could be used to treat those parts of the body. The root of the mandrake can look like a human being. Therefore, it was believed to cure a variety of diseases. Hippocrates thought that a dose in wine would relieve depression and anxiety although he was aware that if given in large quantities, the mandrake was a dangerous plant, causing delirium and even death. According to Pliny, the root beat with oil and wine cures “defluxions of the eyes and pains in these organs, and indeed, the juice of this plant still forms an ingredient in many medicaments for the eyes.” The Romans commonly used mandrake as an anaesthetic and to put patients to sleep before surgery.

In the Middle Ages, since mandrake roots were difficult to come by, the roots of other plants were artificially shaped and manipulated to look like mandrakes, and sold at a high price. Andrea Mattioli, whose Commentaries on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides was published in 1544, says that a doctor he met in Rome would sell such false mandrake roots: “These false mandrakes he palmed off on childless women, some of whom gave him as much as 5, 20, or even 50 gold pieces for a single specimen, fondly expecting to become joyful mothers of children.” These false mandrake roots often carved to resemble small men, look much more like the ones from Harry Potter than natural mandrake roots ever could. Since they resembled human children, it was believed that they would aid conception. But they were also believed to bring good fortune. As part of her trial for witchcraft, Joan of Arc was accused of carrying a mandrake root in her bosom in the hope of acquiring riches; of course, she denied the accusation.