6. A Mandrake Root

Just as in the Harry Potter books and movies, real life mandrakes are plants, their roots can resemble human figures, and it was believed that they let out a deadly scream when pulled from the ground. Due to their human-like appearance people thought these plants had special powers. It was believed that if you pulled up a mandrake you would be condemned to hell and its scream would kill anyone who heard it. To avoid this damnation, people tied the roots to an animal, like a dog, and made them do the pulling. Mandrakes have hallucinogenic and narcotic properties. They were sometimes used as an anesthetic, but taking too much could result in loss of consciousness or death.

The root on display in this exhibition dates back to 16th or 17th century England and it looks like a bearded old man. Photo restrictions prohibited us from taking a picture of the mandrake, but above you can see original sketches of gnomes by illustrator Jim Kay.