Fertility and Mandrakes

Madragora autumnalis, SaraRead Genesis 30:14-22.

The final plant discussed under Plants and the Ancient Fathers is the mandrake. The mandrake is associated with the patriarch Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah and grandson of Abraham. This event took place in Paddan Aram where Jacob was living with his mother’s brother, Laban (Genesis 29: 15 – 30: 13). Jacob’s two wives were the daughters of Laban. Leah was the first and older wife and Rachel the younger, second wife. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. At this time, Leah has birthed four boys and stopped conceiving children. Rachel has born no children. Jacob spent his nights with Rachel.

The story of the mandrakes began with Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, finding mandrake plants in the field and bringing mandrake roots to Leah. Rachel saw the plants and asked Leah for them. Resentful of Jacob’s preference for Rachel, Leah asked Rachel, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” Rachel responded by proposing a trade – Jacob can sleep with Leah that night in return for the mandrakes. Leah agreed. When Jacob came in from the fields, he was met by Leah who said, “You must sleep with me. I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” Leah became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son who was called Issachar. Then, Leah became pregnant with a sixth son (Zebulun) and later a daughter (Dinah).  Rachel did not become pregnant as a result of acquiring – and most likely using – the mandrakes from Leah.

Many westerners cannot make much sense of this story. What does the mandrake have to do with pregnancy? In early peoples, the mandrake was associated with the superstitious belief that it promoted fertility and conception in barren women. The mandrake root was consumed in very small amounts, cut into an amulet to wear on the body, or put beneath the bed. The Genesis story revealed that Rachel and Leah believed that mandrakes promoted conception. Both Leah and Rachel wanted children. Leah wanted additional children to win the regard and affection of Jacob.  Rachel wanted children to validate herself as a woman. Rachel was so desperate to have children that she was willing to have Jacob spend a night with Leah to get possession of the mandrakes.

We are not told whether Jacob believed that mandrakes promoted fertility; however, at this time Jacob spent his nights with Rachel knowing she wanted children. In earlier chapters of Genesis, the Bible recorded that Rachel told Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die” (Genesis 30:1 – 2). Jacob responded angrily asking Rachel, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Jacob’s response can be contrasted with that of his father Isaac and his care for his wife Rebekah. When Rebekah was barren, Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah (Genesis 25:21). The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer.  Rebekah became pregnant and gave birth to Esau and Jacob.  There is no record that Jacob prayed about Rachel’s barren state. Rather, many years later the Bible recorded that God listened to Rachel and opened her womb and she conceived Jacob’s 11th son (Genesis 30:22 – 24).

Mandragora autumnalisCharacteristics of the Mandrake Plant

The mandrake, Mandragora officinarum (AKA M, autumnalis) is a member of the Solanacea family that includes some poisonous plants (nightshades), but also important crop plants such as potatoes and egg plants. It is native to lands around the Mediterranean Sea. The mandrake grows best in stony wastelands and uncultivated fields and will not survive severe winters. The most notable segment of the mandrake and the portion associated with fertility and conception is the root. Mandrakes have large brown roots (similar to parsnips) that can run three to four feet into the ground. The thick root is frequently forked similar to two legs. The root can weigh several pounds. On the surface of the ground, the mandrake is a dark green color with a rosette of leaves which can grow up to twelve inches long and six inches wide. Mandrake flowers produce globular yellow to orange berries which resemble small tomatoes.

Application of the Mandrake

The Bible story of the mandrakes speaks to individuals today. It tells us that Rachel could not manipulate her fertility by believing in the superstitious power of a plant, e.g., the mandrake. It was God who gave Rachel fertility after she prayed to him. We do not know if Rachel’s fertility would have occurred earlier if her husband Jacob – God’s chosen man and the son of the patriarch Abraham   — would have prayed for her. We simply know that when Rachel finally turned to God, God responded by granting Rachel’s request for a son. What a son Rachel received! Rachel’s first son was Joseph, one of the greatest men of the Bible whose life is an example for every Jew and Christian.

Many of us engage in superstitious behavior. We read our horoscope every morning and think that it will tell us if we are going to have a good day. We  ask God questions. Then open the Bible expecting that God’s answer will be in the first passage we read. This type of question and answer behavior is superstitious and an attempt to manipulate God’s word to meet our immediate situation and needs. God answers prayers and the answers are based on principles and truths for our lives found in the Bible. Paul wrote (Romans 8:26 – 27) that we do not know what we should pray for, but that the Holy Spirit knows what we need. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express so that our prayers will be in accordance with God’s will for our lives.

Thought:  I am sure that I have engaged in superstitious behavior and have tried to manipulate or end run God. I am equally sure and thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me when I pray. Over time I have become willing to admit that I do not have the answers to every situation. More and more my prayers are simply, “Your will be done, God.” What about you?  Are you like Jacob’s wives trying by superstitious behavior or your own efforts to manage events and situations in your life? Or are you willing to wait prayerfully on God’s time and/or his will for you?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright April 24, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



62 responses to “Fertility and Mandrakes

  1. I found your website/ blog after a search for mandrakes. It was a refreshing and informative read due to the over abundance of witchcraft material out there (mandrakes were used in harry potter writings and movies). This is so very cool! I love plants and God speaks to me and shows me visions often including them. How fantastic to find another godly like-minded person. Thank you!

  2. I was just looking up the word mandrake because I didn’t understand what it meant in the bible. Now I and glad I was able to read it, but I also learned that you can not demand GOD in reading the bible just prayer

  3. Christine Chapman CC.

    Oh dear I forgot to comment re the Mandrakes…enjoyed reading this & agree with Claudia’s comment & Hannah’s …some good points made. Oh how wives & concubines ( hand maidens etc) could be a problem & cause heartache & some grief. That is a big study in itself. Why did God allow these concubines ? but he may have allowed it and in some cases the men’s hearts became hardened & that is why they fell into this pattern. All around fertility.

    • Christine, I really, really enjoy reading your comments. I, too, have difficulty with plural wives and concubines; yet, this was the culture of the time. That reason does not make the situation right. I am pondering writing about Illicit Sex in the Bible. If you are not subscribed to http://www.obscurecharacters, you may want to do so. On that blog I am doing a series on Adultery. Love to hear your comments.

    • We all have a lots of questions about why this happen or that happen and we may never know the answer why certain things happen in creation but in the book of 1Timothy,1: 3-4 God talks about asking questions about genealogy. We just have to believe God and his word that he knew what he what he was doing and for us to question is to bring about controversy and not the purpose in which God intended. I was super excited to learn more of the 12 tribes of Jacob and how it was so that even though Jacob loved Racheal, but Leah was his wife, but look how God taught about about the first fruits. Leah and her concubines produced more children than Racheal. Look at Sara and Abraham. Someone always trying to do it their way and not stick to the plan of God. So now look at us today, if we have more than than one husband or wife it becomes the sin of adultery which was not so back in the early part. We serve an awesome God and I really enjoy reading your post,

  4. Christine Chapman CC.

    I have so enjoyed reading these wonderful posts re God as a gardener, I found this site only because i typed in what is a Myrtle tree and what does Myrtle mean after reading the verses in Zechariah, after listening to a good teaching on the subject by Benjamin Baruch also: Remnant Call radio..Zechariah part 2,3,& 4. The Father is so wonderful in showing us the whole thing and using the Gifts of The Holy Spirit to people who can bring out a different aspect of the whole verses..I really enjoy that.how he teaches & shows us the deeper layered meanings. I am a bit of a research intercessor. …& enjoy searching for the Truth.

  5. I just wanted to stand up for Rachel a little bit here. How many of us have been believing God for something very important to us for many years, or even much longer?

    Rachel had probably been believing for children since before they ever married. You know how girls daydream about their family to be. But during this time, as she watched her rival have child after child you know her hope was being drained. Rachel had to watch Leah’s pregnancies go on forever each time which Leah may have flaunted. Who could blame her. What an awkward marriage that must have been, plus the two handmaids thrown in for good measure.

    And we must remember that Abraham, and Sarah had their faith tested when they got tired of waiting, and tried to help God out with Hagar. And the Jews are still paying for that mistake today with those close relatives of theirs. How many of us get discouraged waiting. So we must be humble, and realize that we would not do any better in their place. If we think not, God will teach us so.

  6. Thank you for this information. It answered my questions to the ‘T”!

  7. Thanks for sharing on this as I too was curious as to why Rachel was so desparate for the mandrake roots. I can’t fathom sharing my husband with my sister or any other woman for that matter and it boggles my mind that she would give up a night with her husband to her sister just for her hope in some plant!!! Crazy!!!

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