Year One, Lesson Five
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Welcome back, students! If you were tired of all the general theory in the beginning of the year, prepare for things to get very practical and specific! We’re going to be going over four different plants today, and touch on some parts of their history and usage. Unlike last lesson where we talked about roses, we won’t include the entire laundry list of each plant's properties, though we will note the most useful and common ones. We will also talk about planting specifications and tips for growing or harvesting them! You’ll notice that all of the plants we’re covering today are non-magical plants, despite the fact that they are relatively common ingredients in potions. The other thing these plants have in common is that they should be simple enough for any aspiring herbologist to grow.
Roots and Shoots (Valerian)
Valeriana officinalis is a perennial herb native to Europe and parts of Asia, although it has been introduced to North America as well over time. Like other non-magical plants, Muggles are aware of its existence, though unaware of its full powers. Both the roots and the sprigs of this plant can be used. The roots, as you likely know, are the part of the plant that grows underground and keeps the plant anchored as well as supplies the plant with water. The sprigs, on the other hand, grow above ground and are the part that either bear leaves or flowers. Interestingly, in this case, each of these have different magical and non-magical properties attributed to them, so we will discuss those properties separately!
Valerian can grow to be five feet tall and forms bunches of attractive white flowers. This plant thrives in the sun and, in best-case scenarios, requires at least seven hours of sunlight. When planting, be sure to check that your soil is in the correct pH range for this plant, as valerian prefers soil that is quite acidic, between 4.5 and 5, and bury the seed about an eighth of an inch down. It is best to harvest the roots in the fall or spring. The sprigs, on the other hand, can be harvested at any time. Though, if you desire or require flowers on those sprigs, you will need to wait until the summertime, as these plants bloom between June and July.
Now, onto the properties! Valerian possesses sedative powers, and, when speaking specifically of the root, it is very effective in calming draughts and sleeping potions. There is also evidence to suggest that potions brewed with the root have some beneficial effect on those suffering from epileptic fits, but this research is still in its beginning stages. Its sprigs, in a similar manner, are used in several sleeping potions. Interestingly enough, this plant will attract cats and drive them into a frenzy, just as with catnip. However, dogs can be repelled with it, particularly when it is made into an essential oil or brewed in a potion. There also exists a Mediterranean plant that goes by the common name “red valerian,” but it is not part of the same genus and does not share very many of the same properties or uses.
In terms of non-magical properties, there is some overlap in that the roots are used on their own to promote sleep and help treat epilepsy in non-magical preparations. Valerian also serves to aid in issues like heart palpitations and poor eyesight.
A Lily by any Other Name
The lovely lily plant comes in nearly as wide a variety as roses, which we discussed last week. They come in an array of colors (ranging the entire foliage spectrum pink, red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, black, and white) and can be one of many different shapes. However, some of you may have a mental image of lilies that is not entirely correct. True lilies come from the genus (or scientific classification) of Lilium, and grow from bulbs, despite the fact that many other plants are called lilies, though don’t fit this category. Of course, that may not mean much to the average First Year and beginning plant enthusiast. Suffice it to say that many groups of plants that have the word “lily” in their common titles are not lilies. This includes plants like daylilies, water lilies, peace lilies, and lilies of the valley.
With this in mind, true lilies grow all over Europe and Asia, and in the northern parts of North America. They can grow anywhere between two and six feet tall and while designating them all into one type is impractical, they are all herbs, as all plants in this class are herbs. . When planting, make sure that you have placed the flower in an area where it will be able to receive between five and six hours of sunlight, and ideally with soil that has a pH balance between 5.5 and 6.5, though there is a little wiggle room outside of these margins that you can work with. You can plant the bulbs around four to eight inches below the ground. Water whenever you see that the soil is dry -- this is usually every three days if they are in a greenhouse away from the elements. Something else important to note is that when the season turns towards winter, and the leaves of the lily die off and wilt, make sure to let them finish the process and fall off naturally, rather than prune them. This allows the lily bulbs to prepare for their dormant stage throughout the winter.
While it may seem odd for such a pretty plant, lilies are actually best known for their poisonous uses. The degree to which their poison is effective differs between the hundred or so varieties, but that is a topic better discussed in Potions class. For now, just know that you shouldn’t be eating any. These plants are also highly poisonous to cats and Kneazles, so be wary of where your pets are wandering.
Despite their grimmer uses, some lilies can be used in conjunction with other ingredients to regulate heart rate and some roots can be made into a paste to treat burns. Finally, there are some potions which use small amounts of lilies in order to improve the scent of the concoction. An interesting fact to note overall is that lilies appear to react extraordinarily well with magic, and can even be stimulated to faster or even more luscious growth via magic. Ah, I saw your ears perk up at that! No, there is no spell that can completely substitute good, old-fashioned elbow grease and care, but there are an assortment of spells that can help, one of which we will discuss at the end of this lesson.
Actually a relative of the lily, asphodel is annual herb native to the Mediterranean but easily grown in greenhouses under the supervision of a herbologist. Asphodelus aestivus, or summer asphodel, is the species we will be primarily concerning ourselves with today, though there are a few others of lesser uses in magical circles. The plant grows between one and five feet on average and is very common in the wild of its native area.
For ideal growth, be sure to plant the seeds in an area where they get at least partial sun -- although note that contrary to the usual distinction for partial sun (which we will talk about in Lesson Eight), it does not matter when the hours of sunlight occur -- and in roughly neutral soil. A pH balance of 6 to 6.5 is preferable, but due to the alkalinity of Mediterranean soil in some areas, a higher level is likely fine! Because it grows so commonly on its own in the wild, this plant is rather easy to grow as long as you do not overwater it. Make sure your plant has soil that can drain (like a pot with a hole in the bottom) and water only when the soil is visibly dry.
The uses of asphodel largely center around the roots of the plant, not the flower. It is used in potions to make a Sticking Solution that rivals the Sticking Charm, Astrictus, and is also used in strong sleeping potions such as the Draught of the Living Death. In addition to these traditional uses, Ocamier Flinson, a renowned herbologist in the wizarding community, has discovered many others, though few have undergone enough testing and replication to be widespread. Those that have become widely accepted include the use in controversial skin-lightening potions and in potions to aid regrowing skin, though only the first shoots of the plant should be harvested for this purpose.
Tying it all Together (Knotgrass)
Also known as cowgrass, hogweed, and many other names, Polygonum aviculare is a common perennial weed found all over the globe. Like many weeds, it will grow nearly as much as allowed; in prime conditions it can grow up to six feet or be just a few inches tall if the area is more inhospitable. While the flowers of this weed are not presently known to be useful for any purpose, the plant blooms in May and can continue to sport these little white flowers (though occasionally flowers can be red or pink) until the fall.
Like asphodel, the specifications for planting are not terribly exact due to its ability to thrive in a large range of climates, soil specifications, and levels of sunlight. However, to get the best smack for your Sickle, it is best to plant in neutral soil (around 6 to 7), and in an area that gets at least three hours of sun, though it does not matter if that is during the morning or the afternoon. Lastly, you may water nearly every day, as long as soil still absorbs water. You should have little issue with overwatering!
Commonly present at weddings, particularly in ages past, knotgrass is known to be symbolic of the unification of two people. More modernly, knotgrass mead is consumed at weddings as a nod of recognition to this old tradition. However, we know this symbolism has more literal roots. Knotgrass is a key ingredient in Polyjuice Potion, which allows a person to temporarily take the form of another. Apart from its more illicit uses, knotgrass is used in Shortening Solutions and potions that de-age. Interestingly, it was used in olden days in some love and fertility potions, though more potent substitutes have been found since.
Helpful Hocus Pocus
Now for the spell I told you about earlier. The Growth-Starting Charm was developed by Calla Evora in the early 1900s. This Brazilian housewitch was attempting to enter a plant-growing contest with far too little time to prepare. Still, she would have rather eaten a bowl of Flobberworm mucus than let her rival and next-door-neighbor, Delfina Narciso, win for the sixth year running. Unfortunately, her amaryllis were never going to beat her opponent’s prize winning corsage orchids without a little help, as bugs had ravaged her first crop and her second attempt had barely budded yet. She didn’t want them blooming overnight, as that would be far too obvious and would result in disqualification. So it was then that this charm was born!
This spell may be a bit beyond you at the moment, but with some practice you will be able to get some results from it. It is weaker than its cousin, the Herbivicus Charm, and its effects are not instantaneous (or even close), but is much simpler and gentler on plants and causes a small “boost” in growth. However, do be warned that if you put too much willpower into the spell you can easily exhaust your plant, causing it to bloom quickly, wither, and die shortly after. It is best to use this spell sparingly, either when time is short, or as a last-ditch attempt for plants that will surely die anyway if additional measures are not taken. After casting this spell, be sure to adjust your care for the plant accordingly. Because the spell accelerates their growth, they may need more frequent pruning, watering, and/or application of dragon dung (or other compost) in the following week or two.
This spell often works best on plants that grow from bulbs, due to the fact that they store up a large amount of resources and can handle a sudden growth spurt a bit better. However, there are also some plants that just react with magic in general (this spell included) particularly well. The spell’s details are as follows:
That is all the time we have for today, my eager young herbologists! This list of plants hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the wonderful herbs I have to share with you, so be prepared to discuss some more next week. Good luck with your midterm and make sure to grab your homework on the way out.
Sprig: A portion of a plant that can include the stem, the leaves, and/or the flowers.