Cooked Mandrake Plant - What Would Happen Chemically?
August 14, 2018 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Due to a mistaken ID of the plant, someone sauteed an entire mandrake plant ( Mandragora autumnalis) with garlic and oil and consumed - landing them in the ER. They survived. Now there are questions - for example - would the heat, oil and garlic alter or lessen the alkaloids and thereby the over-all effect on that person? Are there any studies done on heating the plant and ingesting?
posted by watercarrier to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Heat has minimal effect on the alkaloids mandrake contains. In particular, the tropane alkaloids it contains are very heat resistant. This was confirmed by a study in 1989 with bread baked from contaminated flour. The baked bread contained between 72 and 100% of the tropane alkaloid content of the flour (Friedman and Levin, 1989). They just tested it, no one ate it, because it's fairly well established even before this study that alkaloids can take lots of heat. Ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus for example, are boiled for 12-24 hours to extract the active alkaloids and do not lose any potency in that process.

I am guessing people knew this for quite some time before that study, as folk wisdom etc. was not ever about eating this plant. In fact, the lore was that if you pulled up a mandrake you were going to hell, which is a pretty good way to keep people from attempting to eat it as well as a fair description of what happens if you do.
posted by ananci at 11:03 AM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

If this is the same situation that you asked about in Jan 2017: how are sure it’s mandrake? At that time you had datura spp. marked as best answer.

Anyway Datura spp. mostly work through tropane alkaloids too, and ananci’s good info still (mostly, probably) applies.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:14 AM on August 14, 2018

Yes, the identification of the plant wasn't made then - it is now - examining both plants - which are entirely different, going back to the original area where the plant was found, researching online and backtracking memory as to its shape, color, texture etc. The colors, tendrils and floret shape were a confirmed ID. What is troubling and of concern is that perhaps there's been some neurological impact made by the ingestion and it's hard to find any literature that details the onset or outcome of ingestion under the circumstances I outlined above. The experiment done by Friedman and Levin involved baking with flour/water perhaps yeast, a different chemical structure than with with heated oil and onions (sulfur) in a cast-iron pan and so the conclusive results might be altogether different.
posted by watercarrier at 11:28 AM on August 14, 2018

You probably already read this, but here's a report of two Greek people eating a similar species of mandrake with neurological symptoms and how that resolved and what the treatment was planned to be if it didn't resolve quickly. Note the references section with additional resources; if you can access the full texts of the resources I imagine you may find details related to how the mandrakes were prepared. You could also contact the authors to see if they have that information if it isn't in the studies.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:39 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can probably google as well as I can, but here are a few resources I found: If you contact Raven or Stephanie, they might be able to provide you with more info about results at various levels of ingestion and types of preparation.

If I were you I would somewhat back off of the idea that you are going to find out exactly what happened to the plant when you prepared it the precise way you did. Simple reason is, unless someone has done the precise preparation method you did and then run all sorts of scientific tests on that (extremely unlikely), you are just never going to know for certain. Even given that precise kind of match, you'll never know if they used the precisely same plant, grown in same conditions, prepared exactly same way, using exactly same plant parts, same time of year, etc etc etc--all the precise conditions that are going to affect the exact levels of various active chemicals in the final product.

Rather, cast your net to find the wide range different reactions people have to the plant given different dosages, conditions, etc. Your experience will almost certainly fall somewhere on that continuum and looking at reported cases most similar to yours is likely to be the most helpful.

Just for example, one of the articles linked from the resource vegartanipla posted says this:
All patients [15 in total] had blurred vision and dryness of mouth, nine (60%) had difficult micturition, nine dizziness, nine headache, eight (53%) vomit, two difficult swallowing and two abdominal pain. There was no correlation between the latency period and the clinical severity. Blushing, areactive mydriasis and tachycardia were found in all, dry skin and mucosae in 14 (93%), hyperactivity/hallucination in 14 and agitation/delirium in nine (60%). One patient developed a florid psychotic episode.
So, that shows a WIDE range of clinical response and nausea or abdominal pain in only about half of cases. So that is already consistent with your own experience of no abdominal pain.
posted by flug at 4:30 PM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

PubMed searches for mandrake and Mandragora. There are relatively few results for each and they are worth looking through. A quick look doesn't show anything specifically related to the long-term health effects of consumption.

Mr. Ginseng's page on Mandrake lists a number of short-term side effect and one potential long-term side effect from high dosages (memory loss). I don't know the source of that information so would take with as many grains of salt as necessary.

One reporter on Erowid says he is now experiencing long-term aftereffects (ongoing visions, voices in the head, etc) but that guy was taking rather a ton of extremely inadvisable substances at high levels, so it is hard to attribute any particular long-term symptom to mandrake in particular.
posted by flug at 4:54 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the replies. I'd just like to re-iterate that the sub species was/is mandrake autumnalis found in Israel and mentioned in the bible as being a food which helped Leah *open her womb*. This particular sub-species and its properties as opposed to mandrake off. and others, I feel might be the key as to why this experience was what it became. I haven't read all the resources you've provided, but am confident that the differentiation between sub-species is an important factor to outcome. Also, aside from accelerated neurological symptoms - including rapid heart-rate, delirium and restlessness, there were no other physical effects. There were however, other phenomenons, of the insight type, which I will not expand on here. If anyone is interested, can expand a bit on this via memail.
posted by watercarrier at 8:54 PM on August 14, 2018

Sure, but we've got to work with what we can find, because we aren't likely to find a big case study with exact replication of your situation as flug pointed out. I find this question interesting, so I did a little more digging.

I found this article, which says, "All of the tropine alkaloids cause central and peripheral anticholinergic toxidromes when plant parts, especially seeds, are ingested in salads or stews or brewed into teas."

This indicates that we've got people eating parts of similar plants or the same plant in a range of ways and there were no notable differences in the results such that salad-eaters are split in the literature from tea-drinkers and/or from stew-eaters. Also, note the references which can provide further information.

This article is even more helpful, and says: "Young leaves of borage are sometimes confused with those of other plants, such as the very poisonous Mandragora autumnalis Bertol. (mandrake) in Southern Italy and in Sicily... In the period 1995–2007, 50 cases of intoxication by accidental ingestion of mandrake, and 6 cases due to an accidental ingestion of foxglove, were reported in Italy (Colombo et al., 2009). Other cases were also reported in the island of Crete, where two patients consumed accidentally mandrake instead of the eatable borago (Tsiligianni et al., 2009). By the end of 2017, cases of poisoning, due to the presence of mandrake leaves mixed with spinach in commercial frozen vegetable, were reported in Italy. In one case, the hallucinogen-tainted frozen spinach caused the hospitalization of 4 family members in Milan, but the presence in the batch of the poisonous mandrake, containing tropane alkaloids, was not proven ( In another circumstance, 7 people were hospitalized with symptoms of mental confusion, amnesia and nausea, after eating a vegetable soup (minestrone). Also in this case, the suspect of vegetables contaminated with madrake leaves was advanced ( Analyses performed
on soup samples by a Public Health Service laboratory confirmed the presence of three hallucinogenic substances, i.e. atropine, scopolamine and norscopolamine. The same substances were also detected in biological samples from the same patients analysed at the Anti-Poison Center (Pavia, Italy). In the light of these findings, food poisoning was attributed to leaves of mandrake or of some other infesting plant ("

Again, people are eating it in several ways; now we can add frozen and then reheated to the list of preparations, and given that it appears it was mixed in with frozen spinach, I actually think it's pretty likely it could have been heated in oil and garlic by some of the eaters as that's a fairly popular way to cook frozen spinach. Again, you could follow through on finding the references for this article and/or contact the authors. I also think you could try to contact governmental poison control facilities in affected regions (apparently Italy deals with this a decent amount) and ask your question of them. I suspect given what I've read so far that the answer is that sauteing in oil and garlic do not affect the experience.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:47 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here is the wikipedia article for mandragora autumnalis, which points out that the active substances in it are essentially identical to Mandragora officinarum. Again, it looks like the specifics of this case (ie, how much of various substances that one particular plant happened to carry, which specific parts of the plant were eaten, whether or not any of the plant matter was removed via gastric lavage or other techniques, etc) are going to be of much more importance than the difference in species.

One question--which parts of the plant were consumed? Leaves, fruit, seeds, root? Or all of the above? Just leaves would suggest a lower dose whereas leaves and root would suggest a higher dose.
posted by flug at 5:27 PM on August 15, 2018

One thought I had was to search PubMed for each of the specific substances in Mandragora plus words like "long-term" and "poison". Here is a sample search.

That brought up a pretty good article describing effects of various atropine-like substances, at various doses and both short and long-term. This is pretty much the jackpot for what you are looking for.

The first several sections (SITES OF ACTION, PERIPHERAL EFFECTS, CENTRAL EFFECTS, SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS OF ATROPINE POISONING), summarized in Chart 1, lay out pretty much exactly what you experienced and give a good indication of how much of the substance was absorbed in this case in comparison with other dosage levels.

That suggests to me that you probably experienced a fairly large dose, perhaps somewhat (or just?) below a coma-inducing dose, and a fair bit below a toxic dose.

So, that is helpful because it gives you some idea of where this incident lies in the range of dosages and symptoms. You got a pretty good dose of it, but well below toxic levels, would be a solid guess.

However, even more to the point, this article has a pretty long and detailed section entitled "LONG-TERM AND DELAYED EFFECTS". These long-term effects seem to be your main concern.

The good news here is that any noticeable negative delayed effects are pretty rare, seem proportional to dosage (so you might be experiencing more of them than some who had smaller dosages, but not as much as some who had even higher dosages), and seem to decline with time.
Two nonvolunteers—one military (a chemist) and one civilian (a pharmacologist)—were accidentally exposed to unknown doses of EA 3167, the most persistent of the glycolates studied. In each case, subjective and objective observations of performance over a period of 6–12 mo indicated that mild, but nontrivial, impairment of cognitive function could be discerned for approximately 6 mo, after which seemingly full recovery ensued. These patients were of superior intellect and had occupations that required optimal cognitive function for them to be successful. It is possible that in less demanding assignments they might not have been aware of residual deficits.
Another set of reports show a similar outcome:
An additional ancedotal report (L.G.Abood, personal communication, 1982) concerns an evaluation of the psychologic state and well-being of three subjects who had been exposed to BZ during the preceeding 10 yr. Subject A had an oral dose of approximately 5 mg during the summer of 1969; subject B, an oral dose of approximately 10 mg in June 1972; and subject C, an oral dose of 5–10 mg in October 1976. All three were graduate students who had surreptitiously undertaken self-experimentation and who had been engaged in laboratory experiments with the drug. All experienced hallucinations, delirium, confusion, amnesia, and the full spectrum of psychologic, neurologic, and autonomic responses associated with the drug. Within 2–4 h after ingestion, all three were hospitalized in the psychiatric ward at the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital and retained for various periods (3–6 d).

Regarding the possible long-range effects of the drug experience, all three subjects were having difficulties both adjusting to graduate education and in their personal lives immediately before taking BZ. Subjects A and C had entertained the possibility of either dropping out or transferring to another university, largely because of inadequate academic performance. Within a few months after the drug experience, all three demonstrated definite improvement in both academic performance and psychologic well-being. They all appeared to be more out-going, communicative, and enthusiastic about graduate school. This assessment was shared by a number of faculty members and fellow students. They all eventually received Ph.D. degrees with distinction. They are now pursuing an active, productive research and postgraduate education. They all appear well-adjusted and well-motivated and seem to be leading productive, self-fulfilling careers. None of the subjects has experienced any adverse sequelae that might be attributable to the drug experience.
Hundreds of patients have received huge doses of atropine and scopolamine (up to 250 mg), sometimes given three times a week for up to 4 mo, and this form of therapy continues in Eastern Europe today. A chronic behavioral syndrome of toxicity appears unlikely, and single or even multiple exposures to the anticholinergic drugs used in the volunteers, frequently at low doses, are deemed insufficient to stimulate a persistent toxic syndrome. Of course, individual susceptibility to acute effects, which may trigger a long-term effect, cannot be excluded.
In short, it appears there can be long-term neurological or mental affects of these compounds, especially if a large dose is taken, but affects do gradually dissipate with time and most people report returning to normal within a few months or years.

The subjects of these studies all seem to be young and very healthy people. If perchance you happen to fall into the not-quite-young and/or not-quite-completely-healthy categories, it would be reasonable to assume that it might take you longer to recover completely from this kind of poisoning.

Finally, they analyze long-term fatality records of subjects who took the compounds and don't find any particular link to increased mortality. That, too, is good news!

Again, all quotes & data above are from this article: Possible Long-Term Health Effects of Short-Term Exposure to Chemical Agents: Volume 1 Anticholinesterases and Anticholinergics, National Research Council (US) Panel on Anticholinesterase Chemicals; National Research Council (US) Panel on Anticholinergic Chemicals. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1982.

And again, the compounds studied in this paper are not necessarily identical to the ones you ingested. However, some of them are indeed identical (atropine, for example) and others are of the same general class of chemicals that seem to have generally similar effects and outcomes when administered to people. So--not a 100% match for your specific situation but probably about as good as we are going to get.

If perchance you are experiencing some lingering neurological or mental effects of the episode, this seems to give you some good solid evidence that they could, indeed, be related to the mandrake poisoning episode, and also some solid hope that they will continue to improve with time.
posted by flug at 5:32 PM on August 15, 2018

> but well below toxic levels

Sorry, that should have read, "but well below fatal levels". You were certainly well into toxic levels . . .

More resources: The Poison Garden entry on mandrake has some helpful info.

Here are three cases of mandrake poisoning, all tied to the same incident where the mandrake greens were steamed, that are reported on the Poison Garden page (though the links there no longer work--these do): Again, your reported symptoms seem to me to be closer to the moderately serious or perhaps the least serious case and definitely less severe than the very serious case. (The most serious case was, according to doctors, was about 2 minutes from death at one point). Those seem helpful just in giving you an idea of where your case fits on the severity scale.

A newspaper report of two more mandrake poisoning cases in Italy.
posted by flug at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2018

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