Welcome to Herbology 301
My name is Matthew Aspen, or Professor Aspen for short, and I am glad to give you all a very warm welcome to this course. My PAs and myself expect great things from you, so we are eager to see you all "grow" in the greenhouses. However, we would like you to read the following information about the course before enrolling in it:
1-Whenever you submit an assignment, it goes to our queue. We usually grade them quickly, but sometimes this is not possible due to many factors. That is why we would like you to be patient and rest assure that your assignments will be graded shortly.
2-The Herbology Team is more than happy to receive your questions about the course. Please do so in a formal and respectful manner, and your queries will be answered quickly.
3-Please give a warm welcome to the new Herbology Head Student Michelle Spookiieej. I am sure she will help you to the best of her ability.
4-Even though we are professionals and enjoy what we do, we are also prone to make mistakes. If you believe that an assignment has not been fairly graded, please send Professor Aspen or Michelle Spookiieej (Head Girl) an owl as soon as possible, outlining your reasons why you believe so, together with the ID number of your assignment. Remember that appeals are evaluated and they can have positive or negative replies, meaning that your grade might change for good or for bad. Bear this in mind when you contact me about such topic.
5-All assignments can be retaken if you get less than 70% in them.
6-All assignments for HERB301 now have a short sentence in colour to indicate if the assignment can be resubmitted or not.
Lesson 9) A Cautionary Tale
Year Three, Lesson Nine
A Helping Herb
Hello, students. This week -- our last lesson this year -- we will be looking at how the magical community helps the Muggle community via knowledge of herbs. Yes, I know. This lesson isn’t exactly linked with healing, is it? But that is why this year is about helping herbs, not just those for healing. Therefore, for our last lesson, we will be focusing more on how we use our knowledge of plants to help Muggles, as well as talking in more detail about some of the plants we draw their attention to.
Now, to get the obvious thing out of the way, one manner in which the magical population helps Muggles with regards to herbs is by helping them understand their properties. We discussed in the first lesson of this year how in ages past, we worked side-by-side with Muggles. During this era, we helped Muggles uncover uses of plants that they might not have discovered otherwise, and more often than not, these discoveries are still of use to them today. However, this is not the focus of our lesson today, as, while many witches and wizards will disagree, Muggles can take care of themselves. Even without our interference or help, these plants’ medicinal properties would have been discovered. Moreover, our collaboration during this period was not all for the benefit of the Muggles, but also worked in our favor as well. You know what they say, two heads are better than one!
Additionally, we are not able to continue to share our knowledge of plants with Muggles to this day, as the majority of properties of non-magical plants have already been shared and Muggles are already aware of them. Those they do not know about are only activated with the magic of spells or the brewing process, which obviously they cannot participate in. Similarly, we are not able to share our knowledge of magical plants. Not only would it be difficult to unveil them without breaking the International Statute of Secrecy -- though the non-magical plant kingdom is full of wonders -- but they would also not be able to use these plants. Just like with potions, Muggles have lost their tolerance for magic, and these remedies would more often than not be very harmful to them and, at the very least, have wildly unpredictable results.
Instead, this week we will be looking at the role of magical plants in literature, especially Muggle literature, where magical plants are thought to be mythical. A few decades after the ISOS was originally instituted, the Wizengamot came to the realization that Muggles needed some knowledge of magic to equip them for occasions when the Ministry could not act fast enough. For example, what if a Muggle ran into a sphinx? Without ever having heard of a sphinx before, the Muggle might do something foolish, such as tell the terrifyingly powerful creature to “take a hike” or poke it with a stick! However, given knowledge of a sphinx as a mythical creature who asks riddles and will maul you if you answer incorrectly, the Muggle would more likely act according to that knowledge (and make the logical choice to remain silent and walk away), saving the Ministry of Magic a lot of paperwork and allowing for fewer casualties.
In the years immediately after the enactment of the ISOS, many bestiaries and ancient texts still publicly recorded magical persons, places, animals, and more. The International Confederation of Wizards (ICW) were up to their ears frantically trying to remove all these ancient texts from Muggle hands and memory. When the Wizengamot finally made their decision that Muggles should be able to keep at least some of this knowledge, the wizards and witches of the ICW breathed a sigh of relief. While they thinned out many references and works, they made a plan to leave numerous texts intact. In any case, more often than not, the mythical accounts of magical happenings were of uncertain origin anyway, as they were recorded by Muggles themselves, who did not have an accurate understanding of what it was they were recording. Some myths only have small kernels of fact hidden within them, but others are more largely or completely accurate. Should the intricacies of myth and the magic they record interest you, I highly recommend taking Mythology when it is offered next year, though History of Magic has its overlap as well, at times.
Since some of the original ancient texts were left intact, the ICW closely monitors any additional wizarding-written literature that is released to the Muggle world on magical creatures; however, wizarding writers have largely been able to go unnoticed as far as writing accounts of magical plants. This is excellent, as it means not only are descriptions of the plants more accurate, but that there is a healthy variety of magical plants noted.
Let us begin with Venomous Tentacula, or Tentacular venimeux. Venomous Tentacula occurs in Muggle literature by a more unassuming name: tentaculum, which was supposed to be easier for Muggles to remember. It does not occur very often, and the most notable examples are in Freya Hopka's Krysti, which is about a girl who goes mad after turning purple, because she feels her insides are burning after swallowing a certain plant, and Joe Doepker's Feeding Sammy, a story of a man who thinks he must sacrifice victims to his plant -- a Venomous Tentacula -- to be strangled. The victims turn purple in his novel not because of the venom, but from lack of oxygen, though wizarding readers understand the underlying symbolism.
As Tentacula seeds are a Ministry of Magic Class C Non-Tradeable Substance, you will most certainly not be growing them here in our greenhouses! A license is required to grow the plants for apothecary or medicinal purposes, and growth is strictly monitored. The aforementioned seeds are dark brown with off-white speckles, which produce quiet rattling noises even when still. Venomous Tentacula enjoys any type of acidic soil, though the lower the pH level, the better for the plant to thrive (and fetch a high price). Depending on the stage of life and quality of care the plant is experiencing, the leaves, and indeed the whole plant, can be either a deep green or a dark purple. Aged, wild, and neglected Venomous Tentacula all host a shade of purple, while fresh Tentacula, or well cared-for Tentacula, will remain a vibrant to darker shade of green. Purple Tentacula is not necessarily unhealthy: samples will simply not fetch as much money from potion makers and persons of a less savory nature due to aesthetic expectations and under-education about what purple coloration means.
There are several uses for Venomous Tentacula, although a number of them are quite unpleasant. For example, the juice extracted from the leaves of the Venomous Tentacula plant acts as a poison (to the point of illness and pain, but not death). If swallowed, the victim will endure the sensation of their insides burning and the side effect of their skin turning a shade of purple. Some may find it funny and fodder for bets, but I do not recommend this. There is no reversal to the changing of skin colour from this plant. First aid in this case would be to swallow a pain-numbing potion.
In addition, several dark potions, which I will not name for you, use the leaf for a torturous effect. Potions intended for slow, painful deaths, long periods of pain without death, and bodily maiming often utilize Venomous Tentacula for the effect of invoking the sensation of having one's insides burning. Finally, less grim uses for Venomous Tentacula include dissolving acid. The leaves are also used by herbologists in potions like the Acidity Augmenter that lower the pH level of highly alkaline soil. This is why Venomous Tentacula loves highly acidic soil: the plant soaks up the acid.
If ever dealing with Venomous Tentacula, be alert! It poses dangers beyond its venom, which still lands it a score of two on the W.H.I.P.S. scale. The plant also enjoys grabbing unsuspecting victims from behind and strangling them. In order to save yourself from the plant, the Severing Charm may be used to dismember its strangling vines.
Now let us look at another magical plant, one of my favourites actually: Felicita omeritus, or raskovnik. This perennial is also native to Slavic countries, but can be found almost anywhere in the world. If you can find it at all, that is. Raskovnik is notorious for being difficult to find, and not just because it grows best in remote locations. A member of the grass family, it grows up to several inches tall and assumes a shape similar to a four leaf clover. Raskovnik grows in meadows, in rather alkaline soil (8.0 to 8.5), and will only grow in partial shade. Sometimes, herbologists will classify raskovnik as an emergent water plant, because it can grow in watery conditions, though it is not necessary. Thankfully, raskovnik also grows well in a pot, which many herbologists take advantage of if they are lucky enough to find a sampling of this plant to propagate in their greenhouses. Herbologists keep the water level of the soil in these pots so that the water can nearly collect on top of the soil.
So why is it so hard to find? It is nearly impossible to recognize the herb and tell it apart from your average four leaf clover. Indeed, animals which live in the earth, commonly snakes, Knarls, or hedgehogs, are the only creatures which appear to be infallible in the recognition of raskovnik. Therefore obtaining it requires the study and training of these animals. Fanciful Muggle Slavic stories tell of tricking snakes into showing them the way to the otherwise impossible to find raskovnik, or receiving the plant as a gift from woodland creatures, at which point the hero of the tale usually uses the raskovnik plants to better their lives.
Raskovnik is known for its unique magical properties. The herb is capable of unlocking any door, gate, padlock, chest, or other thing closed or locked that crosses its path. As you might imagine, it makes this plant quite sought after, especially by thieves. Wizards have put it to use by storing it inside knives, which came to be known as thieves' knives. Raskovnik is also capable of uncovering lost treasures and is therefore an ingredient in the dreadfully tricky potion Liquid Luck, as “uncovering treasures” is a rather broad meaning and can change from person to person. Lastly, raskovnik is an alleged ingredient in the making of the philosopher's stone, as some wizards have reputedly managed to turn iron into gold using the herb.
Sadly, because of the difficulty in obtaining these plants, raskovnik seeds and seedlings are both rare and very expensive, and not something I can give out to all students freely should they wish to grow it. However, the more dedicated of you may take heart, as you may have the option to grow some during the years of your N.E.W.T. level study.
While we’re on the subject, let’s cover another magical Slavic plant, the fern flower. Native to Slavic countries, this herb is a pseudo fern with a magical flower.1 This plant is normally flowerless, except for the eve of the summer solstice, when the plant sprouts a red (though occasionally yellow) blossom. The flower contains a few drops of nectar that, if consumed, can bring immense good fortune, wealth, wisdom, or the ability to speak to animals. However, these gifts are provided at a significant cost. This magical energy is considered to be very dark by the herbologists who've studied it. If consumed straight, the luck brought by the flower leads to unintended consequences. For example, a person may desire their favourite Quidditch team to win the next match, so the opposing Seeker may have their hand chopped off in a serious accident. Similarly, the wealth and intelligence gained comes at extreme cost. As is common in life, power rarely comes without a price. This danger is commonly recorded in Slavic folk traditions and tall tales of a plant that bestows great evil and misfortune and only blooms once on the eve of the summer solstice. These folk tales and traditions serve as a warning to deter curious Muggles should they accidentally happen upon a wild specimen.
Fortunately, this plant’s flower can safely be used in less extreme potions if you can resist the temptation to consume the nectar yourself. Drops of this fern’s nectar are used in potions that have similar effects to its stand-alone properties. The plant is used in Felix Felicis, as well as an early, experimental study of a potion to promote the ability to speak the near-dead language of Parseltongue. In order to be able to harvest the nectar of the flower more than once a year, you will need to grow the fern flower in complete darkness, as I do in this greenhouse. Even then, it will only bloom twice -- or if you are lucky, three times -- per year. To harvest the bloom while also resisting the magically-created temptation, it is advisable to wear a mask or perform the Bubble-Head Charm on yourself so as not to inhale the plant’s alluring fragrance. Moreover, it is best to snip the flower from afar with the Severing Charm before storing it safely in a vial or some other container that will provide the needed protection. Unfortunately, I cannot yet teach you this spell as it is a bit beyond your reach. However, it is covered in your Fifth Year of Charms!
Unlike many of the plants we have discussed so far, this is a plant you will be allowed to grow this year, though the fern flower is certainly one that I am glad I leave until the end of your Third Year. This is in part due to the maturity and self-control necessary to not be tempted by the flower as well as the fact that the growing specifications are quite difficult. The plant requires very alkaline soil, from 8.4 to 9.0 pH. Additionally, the best soil for growing is boggy and constantly wet and swampy. It should be watered in very small, specific amounts twice a day, and any spell-casting performed around it can cause the flower not to open on schedule, so all care is most commonly done by hand. Should you have an interest in growing this plant, you will need to obtain the seeds -- and special permission to enter Greenhouse Two -- from me.
The lotus tree is another interesting example of a magical plant featured in Muggle literature. Of course, actual non-magical plants exist that have the common name of the lotus tree, but some biblical and mythological reference to the magical variety still exist just to warn off those Muggles who might think this plant is harmless. The stories and the trees themselves are found throughout the southern parts of Europe. Lotus trees bear large round fruits, which are white on the outside and light green on the inside. The lotus tree is quite accurately detailed in Homer's Odyssey, giving Muggles a clear explanation of the faults of the tree. On an island, the only food available to eat is from the fruit of the lotus tree. After one has eaten from the tree, they forget about their friends, family, and homes, thus causing the travellers -- in this case, Odysseus and his men -- to lose their desire to find a way home and encouraging them to take up a life of idleness. The consumer of the plant is also overtaken by feelings of drowsiness.
If grown in full sun and alkaline soil (7.9 to 8.4) and watered very frequently in warm environments, Zizyphus lotus will flourish, producing yellow to green flowers in the spring, with its fruits in season all year long. Even at full maturity, this plant will only reach five feet tall, so don’t be alarmed and attempt to force the plant to grow larger with spells or fertilizer.
While the only initial, observable effect of eating these fruits is that one feels very full, herbologists would suggest leaving the food alone at all costs. This plant will cause memory loss, lethargy, and a general stupor when taken in such concentrated forms as its fruits. While it is a favorite plant of many of the magical animals in its native area, they have grown accustomed to its effects over centuries and possess a resistance to it that we do not! Potioneers may use leaves or the fruit of the tree to produce feelings of contentment as well as forgetfulness in their brews, and these parts are also used in some sleeping potions. However, the downfall of potions made with this ingredient is that they are habit-forming and will create a dependence in the consumer, thus making them inappropriate for long-term use.
Thank you everyone for such a great class, that is enough notetaking for one day! The world of magic intertwining with the mundane is a fascinating topic for sure, but we have tests to take! I am going to give you all a bit of a break, and then we will get ready to tackle the final! I hope you all have been studying.
1. True ferns do not actually produce flowers, but in times of old, classifications were not nearly as strict, and therefore many plants that were not ferns gained the name “fern” in their common title. The fern flower is one such example.
Additional photos found on Facebook here
Updated September 2019.