(Targum; Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim; Josephus). Dudaim in Hebrew, from the word dodim denoting passion or carnal love (Radak, Sherashim; cf. Ezekiel 16:8, 23:17, Proverbs 7:16). It was called this because of its use as an aphrodisiac and fertility potion (Midrash Ne'elam, Zohar 1:134b). The mandrake (mandragora officinarum) is a herb of the beladonna or potato family. It has a thick perenial root, often split down the middle, like the lower limbs of the human body. Stalkless, it has large leaves that straddle the ground and violet flowers (cf. Rashi). In the spring, its yellow fruit, the size of a tomato, ripens. This fruit can have an intoxicating fragrance (Song of Songs 7:14).
The variety found by Reuben was a rare, extinct species that gives off deadly fumes when pulled from the ground (Midrash Aggadah on Genesis 49:14, quoted in Tzeror HaMor as Midrash HaGaluy; Toledoth Yitzchak on Genesis 49:14. Cf Niddah 31a; Josephus, Wars 7:6:3). In the Talmud, there appears to be a dispute as to whether Reuben brought home the violet flowers, the fruits or the roots (Sanhedrin 99b). Other sources indicate that he brought home two fruits (Tzava'ath Yissachar 1:3,5,7; Josephus, Antiquities 1:19:8).
Obviously, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs knew how to use these plants in mystical ways (Genesis 30:37). Still, Rachel did not bear children because of the mandrakes, but because of her prayers (Genesis 30:2, 30:22; cf. Zohar 1:157b). According to one ancient source, Rachel did not eat the mandrakes, but offered them to God (Tzava'ath Yissachar 2:6).