Mandrakes Found

Posted on May 14, 2011

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For a while now, I’ve been thinking to create a lecture and photo presentation on biblical foods – a subject which I’ve been acquiring some expertise in. I’ve already created one presentation on the Local Foods of the Galilee and my journey exploring them, which I’ve given in several venues, and hope to do more. For these presentations, I like to use my own photographs. And for the biblical food presentation, I wanted a photo of mandrakes.

So, for the past few weeks, Ron and I have been out scouting the hills for mandrakes, which are a very common wild plant. We’ve seen them countless times, with their circle of deep green flappy leaves pressed to the ground and a pretty bouquet of purple flowers in the middle, which turn into fruits the size of large cherry tomatoes and change color from green to purple to deep yellow when they are fully ripe.

But for some reason, this time we couldn’t find a single one. I know it’s the season for them – in the Old Testament, Leah’s son Reuben picks mandrakes during the wheat harvest, and that’s where we’re at right now. So where were the mandrakes?

The hikes these days are a little perilous because the wild grasses are so high that they conceal the snakes that are just emerging from their hibernation. But we were undaunted and plunged on. We saw plenty of old withered cyclamen leaves, and big furry Jerusalem sage leaves, but no mandrakes.

And then I saw them – a perfect cluster of yellow fruit – but the leaves that had surrounded them were entirely disintegrated. The whole time we had been looking for the wrong thing. The fruit, it seems, outlasts the greenery.

And here they are.

       

They are known for their wonderful smell so I picked one to check the aroma – lovely indeed. And I split it open to see the seeds that make this plant so dangerous. There’s an older gentleman in a nearby kibbutz who makes liqueur out of mandrakes – but that’s another story.

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