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 7) Rainforest Remedies
Year Three, Lesson Seven
A Helping Herb
Ah, welcome, class! No, you can put your wands away, you won’t be needing Nonperiurabus, we’re not really going into a rainforest today. Instead, we will be studying the history of herbalism in South America. I am so happy to be here today to fill your heads with knowledge of these far-flung plants! Before we get started, though, if you think back to Lesson Five, you’ll remember that I mentioned that Central American countries often had more in common with South America culturally. Keep that in mind as we explore the historical practices and some of the plants of the area.
Curanderas and More
South American and, in general, Spanish-speaking culture in the Americas has a robust history of herbal medicine used by witches and wizards (though also by Muggles). Practitioners of herbal medicine in these areas are typically called “curanderas” or “yerbateros,” though each word can also take on the other gender (for example, “curandero” and “yerbatera”). These professions still persist to this day, and in some cases their practitioners are more trusted than actual doctors, even among Muggles, who put more stock in science rather than in “fantastic” plants and creatures.
To differentiate between the two professions, a yerbatero is the more general term for a person who has a knowledge of herbs and their uses. Indeed, you will notice a similarity between the two words, “herb” and “yerbatero,” as the two are related. Next, there is the more knowledgeable curandera. A curandera has thorough knowledge of plants and herbal remedies, and also dabbles in other, more magical, areas. It would not be uncommon to go to a curandera for a divinatory reading or to obtain a potion to help with your ailment. Because of the fact that the job of a yerbatero can be performed completely without magic, and simply an excellent knowledge of plants, a Muggle yerbatero is much more common than a Muggle curandero, though both are possible. That said, obviously the Muggle counterpart of their profession cannot truly receive visions or make effective potions.
Both of these professions have been so prevalent throughout history, they are very firmly a part of these countries’ cultures and very much a part of their medicinal practices today. Even with Muggles’ reliance on scientific medicine and our own preference for institutionalized hospitals, natural folk healers like curanderas still are very prevalent in modern South America, Central America, and even in Mexico and Spain.
Much like the herbal practices of North America, curanderas simply rely on thousands of years of tradition and practice to use plants that just work. After all, why fix what isn’t broken? If quinine has been used to cure malaria hundreds of times before, you know it has certain properties. These properties have also been collected into volumes of herbal magic and medicine, but are more commonly passed down in personal tomes or via hands-on experience and oral tradition. A final note before we move on from this topic; these are not the only kinds of herbal healers in the history of the practice nor the continent. There are many others, including those in some more specific healing occupations. These are just the most common and widely applicable titles.
From the Andes to Amazon
Now, a look at some of the plants that are endemic to South America. Owing to its proximity to the equator, there are a number of tropical plants on this list, though you may be surprised to know that there are many other environments native to South America: arid deserts, chilly mountains, even arctic icebergs!
Called muña by the natives of the Andes mountains, this plant also goes by many other names, such as tipo or poleo. However, in Herbology class, we most often call the plant by its common name for our region, Andean mint, or by its botanical classification, Minthostachys mollis. The perennial grows well in full sun, partial sun, and partial shade, and has very average watering needs: not too little, not too much. In essence, water lightly every few days, though as with all plants, with attention, you’ll find out just the right balance for your little herb. Its pH needs are not terribly limited either - anywhere from 5.5 to 8.0 -- and, as such, the plant is quite popular in its native area. However, the bad news for us is that Andean mint does not grow well in normal greenhouses, due to its need for colder temperatures, and as such, all of our specimens are grown in the “arctic room” of Greenhouse Four. Should you desire to grow this plant yourself, you will need written permission from me, though I am not terribly restrictive when it comes to plants!
This plant’s most common use is as a digestive aid, in all the many facets of that term. It has historically been used in teas and other preparations to ease indigestion, upset stomach, and flatulence, though in the present day, many eschew the home remedies for store-bought potions, though the uses of said potions remain the same. The only difference in its potion use is that it was discovered to also promote flatulence, if combined with just the right ingredients, and is therefore also featured prominently in Bumbulum’s Trumpeting Tonic. Finally, as an interesting note, this delicious minty herb also currently sees use in some middling-strength love potions, and some native accounts support the idea of this as a traditional use.
This tree, Theobroma cacao, actually grows from the southernmost parts of Mexico all the way down to the Amazon. It was grown and consumed in ancient times under the Aztec name chócolatl, though you will know it better as chocolate. Yes, students, you’re hearing it from a herbologist herself: chocolate is medicine! Or, at least, kind of. This plant’s popularity isn’t a new thing, either. It was used as a form of currency at the time of the Spanish conquest and was used for a vast array of purposes I will get into in a moment. For now, though, let’s talk about growing! This plant prefers very nutrient rich soil, and a pH of 5.0 to 7.5. It is also highly recommended to use dragon dung as fertilizer to provide the extra boost that the plant wouldn’t otherwise get in a normal greenhouse. It grows best in full shade as it is used to growing under the canopy of larger rainforest plants, and needs to be kept very moist (though not soggy or in standing water) particularly when growing. In addition to watering it, you will also need to simulate the high humidity of the rainforest, which is done via a spell in many herbologists’ greenhouses, but will need to be done manually in your own plots with hand spritzers since you are not able to perform the spell yet.
Harvesting is a process that occurs over several months and can be done at any time of the year. As you can see in the picture above, the cocoa pod grows directly from the trunk rather than at the end of a branch. Just like with Puffapods, you will want to harvest the pod itself first, not the seeds that grow inside it. When cutting the stem of the pod, care must be used to avoid irreparably damaging the junction of the pod’s stem and the tree, as this is where future flowers and pods will grow.
Cacao has long enjoyed many uses, though sadly not in the sugary form we know as chocolate. Cacao’s benefits are best enjoyed straight from the plant, not refined or sweetened. It was -- and still is -- used in vitality potions, variants of the Wit-Sharpening Potion, and preparations (specifically made from the mashed seeds) to increase alertness. Even in its sweetened form, chocolate, this plant has beneficial properties (though they are stronger in the plant’s natural form). It is a rich source of antioxidants and may have anti-aging properties, particularly when used in the correct combinations. It has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and can reduce blood pressure. Finally, while some may not immediately think of this as a herbological use, chocolate can certainly heal frayed nerves after a Dementor attack!
Though not something you’ll be able to grow in our greenhouses here, Ficus correpo is still a fun plant to talk about.1 Known by those native to Peru and Brazil as “Arbolente” (from “arbol,” meaning “tree,” and “serpiente,” meaning “snake”), this magical tree gets its Spanish, English, and Portuguese names from its serpent-like qualities. It will coil around another tree like a vine, though it has no semi-parasitic tendencies. It is unknown why this plant chooses to coil itself around other trees, as it most often flees from the sight and study of herbologists and researchers. However, one theory is that it has very specific light needs that vary from plant to plant, and it seeks out just the right amount by climbing higher or lower on a tree with just the right canopy coverage.
Unfortunately, not much is known about the growing requirements of the Coiling Tree, other than general specifications that come with the territory of a rainforest: wet and hot. Its soil preferences and specific needs for sunlight, water, and other miscellany remain unknown. What is known, however, is that the plant is the active ingredient in the only potion to be able to reverse the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome, and is therefore highly sought after despite being difficult to acquire.
Native to various parts of South America, including Brazil and Colombia, as well as various Central American (or North American) countries, Cephaelis ipecacuanha has been historically used by South Americans predating the “discovery” of the continent. Upon colonization, the plant was brought over and grown throughout Europe. The shrub grows to about a foot high and flowers in January and February, which is also the best time to harvest the roots. It grows best in shaded, well-drained areas, and requires regular watering to keep the soil moist, which makes it ideal for rainforests, but it can also grow elsewhere. The pH varies and can be anywhere from mildly alkaline to mildly acidic (6.0 to 8.0).
This evergreen's dried root is used in Sweating Solutions and historically (and also currently among those who use natural remedies) was used to treat fever. Because of its use both as a vomit-inducing agent and a cure for extreme diarrhea, this plant is also allegedly an ingredient in the famously successful Puking Pastilles and U-No-Poo, both produced by Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, though no one has ever been privy to the formula for their prank sweets. Jokes aside, though, consumption of this plant, particularly when extracted into a liquid, will cause nearly immediate vomiting. Just like nearly all plants, be wary of large doses, as it can be deadly if overused. As a note of interest, the flowers, leaves, stems, and blackish berries have no discovered use.
Unfortunately, that ends our chat about South and Central American plants and practices. However, the silver lining is that it doesn’t end our time together -- or, well, only temporarily. I will be back with you next week to explore the Australian outback and the fascinating plants that grow there, as well as their historical uses! Don’t forget to take your homework on the way out, and for those interested, there is an opportunity to do some more research in the library and the greenhouses on another South American plant of interest to you!
1. Herbologists are yet unsure if giving coiling trees one botanical name (or a Latin name for scientific classification) is correct, as, due to the amount of mystery that remains, there could very well be additional species, genera, or families that have not yet been studied.