Herb: American Mandrake

Latin name: Podophyllum peltatum

Family: Podophyllaceae

Medicinal use of American Mandrake:

American mandrake is a most powerful and useful herbal medicine, exercising an influence on every part of the system and stimulating the glands to healthy action. Its greatest power lies in its action on the liver and bowels. It is a gastro-intestinal irritant, a powerful hepatic and intestinal stimulant. Although often used internally in the past, the plant's cytotoxic action makes it an unsafe remedy for internal use. The root is antibilious, cathartic, cytostatic, hydrogogue and purgative. The plant contains podophyllin, which has an antimiotic effect (it interferes with cell division and can thus prevent the growth of cells). It is, therefore, a possible treatment for cancer, and has been used especially in the treatment of ovarian cancer. However, alopecia is said to be a common side-effect of this treatment. The root is most active medicinally in early spring when it is beginning to shoot. The resin, which is obtained from the root, is used in the treatment of warts and has been found to be effective against uterine warts that are sometimes experienced in pregnancy. It is also used in the treatment of small-cell carcinoma. The root is harvested in the autumn and either dried for later use or the resin is extracted. The whole plant, apart from the ripe fruit, is highly poisonous and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It should not be prescribed for pregnant women. Large doses have been used to commit suicide. A homeopathic remedy is obtained from the fresh root, harvested before the fruit is ripe. This is used particularly in the treatment of diarrhoea.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

May to


Habitat of the herb:

Moist soils in rich woods, thickets and pastures.

Edible parts of American Mandrake:

Fruit - raw, cooked or made into jams, jellies, marmalades, pies etc. The fruit can also be dried for later use. The fruit should only be eaten when it is fully ripe, the unripe fruit is strongly laxative. Remove the rind. The fruit is very aromatic, and has a peculiar though agreeable flavour. Sweet and acid. Do not eat the seeds. In excess the fruit can cause colic. The fruit is about 5cm long.

Other uses of the herb:

An infusion of the boiled leaves has been sprayed on potato plants to protect them from insects. Other reports suggest that it is insecticidal rather than repellent. The root ooze has been used to soak corn seed prior to planting it out in order to prevent it being eaten by crows or insects.

Propagation of American Mandrake:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in a cold frame in early spring. The seed germinates in 1 - 4 months at 15C. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a shady part of the greenhouse for at least 2 growing seasons. Plant them out into their permanent positions in the winter when the plants are dormant. Division in March/April.

Cultivation of the herb:

Moist soils in rich woods, thickets and pastures.

Known hazards of Podophyllum peltatum:

The leaves and the roots are very poisonous.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.