Mayapple, Mandrake

Mayapple, Mandrake, fruit edible when totally ripe, toxic otherwise.

Podophyllum peltatum: Forgotten Fruit

The first time I saw a mayapple I was certain something that strange had to be toxic, and it is, unless totally ripe.  In fact, all parts of the plant except the very ripe fruit are quite poisonous. Another plant which is like that is the Natal Plum. 

Ripe Mayapple

When unripe the Mayapple resembles a lime. Then it turns a soft yellow and wrinkles a little, see to the right. That is ripe. The rest of the plant is also often dying at that time as well. Trim off the ends, do not eat the seeds. If you cook with it remove the seeds first. Recipes below.

Other parts of the Mayapple have had a wide range of medicinal uses with native Americans. It is, however, a powerful plant and not to be used lightly: The Indians also used it to commit suicide.  Two drugs are made from the Mayapple, etoposide and teniposide. Etoposide is for testicular and small-cell lung cancer, teniposide is used in conditions like brain tumors and infancy leukemia. For those of us old enough to remember “Carter’s Little Liver Pills”  Mayapple was a main ingredient that made the pills a laxative and had nothing to do with the liver at all.

Carter's Pills used Mayapples as a laxative.

Carter’s Pills used Mayapples as a laxative.

Its botanical name is Podophyllum peltatum (poe-doe-FILL-um pell-TAY-tum) and means “foot leaf like a shield.” The leaves resemble a duck’s food — it was once called that — and they tend to hide the flower and fruit, shielding it. The Mayapple usually grows in colonies in leaf-losing forests, meaning it likes to grow in the shade.  The taste is exotic, or peculiar, opinions vary

Other local names include: Raccoon Berry, Wild lemon, Ground Lemon, Hog Apple, Indian Apple, Wild Jalap, Duck’s Foot, Umbrella Leaf, and Wild Mandrake though it is not related to the Old World Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum. The Himalayan MayApple, Podophyllum hexandrum aka Podophyllum emodi, reportedly has edible leaves as well.

Green Deane’s “Itemized Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A perennial plant is 1–1½’ tall, some unbranched with a single leaf on a long stalk, others produce two leaves. Stalks light green, round, hairless. leaves, umbrella like, to one food long and across; palmately lobed, 5-9 lobes per leaf, deeply divided, hairless. Blossom a single, waxy, creme-colored flower with six to nine petal, below the leaves. Fruit egg-shaped, green when unripe turning yellow when ripe.

TIME OF YEAR: Blossoms in spring, fruit available in late summer depending on climate, July through September. Usually collected in northern areas when the trees are losing their leaves.

ENVIRONMENT: Moist forests, meadows, flood plains, forest openings, from Quebec to Florida, west to Texas and Minnesota.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Trail side nibble, the basis for a cold drink, jelly (add pectin) compotes, marmalade, pies and a sauce like applesauce. Mayapples can be canned and they freeze well. Do not eat the seeds. Remove them before cooking. Use them to grow more Mayapples. Over-eating can be mildly laxative. WARNING: DO NOT CONSUME WHEN PREGNANT.

Mayapple Jelly

1 3/4 cups Mayapple juice; strained

3 1/2 cups sugar

1/8 cup lemon juice

3 oz liquid fruit pectin or one dry packet

Wash ripe mayapples, cut away the stem and blossom ends, and any waste parts. REMOVE SEEDS. Cut the fruit into pieces and place in a large kettle with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer until mayapples are tender, mashing during cooking. Strain the juice through a cheesecloth or let it drip through a jelly bag. To the strained mayapple juice, add lemon juice and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then stir in pectin. Again bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil hard until the jelly stage is reached. Remove jelly from heat, skim, and pour into hot, sterilized jelly glasses. Seal at once with hot paraffin or lid in hot bath. Double the recipe if you have plenty of mayapple juice. The amount used in this recipe is the yield of about 2 cups of sliced mayapples simmered in 3 cups of water. Yield: Four small glasses of pale amber jelly

 Mayapple Jam

5.5 cups ripe Mayapple fruit              7 cups sugar

1/2 cup water                                    1 package pectin

1/2 cup lemon juice                            dash of salt


Combine mayapples, water, and lemon juice. Bring to boil, cover over low heat, simmer for 20 minutes. Stir often. Add sugar and bring back to a boil. Boil hard for three minutes. Add pectin and salt and boil for one minute. Stir and skim off foam. Ladle into sterilized jars, seal with lid or paraffin.

Mayapple Punch

3 cups rip Mayapples fruit              1 cup sugar

3 pieces of ginger root                   1 quart ginger ale


Cut up Mayapples, REMOVE SEEDS. Put Mayapple pieces and ginger root in a saucepan, cover with water, and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer 25 minutes. Add sugar. Set aside to cool but stir occasionally. Pour through sieve and press pulp through mesh. Spoon into cups and fill cups with ginger ale. Stir and serve. Depending upon your tastes. Some think it tastes like an earthy banana or pawpaws. It makes excellent preserves and drink.  Since woodland creatures like the fruit as well it can be collected just before it is ripe and stored in sawdust until ripe.


{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Matt Broberg April 23, 2012, 5:31 pm

    Hey Green Deane, I have ITEMized the Mayapple and i know that it is in my backyard woods. A large amount of the flowers are beggining to become pollinated. I know that i should only harvest the fruits when they are yellow and wrinkly, and i want to know a few things. #1: how do i prepare the fruits? Like do i open them and take out the middle? #2: My parents always tell me that eating wild plants is stupid and unsafe, i do know that it “can” be unsafe if you dont know what you’re doing, but i itemize everything and am SURE about what I consume. But how do I harvest them and prepare them is basically what i want to know. Please respond because i am realy looking forward to hearing what you have to say. Thanks, Matt.

    • Green Deane April 23, 2012, 9:12 pm

      First do NOT eat the seeds. They are toxic. You eat the ripe pulp of the fruit.

  • tanya August 30, 2012, 11:07 am

    We have this all over the wooded acreage of our farm. FINALLY a use for it!!!I know what I’m going to be doing this weekend!

    • nolonger searching August 9, 2015, 10:20 am

      Well I have finally found out what this plant is!! How odd my husband has lukemia and I found hundreds of these on our property, but, I thought they were some form of walnut! So how wrong was I!!! I will be trying this jam recipe next year! The grand kids pulled them all down so ill have to wait until next spring. Atleast now I will know where to look for input. Thanks everybody..

  • bdid1dr February 25, 2013, 6:18 pm

    You might enjoy some discussion about the mayapple’s European cousin, the mandragore/mandrake. I recently found a page of discussion for the use of the mandrake fruit juice (diluted). The “discussion” occurs in folio 83v of Boenicke Library’s manuscript 408 (aka on the WWW as the “Voynich Manuscript).

    If you find your way to that particular folio, the most noticeable items in the illustration are a pair of “fruit” globes which still appear to have their stem ends and withered blossoms attached. My deciphering of the writing below each of the fruits translates to the latin words occaeceus and otiolum (to numb, darken, obscure – and “to take it easy, to ease” .

    The illustration and the accompanying discussion is “all about” Artemis/Diana and her sacred grove and lake: In this particular case, I’m pretty sure, now, that the location of this shrine was Lake Nemi in Italy.
    She was patroness/protector of young prepubescent women. I hope you find this discussion relevant to your presentation of the mayapple.

  • mary noble May 5, 2013, 7:24 pm

    can you substitute nutrasweet for sugar in the jam/jelly recipes?

    • Green Deane May 6, 2013, 8:04 am

      That is a culinary question that is beyond my expertise. Jelly makeing is an art.

    • elisa May 19, 2013, 9:04 am

      No, you cannot. It affects the gel/pectin.

      • Doug June 11, 2013, 8:45 pm

        No, Mary, but you can buy “no-sugar” Pectin. I’ve used it before with fairly good results, but the texture isn’t quite the same as the recipes using the sugar and the results have a shorter shelf/refrigerator life. Still, it is definately acceptable if no sugar is a desire/necessity.

  • Madi lingwar May 10, 2013, 2:23 pm

    love the info helps a lot with me and my nature loving genes! I’m going on a camping trip with my family and we are not bring any food or water so i want what to eat and what not to eat. Plus i also explore things with my family and friends.Like animals, I love animals all kinds mostly kolas. Next weekend we are going to the forest where plants are like animals are important and people are important, I think plants are most important than all of them. Thank you a lot!

  • Eloise M May 15, 2013, 9:09 am

    My name is Eloise. I am not Eloise from the book… Anyway, I am a plant frantic. I am in love with plants. Anyway, my science teacher said it was plants month at school. I picked Mayapple. I did a little google search. Yours was the first up. So like a normal person, I clicked on yours. I have a lot of info and 99.9% is from your site. I just waned to thank you and tell you that I love your site!!!

    <3 Eloise

  • MikeH June 5, 2013, 9:47 am

    I remember sitting down and eating as many of these as I wanted when I was a kid. We were at a family reunion and they grew n the grounds there at the park. I don’t recall them being as bright yellow as the one pictured on this site, but they were very sweet.

    You should watch these like a hawk once the fruit sets, as forest critters will swarm them immediately as soon as they start to ripen. They can’t seem to leave them alone, and it can be next to impossible to get a single ripe one for yourself! I wouldn’t even trust my dog to guard them….they’re that irresistable!

  • June Miller July 24, 2013, 7:18 am

    Hello, and thanks for providing the only other recipes for Mayapple that I’ve ever seen! I live on Main Street in a small, New England town, and years ago someone planted Mayapples in a front garden which have flourished and are increasing year by year (yippee!). I’m hoping for a good harvest of fruit this year so I can try your jelly recipe.
    Being a ‘Swamp Yankee’, my mom was familiar with Mayapple, particularly its poisonous characteristics. I knew the RIPE fruit was edible, and my mom witnessed enough of my foraging with positive results to trust my attempt at making jelly the first year we had enough fruit.
    I picked a small berry-basked full of Mayapples – they smelled wonderful! so tropical and fruity – and I brought it to my then-elderly mom for a sniff.
    I should’ve seen her grabbing at the opportunity to ‘give me the business’. She got a wry grin on her face as I asked her to ‘Smell these!’ and she replied, grinning and completely in jest, with a quip I’ll never forget: ‘Smells like death!’
    I loved my mom! And the jelly turned out to be delicious.
    Thanks again for this wonderful, alternate recipe! It’s close to harvest time for my own Mayapples and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to gather enough this season for a batch of jelly!

  • beverly hosler April 4, 2014, 12:36 pm

    my mother viola picked mayapple when she was a girl in east Tennessee and she sold the apple in town , I see mayapple every yr, but I did not know why she picked it and now I know I love the way mayapple looks and the beautiful white flower that appears, and every yr when I come upon the apple I think of her, thank you. Beverly hosler

  • Phil R May 2, 2014, 7:25 am

    I walked along the woods this morning; May Apples have just sprouted, the leaves still unfurled, looked kinda tasty, I’ve never tried before, but snapped off a couple of stems and ate fresh. Tasted bitter but wholesome? Now I’m reading about the toxicity, not sure if I’ll survive the day, but feeling great so far.

    • Mary B May 7, 2015, 8:27 am

      Well, are you still alive? Or did the Mayapple do you in? Curious minds want to know!
      I love Mayapple as it is a native woodland plant. People around here want want only lawns and manicured beds full of non-native shrubs, etc. They spray Mayapple with Roundup which breaks my heart. So I purposely grow it in my woodland garden and love it. I have even heard that in England it is (or was) used as a ground cover in Windsor Gardens. That may not be true though so don’t quote me on it… But anyway it shows that Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Dana Smith August 24, 2014, 12:46 pm

    Hi. I’m wondering about the seeds in the mayapple – how large are they? I’ve cut a few open and not been able to discern any seeds – am wondering if they are extremely small and difficult to discern or if many fruits don’t produce seeds at all.

  • Jean Rogers yorke May 15, 2015, 6:36 am

    In north carolina….my mayapple plants were quite beautiful in early May….now most leaves are developing yellow spots and very shortly after, the entire leaf turns yellow wilts and the complete plant dies….any idea what may be the problem.

    • Susan S. July 5, 2015, 4:08 pm

      That’s what mayapples do. They die back to the ground in the summer.

      • Elaine January 7, 2017, 1:20 pm

        Susan S. – But if you look at the date of Jean Rogers yorke’s question, it is only May 15th. They don’t die back until at least July. The plant didn’t even have time to fruit.

    • Elaine January 7, 2017, 1:22 pm

      Did you ever find out what the problem was? You said “my” mayapple plants. Did you actually plant them in your yard? If that’s the case maybe it just wasn’t the right environment for them to thrive.

  • Norbert June 11, 2015, 10:15 am

    Can you pick the mayapples when they are first starting to turn yellow then let them ripen on the kitchen counter?

    • patientspiders July 12, 2015, 9:43 pm

      I was told that you could ripen them on the counter in a brown paper bag, but that they had to be at least beginning to turn yellow/soft. If picked too soon, no amount of bag-time can will do it. I’m perched – only a few of mine are soft on one side – the rest are still hard as golf balls and mostly green.

  • Sugaronmytongue June 19, 2015, 9:18 pm

    I sure wish someone would answer Norbert’s question, because that is exactly the question I have!!!!

  • Dave July 22, 2015, 8:07 pm

    I also would like to know if you can counter ripen the fruit if it is picked “prematurely”.


    • Green Deane July 22, 2015, 9:05 pm

      As far as I know the answer is no. They must ripe on the plant.

      • Elaine January 7, 2017, 1:27 pm

        Yikes! I do this all the time! Are you saying that if they actually turn yellow and soft, they are still not safe to eat? I’ve eaten them like that and what’s worse is I’ve served/given people Mayapple icecream and mayapple cake!

    • Ron Ray March 29, 2016, 10:43 pm

      Dave, in response to your question, see text below the recipe for “Mayapple Punch”. It says: “Since woodland creatures like the fruit as well it can be collected just before it is ripe and stored in sawdust until ripe.”

  • Julie Peterson August 7, 2015, 7:41 pm

    Does anybody know if accidentally eating just one seed is a big concern? I ate one. Has anybody else? I ate it two hours ago and tried to throw it up after 30 minutes. To make things harder, I’m a nursing mom and now I’m withholding my milk from my 20 month old (she does eat solid food, but this cold-turkey way isn’t how I wanted to wean, it’s terrible) until I can find out if it’s safe. This is horrible. Please help if you can. Thanks.

    • Jmccullough March 11, 2016, 7:33 am

      I have eaten 5or 6 ripe Mayapples, seeds included, at a time with no adverse effects, so don’t panic- you should be fine… 🙂

  • Lane December 29, 2015, 11:25 am

    I do make many different kinds of jams and jellies and may apples are great for that. My father and I also like to make homemade wines of a more exotic variety. Prickly pear, dandelion, persimmon. This would fit the bill perfectly but I cannot find even one account where anyone has ever made wine from may apples. Any thoughts? I was thinking of using out honey from the farm as a substitute for sugar and making a may Apple honey mead. Just don’t want to die, or kill anyone.

  • Ron Ray March 29, 2016, 11:16 pm

    Growing up in the mountains of north Alabama, I suppose I tasted of just about everything in the woods. I used to eat these and don’t remember NOT eating the seeds. Reading this information now makes me wonder about that… And the part about Indians using these to commit suicide… This site is a plethora of information!
    The taste of the May Apple was strange; kind of like a banana, but more “musty” and “tangy”. It was hard to decide if I liked it or it made me nauseous.
    I remember ‘Carter’s Little Liver Pills’ very well (I’m 67) and never knew they were made from May Apples! Amazing!

  • Bruce August 29, 2016, 5:59 pm

    I think may apples have a taste of their own. I pick them in Upstate NY the last week in August. Any later and they are usually over ripe or the animals have gotten them.
    I have had them ripen on the counter top but I like to pick them ripe from the plant.
    I have made Jam and Jelly but I leave the sauce a little loose so I can pour it on ice cream. Also I have made may apple ice cream.
    My sister made may apple wine. The best I ever tasted.

  • Charles de C. March 21, 2017, 6:08 pm

    After 20 years of very careful nurturing, a patch of Mayapples I took from their usual moist, rich woodland habitat have now begun to thrive in pine needle mulched sandy Pine Barrens soil! From my analysis of the rootstock, it seems they’ve begun a symbiotic relationship with the natural mycorrhizal networks which allow other Pine Barrens trees and plants to thrive. Now I never even need to water them. Alas, they’ve adapted in other ways. They are smaller, with thicker waxier leaves.. and this has passed to the fruit as well. Few are produced, and they rarely grow larger than a grape. And if any manage to get close to ripeness, the squirrels steal them all.

  • Gina May 25, 2017, 11:14 am

    So does anyone have any ideas on how to “protect” the fruits until they ripen? I’ve been trying to collect some for 5 years now and always lose out to the woodland creatures.

  • R. D. July 23, 2017, 7:36 pm

    I’m from Illinois farm. My mom and us ate may apples and seeds. My mom is 91 and didn’t kill her or me. My dad got cancer and not from May apples. Love them.

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