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Lesson 7) It's So Loud In My Head (Lab #5: Calming Draught, Magical Neurology)

Welcome to another potions lab, class. Today we will be discussing the Calming Draught, one of the common potions used to assist with many psychological and neurological disorders. While the Calming Draught does not cure or prevent most disorders, it is often used, as in the case of dementia as discussed last lesson, to alleviate some of the psychological stress associated with many different forms of illness. This draught is a relatively harmless potion that can be administered even in cases of mild forms of panic or hysteria. In times of great stress, witches or wizards without any other significant disorders or illnesses will often take a dose of the Calming Draught in order to relax their mind and enable them to function more appropriately and efficiently. 

The recipe we will be brewing today dates back to the 16th century, when the Italian potioneer Benigno de Santis modified some earlier tranquilizing potions to create a much milder potion. If you consider the time period, it isn’t necessarily surprising that witches and wizards in Europe at this time would want to find a simple means of calming themselves in the wake of Inquisitions and the suppression of the practice of magic.

The draught we are brewing today utilizes the syrup of the flowering plant black hellebore, or Helleborus niger. Black hellebore is actually a very useful plant that was once used in Greek and Roman Muggle remedies, particularly for treating insanity and gout (a painful disease that causes arthritis). However, it is also a highly toxic plant that, when misused, can cause vomiting, tinnitus (which is a ringing in the ears), swelling of the tongue and throat, and even cardiac arrest and death. It is even hypothesized by some that a medication that contained too much hellebore may have been responsible for the death of the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great. Thus, while the recipe for the Calming Draught is not overly complicated, it is imperative that proper caution be taken during brewing and storing the potion.

There is a good deal of mythology around the black hellebore, which is also known as the Christmas Rose. This nickname comes from the legend that the flower first appeared when a young child cried about not being able to give the baby Jesus a gift in Bethlehem. The tears fell into the snow, and the hellebore flower grew from those tears. Of course, such stories in Muggle lore always lead to the question of whether this was pure fantasy, or whether there was some related magical explanation to the tale. The flower was also thought to ward off evil magic and ill-intent, although others saw it as a tool of the witch - either to enhance magical spells or to make themselves invisible.

Calming Draught

Estimated Brewing Time:
Pewter cauldron: 36 minutes and 25 seconds
Brass cauldron: 32 minutes and 55 seconds
Copper cauldron: 29 minutes and 46 seconds

Total Brewing Time:
Pewter cauldron: 3 hours, 36 minutes and 25 seconds to 5 hours, 36 minutes and 25 seconds
Brass cauldron: 3 hours, 32 minutes and 55 seconds to 5 hours, 32 minutes and 55 seconds
Copper cauldron: 3 hours, 29 minutes and 46 seconds to 5 hours, 29 minutes and 46 seconds

1 L of water
60 mL of syrup of hellebore
3 sprigs of lavender
15 mL of salamander blood
30 mL of essence of belladonna 


Part One: 

  1. Bring 500 mL of water to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  2. Add 30 mL of syrup of hellebore.
  3. Bring the heat up to 383 Kelvin (110°C/230°F) for 20 seconds, and then reduce heat again to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  4. Add three sprigs of lavender to the cauldron.
  5. Stir four times clockwise with your wand.
  6. Leave the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 15 minutes. (This would be 13 minutes and 30 seconds in a brass cauldron and 12 minutes and 9 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

The potion will appear a light pink at this point, with a steam of no notable color. If the steam begins to appear grey or pale green during any portion of brewing, please safely dispose of the potion immediately and do not, under any circumstances, consume the potion. This indicates that the potion has become toxic and will kill or cause serious harm to any who imbibe it.

Part Two:

  1. Add 15 mL of salamander blood to the cauldron and then wait 25 seconds.
  2. Add 15 mL of essence of belladonna to the cauldron.
  3. Stir once counter-clockwise with your wand.
  4. Leave the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 8 minutes. (This would be 7 minutes and 12 seconds in a brass cauldron and 6 minutes and 28.8 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point, your potion may be a pale orange or a light red. Either is acceptable, although a light red potion at this stage will indicate that the potion will be slightly stronger in its effect, and may add an element of drowsiness when consumed.

Part Three:

  1. Add the remaining 500 mL of water to your cauldron.
  2. Add 15 mL of essence of belladonna to the cauldron.
  3. Bring the heat up to 383 Kelvin (110°C/230°F) for 20 seconds, and then reduce heat again to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  4. Stir twice counterclockwise with your wand.
  5. Add 30 mL of syrup of hellebore to the cauldron.
  6. Bring the heat up to 383 Kelvin (110°C/230°F) for t0 seconds, and then reduce heat again to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  7. Stir once clockwise with your wand.
  8. Leave the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 12 minutes. (This would be 10 minutes and 48 seconds in a brass cauldron and 9 minutes and 43.2 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point the potion should be a pale lilac with a light rose pink steam. Flobberworm mucus may be added to the potion (only 15 to 30 mL) for texture, but is not necessary, and most potioneers do not use it in their Calming Draught. The draught only needs to sit for 3 to 5 hours as maturation time, but can be consumed at any point after that.

To Store: The Calming Draught should be stored in a cool, dry place. It can be stored in light, but kept out of direct sunlight. The draught stays good for up to three years following brewing. After this time, as long as the color of the potion remains a pale lilac, it will not become harmful, but will likely become ineffective. In rare instances, if the potion turns yellowish or greenish around its expiration date, this indicates that the potion has become toxic and should be discarded safely. 

To Use: Only 10 to 15 mL (about one tablespoon) of the Calming Draught is needed to be effective. It can be taken on its own or added to a tea or other beverage. It tastes relatively mild, like a somewhat bitter vanilla, so many simply consume it on its own.

Effects: The Calming Draught is a very mild potion with very few side effects. Most who take a dose experience a feeling of peacefulness as well as lowered heart rate and blood pressure. It is safe for children to use, so nurses often use it to treat hysteria during exam periods and to calm students in stressful situations. Most of the time, this potion does not cause drowsiness unless, as mentioned in the recipe, the potion appears light red following Part Two.

Caution: Although this potion does not typically cause sleepiness, it is advised for a witch or wizard to not fly or operate complicated magical devices immediately following a dose of Calming Draught. It can cause complacency and in rare cases a very mild forgetfulness, so undertaking complicated or dangerous magic during that time can be hazardous. There have been isolated cases of allergic reaction to this potion, most of which manifested as itchiness and sneezing very similar to hay fever. If the witch or wizard taking this potion develops any of these symptoms, they should discontinue use of the potion and consult with a healer to determine whether they do, in fact, have an allergy. 

As mentioned, the theory and method associated with brewing various psychological and neurological potions will be discussed in Year Five. However, it is worth giving an overview of these potions in relation to the art of healing. While healers do care for their patients’ physical well-being, they are also responsible for their psychological health. There are healers who specialize in assisting those with mental troubles, both those with which they were born as well as those that develop over time or come as a result of magical or non-magical accident.

An example of the use of magical medicine to ease mental suffering that should be well-known to the students is that of Alice and Frank Longbottom, parents of former Hogwarts professor of Herbology, Neville Longbottom. Neither was exposed to potions or spells that explicitly impede mental functioning. However, shortly after the first fall of Voldemort, both were captured by followers of the Dark Lord and subjected to the Cruciatus Curse, which causes the target to feel immense physical pain. It is thought that the curse may impact the pain receptors in the brain to create the sensation of undergoing terrible torture, even while no marks are left on the skin. Frank and Alice Longbottom were subjected to the curse for an extended period of time, until finally the pain and shock of the events caused them extensive mental trauma, leaving them incapable of functioning on their own.

Those who are subject to such traumatic events often find themselves having strong flashbacks as well as other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Often those with PTSD can still function to some extent in society, although they can also be prone to depression, fits of violence and strong emotional shifts and mood changes. In the case of Frank and Alice Longbottom, however, their trauma was such that they became incapable of functioning in society. Thus they were put into the capable hands of the healers at St. Mungo’s Hospital, who oversaw their psychological well-being. While some who go to St. Mungo’s may make a full recovery, others - such as Alice and Frank Longbottom - are expected to be long-term or even permanent recipients of intense psychiatric care from the hospital.

It is likely that, following their torture, while they probably did have moments of lucidity and awareness, the Longbottoms also expressed strong symptoms of dissociation, a defense mechanism of the brain wherein the mind separates itself from traumatic events and other functioning. It can be associated with certain forms of repression and, in extreme cases, can lead to rare disorders such as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), in which the mind “fragments” in a sense, creating different personalities to take on different functions and help the traumatized person cope on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there is no magical (or non-magical) cure for trauma or most other psychological problems. Healers can, however, use potions in order to limit and assist with the symptoms of these disorders and illnesses. As mentioned in Year One, mild forgetfulness potions are sometimes used, as well as Calming Draughts and certain cheering potions. Those with deficits in concentration can often take concentration serums as well. Depending on severity, occasionally those with milder manifestations will be able to survive on their own in wizarding society while taking their prescribed potions. However, in cases such as Frank and Alice Longbottom, even while undergoing treatment, they were in no place to try to live on their own, much less raise a son. Clarity elixirs also do exist, which help defog a crowded or confused mind, but its effects are limited.

The continuum of mental health care and the consideration of mental health as associated with other maladies and injuries is still one of the great shortcomings of magical medicine, unfortunately. It is crucial that, even if treating a witch or wizard for cancer or another physical illness, the psychological impact of both the disease or injury as well as the cure is considered in treatment. Mental health and mental well-being are important not only for behavior-based results, but also for recovery from an injury or illness. Prolonged stress or depression can slow healing, even when the correct potions and serums are prescribed and the patient undergoes bed rest. Following initial recovery, those with ongoing mental problems and without proper mental advocacy and support networks are much less likely to be able to transition back into the workforce and are often much more likely to experience relapse or other issues.

Words That I Never Said
I thought this lesson would also be a good opportunity to discuss some terminology that has been mentioned previously but without clarification. Potioneers often refer to primary ingredients in potions. These ingredients are those which invoke the primary effect desired. For example, Ashwinder eggs are one of the primary ingredients in love or lust potions. These eggs have some qualities that, when used with magic in the brewing process, bring about these feelings of lust or obsession when consumed.

Antique Cauldron brewing.

Most often, the primary ingredients will show little variation across different recipes regardless of potioneer or region. For example, in the last lesson, we discussed experimental cures for Spattergroit. The primary ingredients mentioned were eels eyes, ladybug wings, Shrake spines, and snake fangs: this means that most researchers conducting studies are using some combination - and often all - of these ingredients as components with the ability to fight the disease. Knowing the primary ingredients of certain potions and their interactions can often allow advanced potioneers to experiment and customize their brewing towards a specified end.

That brings us to the other type of ingredients, known as secondary ingredients. This refers to ingredients that invoke secondary effects or even manage side effects associated with certain potions. For example, in Draughts for Dreamless Sleep, the primary ingredients bring about a deep and peaceful sleep. However, secondary ingredients may bring about correlating effects or combat unwanted side effects. For example, a secondary ingredient in a Draught for Dreamless Sleep may slow the heart rate to promote more tranquil sleep. Another effect could be an ingredient that ensures the consumer of the potion wakes up with very little grogginess or precludes headaches. Although secondary ingredients are often the same from recipe to recipe, there can be variations, particularly in different regions, where the same species or type of ingredient may not be as widely available.

Finally, there are ingredients that are occasionally known as tertiary ingredients, although some categorize them with secondary ingredients as well. Tertiary ingredients are those that have purely sensory effects on potions, making them pleasing to the sight, taste, and smell. They do not have any real impact on the efficacy of the potion, although they can have psychological and psychosomatic effects. These ingredients are typically mundane in nature, such as lavender, vanilla or honey. Such ingredients are added towards the end of the brewing process and are entirely optional in each potion.

This concludes our class on the Calming Draught. I hope that it finds you relaxed and ready for your next lesson on the Antidote to Common Poisons as well as an overview of poisons and antidotes. Have fun with the assignments and good luck!


Original lesson written by Professor Lucrezia Batyaeva
Image credits here, here, and here

In Year Three of Potions, students will focus on Healing Potions. For the most part, the course will cover physical healing for simple and more complex maladies. Every lesson will include a lab exercise that will teach the student how to brew a medicinal potion related to the material covered in the lesson.
Course Prerequisites:
  • PTNS-201

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