Year One, Lesson Two
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Gather ‘Round the Greenhouse
Hello and welcome back to the Herbology greenhouse. It’s lovely to see you all back here again for another lesson! Our topics today mainly focus on definitions and key terms so we’re all on the same page for the rest of our time together. I see some disappointed looks from all of you. Yes, I know, you were likely hoping to tangle with a Devil’s Snare like some of your older siblings may have told you about, but we’re not quite ready for that yet. This year will contain a lot of theory, but don’t worry, Year Two and onward will make up for that! If you find yourself getting impatient, remember, you need to master Lumos before you can even think about using Stupefy in a duel. That is, you need a thorough grounding in the basics before progressing. I can’t even begin to consider how cross Headmistress Oshiro would be with me if anything were to befall you because I rushed you through the preliminary information.
With that, let us jump right into today’s lesson. Last week, you learned about just what herbology is and what kinds of topics we will be studying, but you are still missing quite a few pieces of the puzzle. We need to talk about supplies we will be using in class. After all, you wouldn’t go to Potions without your cauldron or Charms without your wand! The basic equipment for Herbology can be sorted into two categories. The first equipment that will be discussed is for your protection. This includes items such as dragonhide gloves, earmuffs, and a wand. Without these, you cannot take this course due to safety concerns. Additionally, when doing practical work, it is advised that you wear closed-toe shoes and an apron. On occasion, a mask may also be required if dangerous fumes or scents will be present. On the other hand, you do not have to wear your cloak nor your tie to Herbology class. They can be safety hazards when working with plants, so please leave them in your bags or on the cloak racks provided by the door!
Protective equipment is vital when working with plants. Many of you will have been scolded or warned by your parents not to eat, touch, or even go near certain plants, and rightfully so! Most of you will hopefully have followed those warnings, however, I am sure there are a few rebellious souls here that were either too caught up in exploring to heed this advice, or were simply little hellions! In either case, I would imagine you are no stranger to Essence of Dittany or the Antidote to Common Poisons. We have a plentiful supply of both of these in all the greenhouses, so if the need should ever arise -- Merlin forbid -- make sure you avail yourself of our potions cabinets. Just make sure you read the labels and don’t mix them up with Flesh-Eating Slug Repellent!
As an interesting anecdote to give context to the gravity of these requirements, I would like to refer you to a popular, British herbological journal. Herbology Today recently published an article on common mishaps when handling plants. In an alarming statistic, over thirty thousand witches and wizards around the world have had preventable accidents in the past year, and 61% of those mishaps involved forgetting or neglecting to put on dragonhide gloves. Sometimes, common sense is the best tool to have under your belt as you deal with plants. Follow sensible rules put forward to avoid incidents in the first place and be calm in all situations that may still arise; panicking has never helped anyone!
Tools for Tending
The second set of equipment revolves around caring for plants and consists of dragon dung, Mooncalf dung, and centaur tears. There are far more potions, lotions, tinctures, mixtures, and sprays to aid the growth of your plants as well as combat common issues that herbologists encounter, but these three are the essentials that everyone must be aware of.
Dragon dung is exactly what it says on the tin: the stool of any dragon. This can be used as a fertilizer for soil, or mixed in with compost in order to make a more delicate organic fertilizer. The reason that dragon dung works so well is due to the acids found in dragons’ stomachs which are related to their fire-breathing abilities (though some say it has to do with how inherently magical these beasts are, as well). These acids break all materials down to their most natural state, which, as you might guess, is very useful in herbology! Another quality unique to dragon dung is that it is scentless, and will thus bother neither you nor the plant. The lack of scent found in dragon dung is reputedly due to the fact that the dragons use all odorous gases in the production of their fire, although neither dragon keepers nor magizoologists have ever been able to confirm this as fact.
Mooncalf dung is also used as a fertilizer. It is a more gentle option -- even gentler than dragon dung-based composts. Because of this, Mooncalf dung is preferred for planting and caring for more sensitive or fragile plants. On the other hand, Mooncalf dung does not have the potency of dragon dung. If the soil is worn down, or stripped of vitamins and minerals, Mooncalf dung may not be powerful enough to compensate for the lack of these nutrients and to contribute what the plant requires to grow strong.
Centaur tears are a favourite drink for most plants, which is part of the reason why you will find centaurs living amongst an abundance of healthy flora. More vitamin-rich than regular water, centaur tears are capable of reviving a plant moments from death. However, I should note that some plants find them toxic. Specifically, never water a plant which grows in salt water with centaur tears, as they will not fare well.
It is also important to note the ethical issues surrounding the usage and collection of centaur tears. Centaurs are known for their troubled history, aloof nature, and intense study, particularly with respect to astrology and herbology. These "beasts," as classified by the Ministry, are actually equally as intelligent as humans, if not moreso. They take very good care of the land in which they live and the surrounding plants and ecosystem, using their tears as needed.1 It is rare, but some individuals have been noted to form bonds with centaur clans, notably Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid. Such persons have been able to arrange an agreement with the centaurs who will provide a supply of tears, as long as they can trust the tears will be used for the betterment of plants, or nature in general. Due to the rarity of this situation, some witches and wizards will try to obtain centaur tears by nefarious means too upsetting to discuss here. Ministry laws protect centaurs, but it is common knowledge among herbologists that some vendors could potentially slip through the cracks and are not as reputable as others. These ethical issues are still being dealt with by the Ministry, as well as commonly debated at herbological meetings.
Now, as our last topic of the day, we will touch on cauldrons. I know you will likely have discussed cauldrons in detail during your Potions classes, however, there are a few specific things that must be noted when brewing plants. We will be going over how plants are observed to interact with the corresponding metals of each kind of cauldron. There is no bad cauldron, so after reading these, don’t feel as though you have to go out and buy a new one by any means! There are just some considerations to be made and things to look out for with each type. For example, if you know your cauldron doesn’t fare well with burning plants, you will need to keep a close watch on any potion you’re brewing that includes them as an ingredient.
These cauldrons are good for beginning brewers and are used here at Hogwarts. However, because their melting point is on the low side, they tend to be prone to melting and explosions. In fact, if you are not wary when working with reactive plants, the edges of the cauldron will wear down, forming small chunks that collect at the bottom of your potion. Fortunately, should this happen, you may be able to salvage the potion by filtering out the pieces of metal, as pewter does not react or mix with organic material. Additionally, when using plants of a high toxicity level, should your cauldron happen to melt or explode -- and in some way shower you with your half-created, toxic potion -- you won’t like the result. My final word on pewter cauldrons is that if your potion only includes basic herbs or plants with lower levels of toxicity and reactivity, pewter is an excellent, inexpensive choice and should serve you well through your first few years of potion making.
Brass has a higher melting point than pewter, at roughly 920 degrees Celsius. It is also resistant to wear and tear from burning plants (a class of plants we will talk about in more detail in Lesson Seven), which also gives it a leg up on its pewter cousin. However, should any plant material get stuck to the cauldron and start burning, it will react with the metal and start emitting a green-blue fire and release zinc into the air, so if that happens, be sure to call a professor or an experienced adult over to deal with the fumes!
Right away I'll have you know that I'd give copper an excellent rating for use with plant-based ingredients. Not only is copper completely recyclable -- the material can be used again with no loss in quality -- but it also has the highest melting point of the three most common cauldrons at 1,085 degrees Celsius. Additionally, copper can withstand the same class of burning plants as brass and can also handle some select plants of the reactive class. It’s one of your safest bets in terms of wide usability with all plants while still taking price and practicality into account.
Nocturnal plants are especially well-suited to being brewed in silver cauldrons because of this metal’s ability to be used alongside certain phases of the Moon to amplify properties. Silver can withstand a little more heat than brass, melting between 780 and 962 degrees Celsius. I really don't recommend getting a silver cauldron unless you are paying for a pure silver one, as overestimating your melting point and heating the cauldron higher than it will result in your cauldron and potion mixing. Worse, if your potion involves particularly reactive plants, this fusing may cause a bit of a boom!
If you would like to have a cauldron fit for a king or queen, the good news is that you can attempt to convince your parents you need one for advanced potion making, as it interacts well with all plants. While its melting point is not technically the highest, at 1,064 degrees Celsius, the metal resists acids released by plants, making it ideal for all plants of all classes and categories.
However, though it may be tempting to buy cut-rate, cheaper versions of gold cauldrons on the market, I must insist you avoid them at all costs! These heavily discounted cauldrons almost always include pyrite or “fool’s gold.” As you may know, pyrite is banned from use in cauldrons by the Ministry of Magic, and for good reason. There is no problem with the melting point (1,100 degrees Celsius). However, it reacts with not only plants, but also with heat and water, which is not ideal at all for potion making!
Closing and Assignments
Phew, that was quite an information-filled lesson. I hope you’re catching on to these fundamental definitions, but if you have any doubts, please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of my PAs. For now, I’ll bring class to a close. For your homework this week, you have just one assignment, a quiz on the supplies you need for this class. Until next time!