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.



51 responses to “Fertility and Mandrakes

  1. This makes no sense that they believed mandrake root helped with fertility. Mandrakes were used to terminate pregnancies before birth control was ever invented (used much like the old prostitutes used Black Cohosh tea to ensure that a wealth court member would not impregnate them(and possibly kill them both when they found out about a bastard child)). Terminate pregnancy as in early stages (first missed menstrual cycle) when normal body abortions (miscarriages) tend to happen easily on their own. The amounts of those herbs to make a viable fetus terminate would possibly be lethal to the woman as well (there are reports of scared pregnant teens and raped women seeking medical attention and dying from large doses of black cohosh even in more recent days).

  2. Hi, praise Gid for the information you give, thank you. I now u derstand the story of mandrakes. I am also buying your book on plants. Myrna

  3. Hello,
    I stumbled on your site when searching for mandrake after reading Genesis 30. I am a Christian and enthusiastic home gardener. So I shall really appreciate reading more of your works on plant symbolism in the Bible.

    God bless, Jon

  4. I was reading Genesis 29 this morning and I wondered what was significant about the mandrake plants that Reuben found. I did an online search and this entry is the first I found. It answered all of my questions and I was delighted that the answer seemed to be biblically solid. At first, I thought this was just a secular post about plants and superstitions. As I explored your website further, I was so surprised to find that you live in Roanoke VA just as I do! What’s the chance that a random internet search would lead me to a great answer and from someone in my own home town?

    I am encouraged by your deep and solid faith and thankful that you provided a very helpful answer to my mandrake question!

  5. I’m enlighted but i am definitely certain d mandrake entails mysteries with regards to Reuben and Joseph.

  6. Wonderful revelation I too was not sure of mandrakes until I Google and came to this site. God has a lot if wants us to hear. Could it be the same that cost her life when giving birth to Benjamin and Ruben going to the bed of his father (Rachel maid) . Maybe the same connection . God says my people perish for lack of knowledge.

  7. Interesting blog. I love it. Asking questions and seeking the answer is how an intimate relationship is built. I love finding the answers as I dig deeper and study more. I’m not sure if the verdict is out on if she was doing it because she was superstitious. May have been, but not all situations would it be considered superstitious. A number of times the Bible talks of how He guides us. We are told to “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6. He even told us of what we should and should not eat, which we can see health benefits when we follow it. I know women that were sent home to die with cancer and through prayer, were guided to eat a certain. Now after 10 – 20+ years, they are still alive and no longer have that diagnosis. When you seek Him for the answer, He’ll answer. May not always be what you want to hear. The creator of heaven and earth has covered every situation possible. He’s already had the answer, how we use that answer is our choice. It is us that makes it superstitious vs an answer given that was given in prayer.

  8. Reading this was helpful. It has open up some doors that I thought were close..

  9. i had to stop reading my bible and go to google to get the meaning of mandrake that made rachel allow her sister to sleep with her husband and in my search i found this very interesting and educate. thanks be to God.

    if you look at turn of events it looks like Rachel had a son after taking the mandrakes which were believed to produce fertility and were used as love charms but the bible clearly states that God remembered Rachel ;he heard her prayers and made it possible for her to have her children. most importantly she realised to say her being fruitful was because of God. Genesis 30 vs 23. There are certain improper things we do to get the results we need and we seem to have the results but one thing we don’t realise is that if God has not allowed it to be likewise it cannot be. Psalm 27vs14 The best way to go about solving issues in our lives is wait upon God. Gods time is best. don’t give up Him. he makes everything beautiful in his own time.

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