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 6) Eastern Elixirs
Year Three, Lesson Six
A Helping Herb
This week we will be looking at the history of herbologists in Asia, their past discoveries, and overarching ideas. We have around 5,000 years of recorded traditions with which to work and study when talking about this continent. Additionally, as you will learn in History of Magic next year, Asia is actually the largest continent in the world, with the second greatest number of countries. Because of both of these factors, boiling down the history of each region in the short amount of time we have would be like trying to fit an Erumpent into a broom closet! Therefore, we will only be covering two main traditions today.
Ancient Asian Abracadabra
One important trend you might have already picked up on about ancient herbologists is that they were often heavily associated with the rituals and religion of the surrounding area. This is because in ancient times, magic in general was intertwined with Muggles’ beliefs, therefore mixing magic with mysticism, myth, deities, and more. In these times, magic use was much more open and free, and it was not always obvious -- even to magical folk -- who truly had magical abilities and who was simply very lucky or skilled. In other cases, particularly as time went on, magic users were content to allow non-magical persons to practice, as it did them little harm. Therefore, the following two practices we will cover were (and are) common knowledge to both magical and non-magical folk in these areas.
Chinese Herbology and Medicine
In Chinese herbology, the plant nutrients are often separated from the plant material through boiling processes, making teas and decoctions quite prominent preparations. This practice of using high heat was partially favored in order to balance out the high toxicity level of many plants used in traditional Chinese medicine. While it is unclear exactly why Chinese herbologists favoured using such deadly plants, it may be because these plants were associated with potency, and were therefore prime choices for more powerful remedies. Whatever the case may be, this led to heightened knowledge of plants that may not have been studied or consumed otherwise, which is a boon for the herbological community overall.
Another unique thing is that herbologists from ancient China were very particular about their tools for harvesting ingredients and making their preparations. For example, lead, garnet, iron, copper, and coal were five of the more common substances of the 33 used. Each substance was used in tools for different purposes. Iron might be used for picking one kind of plant, while copper might be used for another. These specializations led many potioneers to explore the results of using different types of knives, cauldrons, and other implements in the making of potions, the effects of which may be seen today in the field of potioneering.
Now to the theory. Herbologists in China made use of what they considered “warm” and “cool” energy. Each plant could fall anywhere on that spectrum and be either cold, cool, neutral, warm, or hot. In order to restore balance (also known as yin and yang) to someone with an illness, the first step was to determine whether the illness was of a hot or cold nature. Then, the ailment would be treated with herbs from the opposite end of the spectrum. In addition to temperatures, herbs were also assigned a taste, such as sour, bitter, sweet, acrid, or salty (though there were other synonyms used depending on the era and area). A plant could fall into more than one of these categories at once, which allowed for many nuances in categorization, and plants from different categories were used to treat specific kinds of ailments.
In present-day China, other parts of Asia, and, in fact, all over the world, Chinese herbology is experiencing a boom. The practice has always been popular in China, of course, but its rise to fame in other countries is a new development. Both Muggle and magical folk alike are seeking out Chinese remedies and preparations. In the potioneering community, there have been recent experimentations with traditional Chinese plants as substitutes for the more common native alternatives in potions like Skele-gro, Amortentia, and Pepperup Potion. However, not everything is Patronuses and Cheering Charms. Particularly amongst Muggles (though also with magical folk who get their ingredients from less-reputable sources) there have been accounts of contamination with foreign materials and dangerously high toxicity levels.
Similarly to Chinese herbalism, Ayurvedic medicine -- also called Ayurveda -- is all about balance. This practice hails from India, starting over 3,000 years ago. This form of healing is actually one part herbology and one part alchemy, and in fact, should you choose to continue with that elective until Year Five, you will learn quite a bit more about this practice. For today, though, we will be focusing on its herbological impact and the details of the practice.
In summary, Ayurveda is a system in which your vitality -- or more accurately, your “life force” -- is divided into three groups, or doshas: the Vata dosha, the Pitta dosha, and the Kapha dosha. These doshas must be in balance for a person to remain healthy, though this balance is different from person to person. When an imbalance is found, it is corrected with herbs and preparations (and foods, though remember that many herbs are also used in cooking). For example, if one was having trouble with one’s blood sugar creeping too high, neem would be used, as it tends to “aggravate” or encourage Vata, and would therefore correct the imbalance.
Ayurveda is not as commonly practiced in the Western world as Chinese medicine is, but the practice is very popular in India, as you might expect. Additionally, many people in east Asian countries subscribe to this practice of medicine as well. Still, there has been some experimentation in the wizarding world with common ingredients and herbs used in Ayurveda, some of which we will discuss in the next portion of the lesson. As with traditional Chinese herbalism, though, be sure you know what you are buying, as Ayurvedic preparations have similar issues with being tainted or contaminated with foreign substances.
An Assortment of Asian Herbs
The world of Asian herbs is a diverse and exciting place, as the potential for many new discoveries lurks there! Until recently, much traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic herbalism had been discounted as Muggle nonsense, but since the turn of the twentieth century, this assumption is being slowly disproven. Come join me as we look at some of the more famous examples!
Otherwise known as monkshood or wolfsbane, Aconitum carmichaelii (as well as a few other species) is native to China and commonly used in many remedies, though there it is called “Fu Zi.” Its Western name, aconitum, comes from the Greek word ἀκόνιτον or akonitos, meaning 'without dust' or 'without struggle.' Without struggle would be the more appropriate translation and speaks to the toxicity of aconite leaves, a common trait among Chinese herbal remedies, as you will recall. The plant will grow well in full sun and partial sun and prefers its soil to be kept quite moist. On the topic of soil, a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0 to 7.0) is preferred, but is not as crucial to the plant’s development as regular watering. If successful, you will have a plant that grows to roughly three to five feet, though if planting from a seed, the plant may not even surface above the ground for the first year.
These plants will start blooming part way through the summer and continue throughout the fall, offering plenty of time to harvest the blooms. However, when handling aconite, whether it be during harvesting, planting, or watering, be sure to always wear dragonhide gloves. The plant has earned a deadly reputation, and its toxins are absorbed through the skin with frightening ease and speed. If, after being around aconite, your skin (the area that may have had contact) begins to tingle, head straight to the Hospital Wing, accompanied by a friend, if possible. This is a sign of poisoning and can often be followed by heart palpitations and death. There is, fortunately, an antidote, atropine, but you will need a fully certified healer to monitor you afterward administration to ensure there are no other complications.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the properties of aconite. We will start with the obvious use, at least for us: poison. Aconite is intensely poisonous and death occurs almost instantaneously with large doses and usually within two to six hours of exposure in smaller doses. Symptoms, which are evident within the first hour, include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, then sensations of burning in the abdomen, mouth, and face, as well as tingling and numbness in the mouth and face. If allowed to progress into its last stages, numbness spreads throughout the body. Sweating, dizziness, headaches, confusion, and trouble breathing may also occur, ending in death. It is for this reason that the plant has a W.H.I.P.S. toxicity rating of four.
Ah, it seems I have made my point clear. Mr. Atwater, you are looking a bit pale, take a sip of this, please. I promise you are well looked-after here and no harm will come to you if you follow my instructions. While it’s an unpleasant topic, I make sure I give you the cold, hard facts about these plants so you don’t take unnecessary risks with them. With that said, this plant can (and has) been used by healers and potioneers to treat some ailments. However, to detoxify the plant, it must be boiled for a minimum of an hour. At that point it can then be used safely, though in very small doses that should be prescribed only by a trained healer. After boiling, the extraction from the plant’s roots has been found to have some effect on hypotension (or low blood pressure) and is used in potions related to heart diseases. Its flowers (though the leaves and stems can also be substituted) are preferred for anti-arthritic potions, either alongside or in place of rhododendron.
Called “baragada” in Hindi, this tree grows all over India. Indeed, I do mean all over. While normally I cite heights for plants, the banyan tree’s most impressive figure is its width. Grown wild, or in areas where it is able to spread out, they can grow thousands of feet wide. Not possible, you say? With Ficus benghalensis it is. The secret is in the plant’s aerial roots which grow from its limbs and upon reaching the ground, take root to form new, sturdy trunks. However, I don’t think the groundskeeper would appreciate me providing the entire class of Third Years with permission to grow a forest that could take over the entirety of the property. Instead, I will be instructing you on how to grow it as a “houseplant.”
You will want to plant it in a container or plant bed, though it will need repotting every few years. It will need full sun to partial shade, though it is much more particular about its water consumption. It requires good drainage and is subject to disease if too heavily watered. Let the soil go dry before watering again, though water heavily whenever you do so. A pH of 6.5 to 8.4 is preferable as well and not at all difficult to accommodate. Should you wish to, you can plant a seed to start your banyan tree, though a banyan can also start growing on top of other trees (due to deposition of the seeds from its fruits) and wage a war of nutrients on the original tree until it completely strangles it.
The plants’ leaves, figs, bark, flowers, and roots all bear useful properties, and the plant, rather than being considered an invasive pest, is viewed as a foundational part of the ecosystems to which it belongs, as it provides sustenance and safety for the creatures in the area. Its roots, underground or aerial, are used in Cavity-Curing Concoctions and were historically (and are currently) used raw for dental hygiene in India. Its bark has been substituted for this purpose as well, but is not as effective and enjoys much more celebrated use in decoctions to promote a healthy immune system and fertility. Its leaves work well on their own or in various preparations to combat swelling, and the fruit, while not particularly tasty to humans, is used in a variety of Ayurvedic treatments in combination with other plants to aid arthritis, diarrhea, and depression. However, be careful, as parts of the banyan tree are poisonous, namely the sap in its leaves, though it would require rather high doses of the plant to cause any irritation or damage.
The flowers are another story entirely and are quite difficult to harvest, owing to the fact that they grow inside of the fruit, much like with Abyssinian Shrivelfigs. However, the buds do not grow in all of the unripe fruits, only a small proportion. Recently, herbologists and spell creation experts have come together to find a spell to detect which is which before cutting them open.
This plant, Rheum officinale, actually has two similar cousins, R. palmatum and R.tangutucum. All three are commonly referred to as “Chinese rhubarb” here in the UK and the rest of the Western world. Though we will only be talking about one today, it is pertinent to note that with any species that has similar varieties, more often than not growing specifications and properties are similar across the board (though it is not guaranteed). Finally, on the topic of names and variants, this plant is called “yào yòng dù guan” in Chinese.
Chinese rhubarb grows in soils of any pH balance, as long as it is within the livable limit for plants. It can tolerate partial shade (or partial sun), but prefers full sun. You may water fairly regularly as long as the soil is only moist and the water is not pooling. When successfully grown, the plant should reach between four and six feet in height. It actually grows best when grown from a “crown,” or portion of already mature plant (a stem snipping usually taken during dormancy). This perennial blooms during the summer and goes dormant in the winter.
While the leaves are rather toxic (giving the plant a rating of one on the W.H.I.P.S. scale), the roots, stems, and flowers are used widely, though in very high, repeated doses these too can be problematic. The whole plant is used in traditional Chinese medicine, though only the roots have caught on in the rest of the world. For the best potency, the roots must be harvested right before the dormant period in fall, and only from plants six years or older. The properties of the roots are phenomenal, though, and make up for their fussiness. Most notably, potions combating cancer utilize the dried powder of this root, though various preparations also make use of the root as a treatment for diarrhea and the symptoms of menopause. However, on that note, pregnant and breastfeeding women and children should not consume this herb.
Finally we come to turmeric, or Curcuma longa. Grown natively in the southeast of Asia, it is the pride of healers there, as it is such a useful herb. In fact, turmeric has been used by herbologists as early as the first record of medicine, dating back thousands of years. It can grow up to three feet in height, with green leaves and flowers that can be yellow, orange, or pink, though other variants exist. The plant requires moist, warm environments, so make sure you water a little and frequently in order to keep the soil moist while growing and cast a Warming Charm on it for a brief period every day, as even in the heat of a greenhouse, the growing plant will need a little more warmth. In case you’ve forgotten the specifications of the spell from First Year, the spell’s details will be included on the board for your reference.
To plant, you will simply need to gather rhizomes from the pots labeled “Turmeric” on the Third Year shelf (or, if growing elsewhere, procure some from your local apothecary).1 Its soil needs are rather broad, as it can happily grow in soil with a pH anywhere from 6.4 to 7.6. As it grows, you will need to cast a Darkening Charm on it temporarily, so the little shoots do not get burnt, but once fully grown it will thrive in full sun.
As far as its uses, the flowers and leaves can be extracted and made into a juice which treats skin conditions such as dragon pox, scabies, rashes, and blisters. Its dried and powdered roots are used in many potions and completely herbal preparations in the West as well as Asia to treat pain and kidney issues. Lastly, it is often used topically in India today during weddings and religious ceremonies to give a healthy glow. However, as is the case with many plants, turmeric should not be given to nursing women or infants.
That is the end of our whirlwind tour of Asia, though I am sad it had to be so short. Had we more time, I would love to take you exploring through the snowy crags of Siberia to see the Arctic Aloe, or into the deserts of the Middle East to examine a Morphanous Cacti, but I suppose I must leave something for later years! Your homework consists of the typical quiz and an optional research assignment on the healing and herbological practices of another culture within Asia. I look forward to seeing you all next week!
1. Remember that rhizomes are simply underground stems that look much like roots, as we discussed in Lesson Three of this year. The way that they differ is that rhizomes can send up new plant buds as they spread underground, thus creating a new plant aboveground.
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