Year One, Lesson Six
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Hello again, students! Welcome back to the herbology greenhouses. I see you’ve been busy in your individual plots since we last met. I have to say I’m quite impressed with your initiative and the fact that some of you seem to be using the Growth Kick-Starting Charm to excellent effect. Just be sure to tend any accelerated plants very carefully! Our topics for today are essentially a continuation of last week's lesson. We will be covering four more plants that are easy to grow and also quite useful for the average witch or wizard. Take a seat and get comfortable!
A quickly propagating perennial herb, this well-named plant certainly spreads like a weed. It grows easily in most parts of the world, particularly temperate areas. Potentilla anserina, also called Argentina anserina, is green on the top and silvery on the underside of the leaves, due to the very fine whitish hairs that grow there, hence the plant’s name. Starting in the early summer, each plant will produce a single, yellow flower that grows on a stalk that can reach anywhere from six to twelve inches.
As with many of the basic plants we have covered, silverweed is not terribly picky and will grow well with little encouragement. However, for best results, plant in soil that is very mildly alkaline, or just a bit over 7 on the pH scale. The amount of sun does not impact this plant’s growth much just so long as you do not plant it in full shade. It will grow much more quickly with more sunlight. You can water this plant frequently and do not need to worry much about overwatering! When harvesting, be sure to wait to gather the herb when the weather is dry; a rainy day or a dewy morning will coat the leaves with additional moisture which will impede the drying process.
To properly dry a plant, both Muggles and magical folk alike prepare their plants by hand, gathering and hanging in dry, often heated areas. However, owing to our magical nature, we have a few additional tricks up our sleeves! We will discuss a drying charm at the end of the lesson, as it is quite handy if you do not have the space or the time to dry an herb normally. However, non-magical methods are just as effective and are perfect substitutes if you are unable to perform it for any reason..
Contrary to the folk legend that this hairy, silver plant can ward off witches, it is commonly used in potions. It is only used in its dried form and is often ground up into a powder. The herb can be used to great effect in both Sore-Removing Serums and potions to ease various cramps. Until very recently, there had been no recorded use for the seasonal yellow flowers that appear in the summer. However, some current research shows a possibility that these blooms could be used in blemish-removing potions, but said research is currently stalled as they have the unfortunate side effect of fusing all one’s teeth together. Finally, while not a particularly magical use, this plant is edible and is often a staple in the diets of grazing livestock of all kinds.
Yet another weed to add to our list. Let no one say that weeds do not have their uses! This is another hairy plant, though you will not find these hairs very appealing.. The leaves and stem of the leafy green nettle are covered in tiny, stinging hairs that pack quite a nasty punch for their small size. While some variations of nettles are hairless, we will be focusing on the stinging varieties today, as they are what give the plant many of its properties and combine well with magic. This plant is most commonly found in Northern Europe and Asia, though is also present in Southern Europe, South Africa, and Australia, despite being less widespread.
As a weed, Urtica dioica grows voraciously and can reach between three and seven feet in height. This perennial herb much prefers moist soil, so watering frequently will give you the best results. Additionally, while the nettle will do well in neutral soil, slightly alkaline soil (ranging between roughly 7.1 to 7.8) will improve the plant’s ultimate height, health, and rate of growth. For sun, anything between full sun and partial shade should be adequate. Remember to wear your dragonhide gloves when tending, watering, potting, repotting, and the like! You won’t enjoy the stinging sensation if you forget. Interestingly, the freshness of the plant is one of the factors that determines its uses and properties. If gathering nettle to be dried, it is best to do so in the early summer (between May and June) before the plant puts out its flowers (whose appearance varies by subspecies of nettle, though this particular species produces yellow ones). As mentioned when speaking of silverweed, if you will be drying nettles, make sure to gather the plants on a dry day, with no dew on them. If gathering the herb for fresh uses, the timing does not matter too much, though there are those that swear by harvesting the plant before it reaches a foot in height.
Magic acts particularly well with nettles, though the results and properties that come from this plant vary widely. The plant itself is used most frequently in potions, though occasionally its vivid yellow roots are utilized as well. Fresh nettles are used as an ingredient in the Cure for Boils, whereas dried nettles are used in the Herbicide Potion. Other uses of the leaf and stem of the nettle include various nettle-based beverages, such as wine and tea (I myself am partial to a good nettle tea), have properties that aid respiratory function and are used in hair tonics. The flowers are also collected, but not very widely used, as they are not as potent. Some herbologists, apothecaries, or potioneers prefer them for situations where they want a milder mixture. The roots find use in the rather obscure Curdling Concoction, though occasionally a daring herbologist or potioneer will attempt to use this part as a substitute in another mixture for the leafy part of the plant.
Before we wrap up our nettle discussion, it bears mentioning that this plant has been used historically for healing uses including the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm (actually a potion recipe that was paired with a spoken incantation for maximum efficacy). It was recorded in the 10th century as part of the Lacnunga Manuscript and intended to treat and prevent poisonings and infection. It was also used amongst ancient peoples to prevent baldness, though other herbs and ingredients have become more popular for this use since.
Leonurus cardiaca, a relative of the mint family, is yet another weed with useful properties we need to discuss. It usually reaches between two and three feet when fully grown and has hardy root networks. Unlike nettles, this perennial herb is native to the southerly regions of Europe and Asia. It was also introduced to North America, and it was only a matter of time before it spread widely. Motherwort is actually quite aggressive, so do mind that you keep an eye on it, or it will spread throughout your entire plot. Last term I had to eradicate half a greenhouse full of plants because a Second Year had left their motherwort unchecked for the entire year and not cleaned out their plant bed over the summer. It was a bit of a disaster and one I would rather not endure again!
As it is such an aggressive plant, there really aren’t many requirements for growing it. It is happy in shade or sun, wet or dry conditions, and any pH level of soil, as non-ideal levels are only a mild deterrent. Some actually choose to grow their motherwort in less-than-ideal conditions in order to keep its growth under control. However, should you wish to grow motherwort in perfect circumstances, slightly alkaline soil (from 7.4 to 7.8) is your best bet. Should you ever need to remove it, the entire plant must be pulled up by the roots, as simply chopping it off at the base will only delay its progress. There are a variety of spells that herbologists can use to aid these efforts, or prevent these issues from occurring, but they are well beyond your abilities at the moment. Don’t fear, though. We will be covering at least one spell-based solution to aggressive plants during Year Two!
As far as motherwort’s uses, the overall herb, and especially its pink or purple flowers, are used in potions to aid with and spur childbirth, and is safe to use in the late stages of pregnancy as well as during breastfeeding. For this reason, its overlapping uses were a wonderful discovery, as often times pregnant and nursing women are limited in what potions they can safely take. With this in mind, it has some uses as a substitute in potions for heart-related issues stemming from anxiety and heart disease. It also has use in dubiously antiquated and complex (though proven effective) remedies for hydrophobia, also known as rabies. The roots have no purported uses.
Our last plant of the day is fluxweed. Also called flixweed or tansy mustard, this plant is in fact a member of the mustard family. The annual’s green stems are topped with yellow flowers in the summer, specifically July and August. Originally, this plant was native to Western Asia, but spread across that landmass to the rest of Asia and parts of Europe. It can be cultivated in greenhouses worldwide. Descurainia sophia grows roughly between ten and thirty inches tall and prefers full sun. Don’t water too frequently, as this plant likes dry conditions; wait until the soil is completely dry to the touch to water. As long as the soil is arable -- meaning it has a pH that is suitable for plant growth in general, which is between 4.5 and 9 -- this annual herb should do just fine. There are no specific pH requirements.
Its properties range widely, aiding in everything from transformations, such as in the dreadfully complex Polyjuice Potion, to potions for dysentery or, more commonly, diarrhea. Transformation is thought to be the primary use, while its other uses are more secondary. If the whole plant is used in a potion, it is typically used fresh for higher potency, though there is something to be said for the use of its dried flowers in completely separate preparations than those mentioned above, such as Bottled Butterflies in the Stomach. Its seeds can also be used, dried or raw, in the Thirst-Quenching Quaff.
Magic Moisture Removal
Magic, you wonderful tool! Many of the plants covered today require drying to tap into particular properties. If we were Muggles, there would be specific procedures and considerations for hand-drying each plant, and in some cases, we would have to wait an exceptionally long time for plants to be completely dry. However, as we are blessed with the powers of magic, we can have some instant gratification! The Dehumidifying Spell -- not to be confused with the Quick Drying Charm you’ll learn in your Third Year of Charms class -- will completely remove moisture from the air in the area you cast on. At your level, there are few safety concerns surrounding casting this on a large area, since you do not have the willpower sufficient to accidentally sap entire rooms of moisture and cause adverse effects on your classmates and yourself. However, this is something to be wary of in the future.
Many herbologists have entire rooms or outdoor sheds devoted to this purpose, but as First Years, you will likely have to start with small wooden boxes, or other containers that will not allow water to get in. Simply place the herb you wish to dry inside, make sure the container is sealed and cast the spell. The wand movement is just a tap on the container, whether that be an entire shed or a small box. The larger the container, the more willpower required, so keep in mind that it may behoove you to do one stalk of a plant at a time if that is all that fits inside your particular container. For large quantities and larger spaces, it may take the spell a few hours to nearly a day to take effect, but small areas are affected almost instantaneously. The spell’s details are below!
That rounds up our discussion of basic plants for today, and in fact, for the whole year. Next week we will be looking at the classification system for plants that pose certain threats or have potential complications to consider when handling, harvesting, planting, or using in potions. Stay tuned and don’t forget to grab your homework on the way out!