Year One, Lesson Four
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Gather ‘round, students. Yes, come right up to the front; that’s it! You don’t want to miss today’s topic, that’s for sure. In this lesson, we will be differentiating non-magical plants from magical plants. Interestingly, it’s not quite as obvious as you would think. I also have an example of a non-magical plant here, as I see many of you have noticed. We will be talking about these beautiful roses as a way to help drive home the distinction between magical herbs and their counterparts.
Magic in the Air
Let’s get started, shall we? I went on and on in your first lesson about how non-magical plants are important and can actually be very useful. The truth is, witches and wizards can -- and do -- use both magical and non-magical plants in their day-to-day lives. There are scores of non-magical plants used in even some of the most complex potions! Because of this, using a plant in a potion is not enough on its own to make the chosen herb be considered magical. After all, salt, bits of armadillos, horses, and crocodiles are ingredients in magical potions. Likewise, having an innate useful effect (healing or otherwise) does not make a plant magical. To qualify as magical, a plant must either exhibit odd behavior or it must have unique abilities. These abilities can be of the plant itself -- like Creeping Ivy’s ability to move at will -- or it can grant a unique ability to anyone who uses the plant, such as the gill-bestowing Gillyweed. If you are scratching your head, trying to wrap your mind around just what counts as a “unique ability” or “odd behaviour,” I have included a more detailed explanation at the end of the lesson.
With these distinctions in mind, plants like the Chinese Chomping Cabbage -- which is known to have a nasty bite -- are magical, whereas roses, while incredibly useful, are non-magical. Remember, non-magical does not mean ineffective. In fact, nearly all plants have some handy properties. Many of these non-magical plants can actually be utilized by Muggles to heal various ailments. It is for this reason that some less open-minded witches and wizards are skeptical of herbology. If we are studying the same plants that Muggles use, they think to themselves, ‘perhaps herbology is no different than that overly complicated eckeltricity, and is a poorly disguised magical substitute.’ However, I hope you know this is not the case. While it is true that Muggles can utilize the properties of non-magical plants, they are not able to tap into the herbs’ true potential. When witches and wizards use non-magical plants, particularly in potions, their properties are enhanced far beyond Muggles’ comprehension. To be clearer, a Muggle can use a plant for its base properties when brewing it in a tea or other non-magical herbal remedies. However, when a wizard uses a plant in a magical situation, such as brewing a potion, the magic of the process interacts with the plant’s properties and unifies them with the magic of the potion. This means that whatever the plant’s base properties are, the effects will be more pronounced, and may occasionally react to other magical ingredients in ways that the plant would not normally do otherwise.
There is one thing that magical plants possess (or can possess) that no non-magical plant can, however. Sentience. This is a bit of a thorny issue both inside herbological circles and in the academic wizarding world at large, but there is certainly evidence to suggest that at least some magical plants are sentient, or able to perceive the world around them and act in response. Now, don’t be thinking that your Mimbulus Mimbletonia is able to engage in philosophical debate with the Flitterbloom you have it next to! However, there is no denying that some magical plants seem a little too savvy or aware of their surroundings to be natural. We have trees that punch, vines that bite and snap, and many plants that almost seem to have personal preferences or personalities, like the mandrake. Skeptics of this theory try to attribute these quirks to complex root systems or hairs allowing the plants to sense a nearby presence and react alongside our tendency to projection of human characteristics onto things. For example, the touch-me-not plant does not shrivel up because it is afraid or repulsed, as would be the case if a human reacted in this manner. This is simply an inherent defense mechanism for the plant that is triggered by certain events. It is not a choice or mental reaction in any way, though it may appear to us to seem that way.
In any case, it is certainly hard to be sure. Indeed, magic has not advanced far enough for herbologists to be able to tell if plants are in any way aware of their own existence, or can feel anything at all, but in some cases it does seem that way. Whatever the case, when dealing with magical plants that seem to be thinking and feeling, it’s safer to assume they can, and plan for it, rather than be taken by surprise!
Before we leave the topic of the differences between magical and non-magical plants, we have one more thing to discuss.
Non-magical plants are less reactive in potions, and therefore much less temperamental and more predictable. This is cause for many potioneers and healers to utilize them frequently, because the addition of non-magical plants does not tend to cause explosions, major heat changes, or other, sometimes disastrous mishaps which can occur during brewing. While magical plants are obviously necessary to create some potions’ effects, when a non-magical plant can be used, this alternative is usually safer.
Let Me Count the Ways
Now that we have those distinctions out of the way, I would like to look at a prime example of the usefulness of non-magical plants: the rose. This herb is classified as a shrub which can grow anywhere between one and twenty feet in height. However, as a shrub, width is also an important factor to consider. When planting, you will need to account for a potential growth of two to four feet in any direction, though specifics depend on the variety you obtain. Roses have a plethora of varieties, coming in many different natural colors, unique scents, and levels of magical interactivity (though most work quite well with magic). In fact, there are so many varieties, hybrids, and sub-species of roses that many strains are referred to by common names and general sub-genera rather than creating full scientific names for each new version. Despite the fact that it makes a mess of naming conventions, the diversity of the rose contributes to their array of uses in medicine.
The properties of the rose were first uncovered -- as far as we know -- in the first century B.C.E. by a naturalist and philosopher named Pliny the Elder. Due to the mixing of knowledge between Muggles and magical folk, it is unknown whether or not this man was Muggle, Squib, or magical, but what is known is that he discovered 32 medicinal uses for roses. Over the many years since then, the number of uses has grown until the current total of forty was reached. The properties of roses are utilized both in potions and through the ingestion or application of the rose (in all its various parts) itself.
For example, roses are used in a number of potions or general herbal preparations (essentially non-magical potions, which we will learn more about in Year Three) that deal with coughing, wheezing, the common cold, fevers, and the flu. While not an ingredient in the standard Pepperup Potion, many older and more traditional witches and wizards who make their own home remedies make use of the rose for related potions. Additionally, it can be used to regulate many different body functions such as constipation, diarrhea, kidney function, stomach function, and menstrual problems. Obviously, many of those things are highly unrelated or even opposites of each other, but it’s important to keep in mind that the properties of the plant can change (or specific uses can be emphasized) depending on how the plant is prepared, what part of the plant is used, and what other ingredients are used in conjunction with it.
For quick reference, I have compiled a list below of the most pertinent of the aforementioned forty uses. I know, I know. It’s not the entire forty. However, when listing them out, you’ll find they get slightly repetitive. For example, one use is that it is an excellent source of vitamin C, whereas another use is the prevention of scurvy, which is directly caused by the large amounts of vitamin C. Therefore, for simplicity’s sake the following list is just a condensed version of the aforementioned forty uses, listing thirty aliments or issues that can be healed or aided with the plant’s properties.
That’s quite the laundry list, I know! Let it not be said that non-magical plants have no use in the magical world! Now, if these properties of the rose have you chomping at the bit to get started growing your own, you’re in luck! I have a few cultivated shrubs that I am willing to give out to any interested herbologist among you that would like to start tending and growing plants outside of class. Just come speak with me after the lecture. However, you will need to know how to take care of it!
There Grows a Rose
The wild rose or Rosa carolina, one of the most common varieties, grows in partial to full sunlight. Make sure to plant your rose shrub in neutral to mildly acidic soil-- more specifically, any soil with a pH balance of 5.5 to 7.0. When you receive your rose shrub, it will look like nothing more than a pile of sticks, but don’t worry, that is because it is in a dormant state. Once it is planted and receives enough nutrients, it will begin to grow. Dragon dung should be used to introduce nutrients into the soil and encourage the shrub to come out of its dormant state. This will also help the rose interact with magic more intensely later. Rose plants need lots of water, but do not drown them; let the water sink into the soil and be absorbed completely before adding more! Furthermore, when watering, do not water it a little bit every day, but give it a lot of water occasionally so the deeper roots are reached and the plant’s foundation is strengthened. Because you will be dumping large amounts of water on the plant, make sure the water can drain -- a pot with a drainage hole is ideal for this. Lastly, don’t forget to wear your dragonhide gloves while tending to roses to protect yourself from thorns!
There are plenty of other non-magical plants that witches and wizards use on a daily basis; the rose is just the tip of the iceberg. We will be going over many more in your years as a herbologist. In fact, most of the plants we will go over this year will be of the non-magical variety because of their inability to bite you, strangle you, or unexpectedly combust if you touch them wrong.
Before we leave, I should remind you that your midterm is coming up after the next lesson. Can you believe how fast time is flying? If you have any questions about this, please contact me. I will be glad to clear up any of your doubts!
Odd behaviour: When identifying magical plants, “odd” behaviour can include unnatural movement, an unnatural growth rate, a strange diet, or actions that imply sentience.
Unique abilities: When identifying magical plants, unique abilities can be split into two groups. The first includes abilities plants may bestow upon humans that they do not naturally possess, such as breathing underwater, becoming invisible, or becoming incredibly lucky. The second group concerns the abilities a plant demonstrates on its own, such as the ability to defy gravity, growing like a normal plant while not being made of natural plant materials, being able to pollinate or reproduce in strange ways, suddenly catching fire, or mimicking speech, just to name a few.