And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes. Genesis 30:14-15
Rachel, wife of Jacob, may be the first woman in history about whom we have a clinical account of effects from the use of a tranquilizing drug. In her case the potent stuff was self-prescribed.
Frantic because she was unable to present her husband with a son, Rachel took drastic steps (Gen. 30:14-15). She bargained with Leah for a supply of roots from a plant supposed to increase one’s sexual potency. Leah’s son Reuben had found a colony of mandrakes—plants that grow wild throughout the eastern Mediterranean region—in a wheat field. Once Rachel got her hands on them, she used them in a fashion prescribed by folk doctors of many cultures.
Since prehistoric times the mandrake has been valued for its alleged power to foster human fertility. In the Bible it is mentioned five times in connection with Rachel, once in the Song of Solomon. Recipes and charms linked with it remained current until comparatively recent times. Some medieval vendors even carved human features on mandrake roots. Then they claimed to have dug them from the ground, shaped by nature to resemble the babies they were supposed to bring. Such a mandrake image was known as a mannikin or erdman (“earthman”).
Regardless of whether Rachel’s mandrakes were carved or plain, she got results in the form of a son whom she named Joseph. Whatever its other effects may or may not be, the mandrake (distantly related to belladonna or “deadly nightshade”) has a soothing effect upon the nerves of some who use it. Since some physicians now administer modern tranquilizers to foster conception, it may be that Rachel’s self-prescribed dose actually did enable her to become a mother.
(Garrison, Webb., Strange Facts About the Bible, Testament Books, New York, 1968, pgs 22-23)