Mandragora officinarum: An ancient anaesthetic
The sleeping sponge was devised in 1490. It was a sponge soaked in a mixture of herbs that could be inhaled as an anaesthetic. Plants used were opium, mulberry, henbane, hemlock, mandrake and the seeds of lettuce, dock and water hemlock. At the very least it contained morphine, hyoscine and the narcotic alkoloids of Mandrake. Sleep could last for 4 hours (or much longer if administered incorrectly!).
In the 19th century the use of the sleeping sponge was superseded by the much more reliable and safer alternatives of nitric oxide , ether and chloroform. By 1850 the sleeping sponge was abandoned and the mandrake and its associated mystical plants slipped to historical curiosities