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 4) In Our Own Backyard

Year Three, Lesson Four 
A Helping Herb

Hello, students! I hope you had a lovely time exploring the intricacies of herbal preparations last week. Now that we have all the warnings and definitions out of the way, we can finally begin to discuss specifics! Today we will be looking at a topic close to home: common trends in European herbal healing. I hope you’re ready!

European Herbology
Documenting the history and various cultures and traditions of an entire continent is certainly a daunting task. Much has happened in Europe between the dawn of magic and now. Countries that exist today did not exist even 100 years ago, let alone 2,000 years into the past. Empires and royal reigns have risen, fallen, and given rise to their replacements. Throughout all of it, herbal healing has existed, most often staying muted in the background. The next section of this lesson will attempt to outline some of the most notable herbological practices of Europe, though condensing the general practices of an entire area as diverse as Europe is practically impossible -- and absolutely unthinkable  to do in one afternoon! Still, rest assured that I will try to provide you with the highlights.

Ancient Celts
We will be starting our trip through time with the ancient Celts, a civilization that began in roughly 800 B.C.E. and, at its height, covered much of modern Europe. You will have talked about them in History of Magic just a few weeks ago and hopefully have not yet forgotten what Headmistress Oshiro mentioned about them! You will recall that their society -- and particularly their magical practitioners, the Druids -- placed a great deal of importance on nature and natural balances. Of course, the greatest tragedy is that much of the Celts’ and Druids’ knowledge died with them when they were destroyed by the Greco-Romans in 50 B.C.E. and the fragments of their culture and peoples were assimilated.

Still, we do know they promoted the use of natural remedies due to the reputation they still have to this day. Additionally, some historical descriptions of the Celts exist and speak of their magical rituals, potions, and herbal uses to confirm this, though sadly they are written from an outsider’s perspective and do not tell us many details. Later in the lesson, we will talk about one plant the Celts were known to have used. 

Speak of the devil! Yes, those same Greco-Romans that conquered the Celts had their own influence on herbal practices in Europe’s history. While it may be easy to vilify them for their many conquests, the Greco-Romans did much to help the spread of magical practices and knowledge. The Greco-Roman Empire in general was known as a great melting pot of cultures, and therefore of magical beliefs. This, coupled with their vast expansion through the majority of Europe, meant that the knowledge they had compiled from the combined efforts of multiple civilizations was passed on to many people and places.

The Greeks and Romans placed great importance on herbs as part of healing, and many a treatise and text were written on the subject. Some of the most famous of these were by Dioscorides and Hippocrates. I am aware you have already discussed Hippocrates’s great importance to the medical field as a whole in Potions class, as well as the theory of the four humors, but this had a great effect on herbalism as well, as herbs were assigned to aid with balancing specific humors in order to cure ailments and treat symptoms. Pedanius Dioscorides was also quite influential in his own right. His principal work, De Materia Medica (“Of Medical Material”), comprises five volumes and contributed greatly to not only the medical field, but specifically to herbology. The books outline hundreds of plant compounds and individual plants -- including saffron crocus, pomegranates, and dittany, to name just a few -- that were used to heal various illnesses and conditions. This text was written around 50 C.E. and continued to be among the most popular medical texts for the next 1,500 years, which is a credit to how useful and complete it was.

Medieval Europe
As you will know from your last year of History of Magic, Medieval Europe was characterized by growing tensions between magical and non-magical societies, eventually culminating in the witch hunts, the Great Clustering, and the enactment of the International Statute of Secrecy. Particularly towards the end of this period, herbology -- and magic in general -- was not frequently celebrated in large texts, nor spread across the country. Instead, wise women (some magical, some not) practiced covertly out of their homes, providing their knowledge of herbal remedies to those in their particular village. However, towards the end, even this was risky business. Treatments were limited to what was available, more or less, and collaboration was at an all-time low, resulting in little development or growth in the area, meaning people relied more on practices that had already been established. However, the practice of herbalism did not die off completely; much was passed on orally, and it was not uncommon for each herbologist to have their own book compiling all their personal knowledge and experience in one place, and these were often passed on as well. Things were different in all-magical communities, but many witches and wizards at the beginning of the Middle Ages did not have the luxury of collaboration that these communities afforded. 

Modern History
It wasn’t until the early 1600s that one man decided to change the trend of seclusion. Certainly quite brilliant, Nicholas Culpeper was a determined and opinionated man, and the author of one of the most modern and most useful herbals (books on the topic of herbs and their uses) that exists. Born in England, this half blood wizard was an outspoken proponent of the availability of herbal knowledge for all. He detested the fact that much of the impoverished, uneducated population of England were forced to bankrupt themselves in order to be treated by wealthy healers or doctors -- the practice of being a village wise woman having largely died out with the witch trials. He wrote his English Physician -- which included the uses of no fewer than 411 plants -- in the attempt to spread the knowledge of plants and their properties to everyone. It was purposefully sold at shockingly cheap prices, a fact which outraged many physicians of the time, as it put medical knowledge into the hands of the average citizen. Additionally, it was purposefully written to include no inherently magical plants, in order to be allowed to be dispersed to Muggles as well as magical folk -- which further scandalized many traditional witches and wizards of the time. 

His work, published only half a century before the ISOS was officially enacted, not only contained the medicinal uses of the plants, but also instructions on how and when to harvest them according to the alignment of the planets. He managed to make this topic accessible to those with little knowledge of these practices, and while Muggles were no more able to make potions than before, they did have access to more medicinally potent plants. Additionally, the average witch or wizard -- who could make potions -- had more effective remedies without having to visit expensive healers. The herbological portion of this work has been, and continues to be, reprinted and circulated throughout both the magical and Muggle worlds (though every few decades or so one wizarding group or another petitions to have it taken out of print in the Muggle world. The truth is that doing so at this point would be nearly impossible). 

Healing Herbs
That ends our brief history lesson for the day. From this point on, we will be looking at a few plants that characterize herbal healing in Europe. I have tried to include a spread of herbs from different areas and traditions. We will be looking first at the majestic Bubotuber, a plant that is native to Scotland and was frequently grown under cover of more non-descript plants during medieval times. Then, we will take a look at dittany, an herb native to Greece and very popular as a healing herb today. Finally, we will wrap up with mistletoe, a plant that the Celts used for many purposes. 

Hailing from Scotland, this perennial looks like a giant black slug with yellow pustules. Bubotuber ranges in height from half a foot to roughly five feet, though they usually do not grow this large without magical interference. At its base, it sports a few green leaves, though as the plant gets larger, it can grow some vine-like tendrils as well. The plant prefers full shade, though partial shade can also be tolerable. In terms of soil, Bubotuber will quickly drain its soil of nutrients, so dragon dung is recommended as fertilizer at regular intervals depending on the size of the plant -- most small plants might only need it once every two months, but you will quickly get a feel for your plant’s individual needs. The soil should also be quite acidic, with an ideal range of 5.0 to 5.5. Water regularly, when the soil is still a little moist.

To harvest, you will need to pinch or squeeze the yellow pustules (also called “swellings”) until they burst in a manner similar to popping bubble wrap or an unwanted blemish. Ah, sorry, probably not the best mental image to conjure up. In any case, make sure you aim the swelling very close to the mouth of your vial, or the pus will be liable to spurt everywhere. Not only will that waste the valuable substance, but it also increases the risk that the smelly yellow pus will accidentally come into contact with exposed skin, which I assure you is not pleasant. Undiluted Bubotuber pus causes rashes and burns on contact, which is the reason that it is classified as a Class E: Burning plant under the W.H.I.P.S. system. Should you, for any reason, get undiluted pus on your bare skin, rinse the wound for five minutes under cool water before applying dittany. You will likely also want to visit the Hospital Wing for a spot of pain potion, as Bubotuber burns can be quite nasty. The tell-tale scent of petrol wafting off of you will be sure to alert the matron to the fact that there has been a Bubotuber incident.

Because of its corrosiveness, Bubotuber pus must be diluted before it is safe to use on its own and is only used in very small quantities even when mixed in potions. To dilute the pus, either mix with essence of dittany, rose oil, or Gillywater. Personally, I prefer a dab of rose oil, but there is nothing wrong with the classics. They both have their own benefits; Gillywater will keep your diluted preparation from losing its potency as quickly and essence of dittany will make a preparation that packs a heftier healing punch. When you dilute the pus, you will need different ratios depending on your diluting agent. With Gillywater or essence of dittany, a ratio of one part Bubotuber pus to seven parts diluting agent will be as far as you can stretch it without losing some of the potency of the pus.1 You can dilute the pus slightly less (one part to four parts), but be careful not to skimp on your diluting agent or the pus will still be too corrosive to use. In terms of rose oil, however, there is a much larger range. You can dilute the pus with anywhere between seven and 17 parts rose oil. Seven parts of rose oil to each part Bubotuber pus will still provide you with a safe mixture and the upper limit of 17 will not degrade the quality and efficacy of the pus. However, when diluting Bubotuber pus, you must also consider the timeframe in which you are going to use it. After dilution, Bubotuber will begin to slowly lose its efficacy. Therefore, only dilute your pus no more than a month before you intend to use it. In the meantime, though, you will need to store it. 

To store Bubotuber pus, ensure that you do not put it in anything short of a glass or crystal container! I can’t imagine you have any plastic vials among your school supplies, but if you do, make sure to leave them at home when harvesting Bubotuber pus; it will eat right through! Glass on its own should be safe enough, but it never hurts to have some vials with an Anti-Corrosion Charm placed on them (details below). As a final note on storing and spells, never put an Unbreakable Charm on a vial that holds Bubotuber pus. For reasons you will learn next year, things can get messy quickly!


When diluted, the pus treats acne and a number of other troubling skin conditions, such as psoriasis and chronic eczema. The pus is also used in potions to completely eradicate cold sores, though the potion leaves the drinker with chronically bad breath. All other parts of the Bubotuber plant seem to be completely useless, though there are researchers working to test the leaves and skin of the plants to see if any properties can yet be uncovered.

Ahhh, dittany. Essential to healers, potioneers, romantics, and parents alike! Dittany only grows naturally on the mountainside of Crete, Greece though herbologists and healers have greenhouses full of them with the help of certain charms. Not to be confused with false dittany, or dictamnus alba, Cretan dittany (or Organum dictamnus magus) has magical healing properties.This is also not to be confused with the non-magical strain of Cretan dittany, which is differentiated in its Latin name by dropping the “magus” at the end. To keep things simple, whenever dittany is mentioned, assume that we are speaking of the magical variety! This will also be true of any other magical plant that has a non-magical twin, such as the umbrella plant or quaking aspen, two plants of many that we will cover in later years that have this same issue. 

Back to the herb at hand, however!This plant initially caused a fair amount of stress during the period after the ISOS was passed owing to the difficulty in distinguishing between the magical and non-magical strains of Cretan dittany. Most hold the belief that there is literally no visible difference between the two, and anyone who is able to reliably distinguish between them is actually drawing on their ability to feel or “read” magical footprints, but there are some who insist that there are in fact small differences. However, the differences cited vary from expert to expert and do not seem to be noticeable to anyone but the witch or wizard who came up with them, which fuels the former opinion. 

Whatever the case, there are indeed two strains of Cretan dittany, and magical folk must take great pains to hide the magical variety from Muggles with various charms, transfigurations, and forms of protection. Occasionally, one or two plants will slip through the cracks, but Muggles just believe they have found a particularly potent batch of regular dittany. Both varieties have essentially the same properties -- the ability to heal wounds -- but magical dittany is so powerful that it can close and heal wounds just from physical contact. The plant is close-growing and will only reach five to seven inches in height. Interestingly, this plant attracts both hummingbirds and Billywigs, should they be native to your area. 

This perennial should be grown in full sun conditions and in soil that ranges between 6.6 and 7.3 on the pH scale in order to mimic its natural habitat, as it prefers neutral earth. However, the type of soil is not really the most important factor. More crucially, dittany should be planted in ground that is warm and dry. It may need more water than usual during the growing stage, but once it is established, it needs very little water, and the soil should remain rather dry to the touch. 

Magical dittany can either be consumed raw or extracted via one of the preparation methods we have discussed to be used in liquid form, in which case very little is needed for great results. It can prevent scarring, heal both internal and external wounds (though for cases of internal bleeding in which the injured area will not be physically touched by dittany that is consumed, other measures are needed to fully solve the issue), and even partially attach severed flesh, though there are limitations. It was also used in love potions in the past, but this usage has fallen out of vogue due to its more predominant uses as a healing agent and the availability of more effective love potion ingredients. The flowers and leaves of the plant are used in equal regularity for these purposes. 

This parasitic evergreen is not just a romantic decoration for the Yuletide! It has been a common sight around Europe for centuries, as one of the species of mistletoe -- Viscum album -- is native to the continent (though it also grows in parts of Asia). It has been commonly used throughout history and even enjoyed use before the common era by the Celts. It grows on the sides of trees as a parasite, taking its nutrients directly from the host plant, though it performs photosynthesis on its own. Because of this plant’s unique qualities, it in no way needs soil. In fact, it should not be planted at all. To grow mistletoe, you will need to obtain fresh berries and crush them into a cut made into the limb of a tree. Obviously, I do not recommend you go around sprinkling trees with parasitic perennials on a whim. Should you want to cultivate this plant, please let me know, and I will direct you to a suitable tree here in one of the greenhouses. Fortunately, mistletoe will not kill the host tree, and the tree will not usually suffer in any way. From there, you simply need to make sure the given tree receives the necessary nutrients, and both plants will thrive, though the mistletoe will need to receive at least partial sun. The plant will flower in May, and white berries will appear in December (though other kinds of mistletoe have red berries), should you want to harvest either of these. However, do note that if you harvest all the flowers, there will be no berries in December!

Obviously, mistletoe is often used for decoration, but this is not its only purpose! A memory-altering potion by the name of the Draft of Oblivion, one of the few Celtic recipes to have survived via foreign documentation, utilizes mistletoe berries in its brewing. We use the plant now in our own memory-related potion known as the Forgetfulness Draught. The Celts were also known to regard mistletoe highly for its healing properties, though no recipes for potions or preparations of this nature have survived. Still, we have been able to tap into this ourselves, as the leaves of the mistletoe plant are used to great effect in potions to treat epilepsy and general seizures. Its flowers can also be used in antidotes to poisons (which is odd, as its berries are poisonous). However, avoid using if pregnant or lactating. Adverse reactions for the general population can include itchiness, inflammation, mild fever, or flu-like symptoms and anaphylaxis. This is because the whole plant is toxic (especially the berries, as mentioned) which means it can only be taken in small doses and has a W.H.I.P.S. rating of two for toxicity.

I hope this class leaves you with a better understanding of why we use some of the herbs we do, as well as how these events have shaped our understanding of herbal remedies. Next week, we will be traveling across the pond to look at some of the trends and past uses of healing herbs in North America. Before you leave, you’ll need to practice your extraction technique for Bubotuber pus!


  1. When speaking of “parts” this is just a more general way to refer to ratios. As long as your “parts” are the same measurement, you can substitute any measure you would like. For example, you can dilute one gallon of pus with five gallons of essence of dittany, but you could also dilute one teaspoon of pus with five teaspoons of  dittany.
  2. False dittany (also called white dittany or burning bush) also has healing properties, but not to the same extent, as it is not magical! This is also different from the non-magical strain of Cretan dittany.

Original lesson written by Professor Lily Tudor and Professor Liv Rowan
Additional portions written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits 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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