Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a common understory plant in deciduous woodlands here in the Midwest. It emerges in early spring, the umbrella-like leaves furled tight to push through ground only recently free of frost. By the time the leaves have unfurled, the morel mushrooms are coming into season. As a child I always made sure to kneel down and part the canopies of the clusters of plants, to see if any mushrooms were hiding underneath.
The clusters of Mayapples spread into great green rafts in the lowlands and on the shady hillsides. By late summer, the single white flower that each plant produces is long faded, swollen into a yellow fruit. I harvested some earlier today from my back yard woodland flower bed, and I can easily smell their sweet aroma. It’s kind of a custard-y, tropical fruit smell? Not like a banana… I’ll have to sniff some tropical produce next time I’m at the grocery to see if anything comes close. (I could say ‘similar to a ripe Pawpaw’ but that wouldn’t help much I’m afraid).
I have eaten ripe Mayapple fruit before, in small quantities. In larger amounts it is reported to be toxic, so I wouldn’t recommend feasting on them.
In occult herb shops, Mayapple is nearly always labelled “American Mandrake” (or just “Mandrake,” with the scientific name of Mayapple beside it). From what I’ve seen of Mandrake, and what I know of Mayapple, the plants seem really quite different to me. I suspect that the name Mandrake is given to Mayapple to, quite frankly, make it seem more occult, and as a readily available substitute for the difficult to acquire Mandragora officinarum.
Mayapple is a plant of secretive places, of the wood beyond the tamed garden. To me it is a plant of earth-current, of the Under-the-ground, favored by the Unknown Host – the Good People. The fruits I would use as offerings to the spirits of the lands, to gain the favor of the Other Crowd, or for fruits of first harvest in this season of Lammas.
Traditionally Mayapple is associated with Saturn, and its root has been used in spells of secrecy, protection, and drawing prosperity into the home. The root has also been used for workings of fertility and virility (indeed anything that European Mandrake has been ascribed), and I think that the ripe fruit would be useful in similar magical applications.
I have not used Mayapple in much spell work, but it is a plant which I would like to come to know better, and develop a relationship with its Spirit, if the plant finds such a conversation amenable.