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-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.

4-All assignments can be retaken if you get less than 70% in them.

5-All assignments for HERB301 now have a short sentence in colour to indicate if the assignment can be resubmitted or not.

Lesson 3) Teas, Tinctures, and Tonics

Year Three, Lesson Three 
A Helping Herb

Good morning, class! Today we are going to talk about different kinds of preparations -- a term that has been thrown around before, but that we have not delved into much. I hope you are well-prepared! First, we will focus on a few specific types of preparations and how to make them properly. Then, we will take a look at some of my favorite plants for tea and how they tie into all of this! 

Mix My Medicine
As I said, I have occasionally used the word “preparation” when discussing the various uses of the plants we’ve covered. In the loosest sense of the word, a preparation is simply something that has been specifically formulated, mixed, or put together in a particular way. There is often a particular emphasis on medicinal uses. Therefore, a potion also counts as a preparation, though the term is less often applied in that sense. Instead the term for the more specific kind of preparation is usually applied, such as whether it acts as a tonic or an ointment. It is important to note the distinction between herbal preparations (also called herbal remedies or occasionally herbal medicines) and potions. Both use plant-based ingredients. Both are effective in treating health conditions. However, only the latter is magical, and only the latter includes ingredients that are not plant-based. Therefore, a recipe with beetle carapaces cannot be an herbal preparation because it includes things other than herbs.

Along that line of thought, there are many kinds of preparations that exist: brews, decoctions, elixirs, infusions, liniments, ointments, salves, compresses, syrups, teas, tinctures, tonics, and more. You will likely recognize some of these terms from the names of various potions. They were not just extraneous designations; I bet you never knew they actually had specific characteristics and methods of preparation! We will be covering some of the main, most common ones today, but there is a whole world, literally, of potions, herbs, and other ingredients. Because of this, one kind of preparation might go by one name in one continent, but a different one in another. Additionally, some cultures have unique preparations on their own.

A decoction, like many preparations, is a form in which the essence of a plant is extracted to be used either in potions or all on its own. Decoctions are specifically used to extract liquids from the tougher parts of plants, such as bark, roots, or rhizomes (essentially horizontally growing underground roots), though other parts, like woody stems, can be used as well. The desired part is first “mashed” in order to best dissolve and give off more liquid extract when boiled in water. After a few hours of boiling, the resulting liquid is strained to remove any large used-up chunks of plant material.

Decoctions share many similarities with infusions, and their taste, appearance, and purpose may be, for all intents and purposes, entirely the same. However, occasionally, a plant can have different uses as a decoction when compared to an infusion owing to the fact that infusions can be made with alcohol or oils as well as water, and the temperature to which the liquid is heated varies. Making a decoction can also be the first step in making other preparations, like tinctures.

This moniker is a bit of a catch-all in terms of herbal or other potion preparations. Its definition simply states that it is a clear, sweet liquid meant to aid with some affliction. Traditionally, it often has an alcoholic base, though in more modern times, other liquids are frequently substituted. Vague enough to cover plenty of potions, no? However, even with this wide net, the limits of this definition have been stretched in modern times. With herbal preparations losing popularity, the term elixir more often takes on the meaning of a potion that has an astounding effect in the magical community, and thus you will see potions termed “elixirs” that are neither clear nor sweet. However, it is good to know where this term comes from!

Very much like their close cousin, salves, ointments are preparations that have plant extracts (either on their own or in the form of teas, tinctures, etc.) that have been combined with gel-like substances such as oils, fats, waxes, or similar products. The resulting mixture is then meant to be applied externally and absorbed via the skin where it is applied. Salves are much the same, apart from the fact that they are generally thicker and do not absorb as well.

Now, my personal favorite kind of medicinal preparation: herbal tea. First, can anyone tell me what an herbal tea is? If you answered “a hot liquid infused with herbs with no caffeine,” you would be correct. 

Evidence has been found that the people of ancient Egypt and China enjoyed herbal teas and used them for their sedative, relaxant, and stimulant effects. Making them is similar to the process of making decoctions, in case you have never made tea before, though herbal teas are made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, or seeds. Roots are occasionally used as well, but it is difficult to extract liquids from roots (and therefore they are more commonly decocted). Usually, boiling water is poured over the plant parts and left to steep for several minutes. It is then often strained or sweetened before serving.

Another alcohol-based preparation, tinctures require the maker to dissolve a plant in alcohol, extracting the liquids. This is more often done with the softer parts of the plant, like leaves, flowers, or some stems. After dissolution, the large, used plant bits should be strained. Tinctures fall into the category of preparations that can be labelled as “extracts” and oftentimes extracts are but one step in the process and made to add a few drops into a different potion or salve. During the process, some of the alcohol may be substituted with water. Essential oils are made in a similar way, though with oil in the place of alcohol.

Again, like with elixirs, this is more of a catch-all term. Tonics are generally classified as liquids that will promote or restore health. True tonics should be composed of only herbs -- along with the necessary liquids -- but the term has been stretched even more to include other ingredients as well. 

You may be wondering just why there is so much alcohol use in these healing preparations, but recall that these practices are quite old. In more ancient times, clean water was not as widely available as it is today, which is something we take for granted. Taking medicine with an alcoholic base ensured the taker was not consuming potentially contaminated or harmful water, which would not help their health situation. Moreover, alcohol is an excellent preservative and causes the preparation to be absorbed very quickly and efficiently. It is also important to note that many of these processes involved boiling, and more often than not only one or two drops of a tincture were meant to be consumed in one sitting or dose. Therefore, most preparations would have very minimal alcoholic content, similar to Muggle cough medicine or my famous amaretto truffles, and so are safe to give to children or pregnant mothers. Still, as I have noted, substitutions are occasionally made in modern times.

As a final note on specific preparations, I would like to add that much of the time, no matter what kind of preparation an herb is used in, it will have similar effects. Essentially, unless noted, this can be assumed. However, things change as soon as you introduce more than one herb into a preparation, as they can react in different ways based on how they are prepared. 

Plants for Preparations
Finally, we are going to discuss four different herbs used in various preparations, particularly in teas, for their healing effects: borage, Colwort, peppermint, and thyme. We will, naturally, also talk about planting and growing specifications as well, and these will be your first glimpse at plants you can grow now that you are Third Years.

Borago boraginaceae, also known as the starflower, is native to the western Mediterranean, but grows wild in all of Europe, North America, and many parts of Asia today. It is an invasive, annual herb that grows to a height of two to three feet with a width of two feet. It likes full sun and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. The flowers, usually blue, though occasionally pink, white, or purple, congregate in clusters at the top of the plant’s hairy stems and bloom in late spring and summer. Frequent deadheading can help prolong this period of blooming as well. 

The benefits of borage are many. Its leaves and flowers are used to relieve cold and flu symptoms, bronchitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps regulate metabolism and relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In potions such as the Inhalation Infusion and various others, it is also used for its properties that help with respiratory problems such as asthma. As a tea, it can also alleviate depression, fatigue, and stress. It can be applied topically in the form of ointments or salves to relieve rashes, boils, and insect bites.

As a word of warning, if taken in excess, borage can cause side effects of nausea, restlessness, and upset stomach and may be toxic to the liver. Additionally, people with epilepsy should exercise caution with borage. Finally, the tea can affect lactation in pregnant and nursing women and so should be avoided. 

To make yourself borage tea, pour a cup of boiling water over roughly a dozen fresh borage leaves or flowers. To release the aroma and taste of the plant more keenly, you may want to bruise the leaves or petals. Then steep for five minutes before either straining or serving. 

According to Greek legend, Pluto, god of the Underworld, fell in love with a nymph named Menthe. This caused his wife, Proserpina, to turn her into an herb and banish her forever to the regions of the shadows and moisture out of anger. While the particular species of mint that we are looking at -- peppermint -- actually prefers the sun, the moisture part still holds true! This delightfully fragrant hybrid is one of the three main species that make up this family. Mentha piperita is known as peppermint, not to be confused with its two siblings, spearmint (Mentha viridis) and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). Peppermint grows between two and four feet high, and the whole plant gives off a characteristic minty smell. This plant is not generally regarded as a weed, despite the ease with which it can be grown, though it is classified as invasive in some areas, namely Australia. While it was originally native to the Middle East and Europe, it can now be found nearly anywhere in the world due to its easy-growing nature.

The plant requires full sun, needing a full six hours to thrive. However, some shade over the course of the day is preferable. Additionally, it prefers very moist soil as it likes to grow in swamps and along riverbanks. Because of this, indoor plants should be watered at least three times a week to keep the soil constantly moist, though drainage can be an issue if you overwater. Peppermint likes a healthy dose of nitrogen in its diet and therefore slightly acidic soil (somewhere between 6.4 and 7.0). Finally, when planting be sure to give the herbs some room, leaving about two feet between them. Peppermint will also yield its best results if it is fertilized with dragon dung. Once it takes root, however, it spreads quickly and can take over areas, so be wary. For this reason, some prefer to grow this plant in pots or with a Containment Charm.

As far as harvesting goes, gather the plants just before they flower towards the end of July (though the flowering can extend into August as well). Occasionally, if your plants are particularly well-tended, you can get a second round of flowers, usually around September. Finally, after harvesting for the second or third year, be sure to move your peppermint plants to a different plot or pot of soil. This allows the soil to gain its nutrients back, as mint that grows in the same spot for too long will inevitably leach the soil of its richness and begin to wilt. 

Peppermint can be used in a variety of ways. The plant can be collected to be dried, used fresh (particularly in the culinary arts), or distilled into an oil to be taken alone or used in potions. Interestingly, the form it takes seems to have minimal effect on the uses it has or its potency. In potions, the plant is often used to improve the scent or flavor of a concoction that is otherwise difficult to stomach, but also has more impactful properties and uses. It is used in Blood Sugar Brews that control unruly and high readings and is also a good tool for regulation among those suffering from an array of bowel issues. Additionally, it is an ingredient in one of the strongest love potions ever, Amortentia, as well as in the Elixir to Induce Euphoria. 

To make peppermint tea, the ratio is 15 to 20 peppermint leaves for every two cups of boiling water. To release more flavor, you may want to bruise the leaves a little. Other than that, simply pour the boiling water over the leaves and allow to steep for a few minutes to taste, as the longer you leave the leaves to set in the water, the stronger and more pervasive the taste will be. As before, you can then strain out or remove the leaves before drinking.

There are side effects that may arise when drinking peppermint tea. It can aggravate symptoms of acid reflux, particularly if you are already susceptible, and in excessive amounts, it can cause muscle pains, slow heart rate, and tremors. Fortunately, though, an overdose is extremely rare. However, consuming peppermint may cause interactions with other medication so make sure your healer confirms it is safe to drink peppermint tea, just as you would with any other herb! Pregnant women, infants, and younger children should not drink this tea.

Common thyme, or Thymus vulgaris, is a Mediterranean perennial requiring sunny conditions of at least six hours and slightly alkaline soil up to 7.5 on the pH scale. It is a low growing, woody plant that grows to roughly six to 12 inches tall, and its fragrant pink, lavender, or white flowers open in the spring and summer. For best results, once the plant has grown to its full potential, water infrequently, only when the soil is dry. Historically speaking, the ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming, whereas the ancient Greeks used it in baths and burnt it as an incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage. During the Middle Ages in Europe, it was placed underneath pillows to aid in sleep and to ward off nightmares. 

Thyme can be harvested at any time and requires very little maintenance. However, be watchful, as ants like to build their nests in thyme beds and can disrupt the roots. They also seem to be particularly susceptible to red spider mites, particularly in dry climates. On the other side of the coin, mould and root rot can become a problem if the soil is too wet, so make sure to plant in an area with good drainage!

The flowers, leaves, and oils of this plant can all be used for various medicinal purposes. Thyme essential oil can be used as an antiseptic, and before modern antibiotics, it was used to medicate bandages for wounds. Presently, its dried leaves are used in a Toenail Detoxifying Tonic, as it is effective against various fungi that commonly infect the toenails. Additionally, fresh thyme is the active ingredient in many breath-freshening brews and potions to prevent tooth decay. The seasonal flowers that appear also seem to help reduce gas, bloating, and cramping in various preparations. Finally, thyme is very high in vitamin K, manganese, and calcium to help you grow strong!

In some people, thyme can upset the digestive system or cause skin irritation. Additionally, it can increase the risk of extra bleeding and can be an issue for those with hemophilia or those undergoing surgery. On the plus side, though, this plant is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, unlike the other two plants we have covered in this lesson. 

To make this lemony tea, gather three sprigs of the plant and pour one and a half cups of water over them. After about five minutes, your tea should have steeped sufficiently, and it is just a matter of removing the sprigs. Thyme tea is especially good alongside the use of the Pepperup Potion, as it has antiviral properties. 

Finally, we have Colwort. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, this tall grass was historically the indiginous peoples’ best defense against poisons, and still remains in wide use in the area for antidotes of all kinds (though it seems to be most effective against venoms). However, because of the extreme difficulty in keeping it fresh -- even with magical aid and the normal spells -- it is rarely used elsewhere unless it can be transported swiftly and used immediately. The grass grows only in areas of high acidity and partial shade (though near to full shade can also be tolerated). It also needs to be watered often, and the soil should not be allowed to get dry between waterings. Laetus pratensis, while a grass, is not always a vivid green as expected. It can also be a deep red, orange, or yellow color. The “flowers” that open at the tips will always match the color of the grass stalks themselves, though the whole plant will frequently change color. For many years, the reason for this herb’s color-changing antics was unclear. Recently, however, it has been accepted that the plant will change color according to the blood type of the person nearest. Which, as you will see, is rather fitting. One annoying feature of this plant is that it grows to an astonishing six feet tall, which is not only annoying for the average greenhouse user, but also for African witches and wizards who are attempting to conceal it from non-magical neighbors.

While Colwort is typically used as an ingredient in more sophisticated antidotes, it can also be used on its own as a tea to combat milder forms of poisoning, such as negative reactions to jellyfish or Lobalug stings. In addition to this useful application, Colwort is the main ingredient in the Sanguinea Solution, which, when added to any amount of blood, will change its blood type, depending on the color of plant used. This has proved invaluable for pregnant mothers as well blood transfusion recipients. However, it must be said that one should never consume this potion, as it will change your blood type slowly as it absorbs into the bloodstream and will cause the body and immune system to attack itself, typically resulting in significant and sometimes irreparable damage.

To make Colwort tea, it is best to use the flowers that bloom on its tips, though young grass that has not yet reached one foot is also usable. Much like any other tea, simply boil water and steep for five to seven minutes before straining the excess plant material. Many non-native witches and wizards who visit Africa are surprised to note that each color variety has its own distinct flavor, with red tasting vaguely of marshmallows, orange having a savory, meaty flavor, and yellow a sweet taste not unlike a pineapple or mango. Green, incidentally, does not have any flavor at all, and serving green Colwort tea to unsuspecting tourists is a source of great amusement for many locals.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the various kinds of preparations as well as four lovely herbs -- borage, peppermint, thyme, and colwort -- that can be used in different concoctions, especially teas! That concludes our lesson on healing teas, elixirs, and all other sorts of preparations. Next week, I will be introducing you to past healing herbological practices in Europe! For homework, you have a practical assignment as well as a simple quiz. Until then!

Original lesson written by Professor Liv Rowan
Additional portions by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here, here, here, here, here, and here 

Additional photos on Facebook here 




Have you ever thought about becoming a healer? In the Third Year of Herbology, you will learn about healing herbs, their properties, and how to plant and care for them. You will also learn about Herbology from a more historical perspective, touring around the world while we discover the most interesting plants. Join me in this marvellous trip!
Course Prerequisites:
  • HERB-201

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