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 8) The Bush

Year Three, Lesson Eight
A Helping Herb

Hello again, students! I’m excited this week to talk about the vast continent of Australia with you. Yes, Australia is both a country and a continent, and it is quite large. It spans nearly three million square miles and, like many of the continents we have discussed, has a deep tradition and history of herbalism among its native population. We’ll talk a bit about the various herbal traditions of the past, what those traditions look like today, and highlight a few plants native to the area and used in some of the historical practices we just briefly mentioned.

Aussie Agriculture
You might think that Australia, with its reputation for being a bit of a harsh, unforgiving wasteland, would not be home to much in the way of magical and non-magical plants. However, nature (and magic) finds a way, as I’m sure you know by now. There are sweet, delicate flowers; tough, thorny trees; and terrifying herbal dangers that await you in the Land Down Under.

Aboriginal Antidotes
Tens of thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot on the continent, the aboriginal people lived on the land, learning from and working in harmony with it. While there are very few written records from this time, magiarchaeologists and Muggle excavations alike have unearthed remains and artifacts that prove this without a doubt. The lack of written records comes, quite naturally, from a lack of written language, rather than destruction of old records. Much early communication was done orally, or by other non-textual methods. Therefore, knowledge of plants was able to be passed down in other ways, and many herbal traditions survived and still exist today. Like most native herbal customs, knowledge was based on ritual, along with careful use, discovery, and trial and error over thousands of years.

Criminals and Colonists
Unlike their counterparts that left for North America, the European colonists that came to Australia did not rely on aboriginal herbs. The colonization of Australia as a prison colony was meticulously planned, with very detailed thought given to how the prisoners and wardens would survive without any knowledge of that new expanse of land and its plants. An assortment of European seeds were painstakingly selected by botanists and herbalists of the time, and they were sent along with shipments of young plants that came from England and the rest of Europe over the next few years. With all this effort and research, the colonists had their own plants that they understood well and which grew well in the new land, therefore finding no need to investigate the practices of the aboriginals. By the time Australia began to be colonized in earnest, there was already a thriving plant population very similar to the greenery found in Europe.

Modern Materia Medica
Because colonists did not need to rely heavily on the aboriginal herbal practices of the original people, in the Muggle world, it is rare to see native (not introduced) herbs used in Australian herbalism these days. The Europeans stuck to what they knew, and as aboriginal people died out due to disease and a scarcity of natural resources and land they were permitted to occupy, so did much of their knowledge. Additionally, many of the European plants brought over expanded and became invasive plants in the wilds of Australia, growing out of control. Modern day herbal texts from Australia, at least the non-magical ones, do not contain many references to the traditional practices of the aboriginals for these reasons. The magical world is slightly better off, as there are numerous potions, preparations, and magical plants hailing from Australia; however, the practice of using European remedies and potions is still very prevalent. Recently, there have been some alternative movements cropping up, hoping to re-investigate uses of native Australian plants in herbal preparations or general potion making.

Beyond the Black Stump
Now, let us take a virtual trip out into the wilds of Australia. Some of these plants may be familiar to you, while others may be new discoveries. As you might have guessed from the above explanation of the historical context of herbalism in Australia, we will be skipping over plants that are actually native to Europe and instead using this lesson to focus on those that hail from Australia, despite the fact that both are popularly used.

Burrowing Bush
Despite the fact that this plant is more closely related to the aloe family of plants, and that it certainly does not qualify as a bush, the Burrowing Bush was famed among miners when the opal trade took off and the name has stuck ever since. Aloe perfodio is a unique magical plant that, when alarmed, initiates a self-defense mechanism to burrow deep into the ground to keep from being harmed, not unlike the instincts of a primitive animal. Neither herbologists nor magiarchaelogists have been able to determine exactly how the plant knows when it is in danger, as it appears to differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar presences. 

Each plant grows in its characteristic five-layered spiral, and these tough, pointed leaves are able to be animated to move quickly enough to cut through the earth and allow the plant to disappear. The Burrowing Bush has very little preference in terms of soil acidity, but does poorly if it receives too much water or is in soft, nutritious soil. It also prefers full sun and flourishes if placed on incredibly rocky ground, like cliff sides or mountains. However, simply placing a seed on a rock will not work! Because of its finicky requirements, it is difficult to grow a Burrowing Bush in captivity, though if you do, you will not have to worry about its burrowing propensity unless you attempt to overharvest the plant, in which case there have been documented instances of the plant burrowing completely out of the reach of the herbologist and their greenhouse, never to be seen again.

Its first use, which is actually still a popular one, is among miners, particularly in the magical Andamooka opal mines where it grows abundantly. This is because these plants are able to dig out the opals without causing adverse effects like using magic will, but also doesn’t require back-breaking work! However, in terms of its properties as used by the aboriginal populations, it oxygenates the blood and is used in potions to both increase vitality as well as allow the consumer to breathe underwater. The plant is also known to restore electrolytes and repair torn ligaments and muscles. Additionally, its leaves are used in native variants of Burn-Healing Paste, as many aloes are. While it miraculously flowers in the winter while the plant is under snow (as it grows up in the mountains), the white flowers have not yet been found to have a use, nor the roots. 

Emu Bush 
A non-magical example of a useful healing plant is the emu bush. This plant is a common sight in the Northern Territory, and its evergreen leaves are a stark contrast to the sandy desert. This evergreen shrub ranges in height from three to 15 feet, and it blooms starting in December and lasting until April. To grow Eremophila racemosa, soil requirements are not a problem as the land is arable. However, you must make sure the area is well-drained and that the plant does not receive too much water. Wait to water until the soil is completely dry, and then water deeply. Another necessity for growing spectacular emu bushes is full sun. This plant requires at least six hours of sunlight a day.

This plant was used by Northern Territory aboriginal tribes to sterilise sores and cuts, to combat headaches, and to improve eyesight. The leaves are now being considered by Australian healers and herbologists as one of many possibilities for treating Spattergroit, and the flowers are used in potions to correct astigmatism.

Another non-magical but certainly marvelous example of a traditional healing plant is eucalyptus. There are actually hundreds of species of this plant, with only nine of those not native to the Australian continent. With so many options to choose from, it is difficult to pick just one; however, I think Eucalyptus cladocalyx is a fine choice. It is one of the more popular forms, among the easiest to grow, and we just happen to have extra specimens for you to grow on the Third Year shelf. These trees, also called gum trees, or in the case of this species, sugar gum trees, can grow between 40 and 90 feet tall -- though as with all trees you grow in our herbology greenhouses, very few will have enough time to grow that tall and will be limited by the container they are in -- and grow along the southern coast of the expansive continent. The plants have mottled-looking yellow to orange-brown bark and creamy white flowers that bloom from December to April. 

To grow eucalyptus, put it in soil anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 in pH, and place it in either full sun or partial sun. It is slightly resistant to overwatering, but can go for long periods of time without water, so it’s best to err on the side of caution (and dryness) and only water when the soil is just a bit moist. Interestingly -- or, in some opinions, terrifyingly -- this plant has accidentally crossbred itself with specimens of Venomous Tentacula from Europe, and a limited subspecies exists that looks, for all intents and purposes, like a regular eucalyptus tree. The only sign that it is otherwise occurs when its prey -- any beast, being, or human -- is within reach, at which point the boughs unfurl and drop down sinuous branches with eyeless mouths that gobble up whatever it can reach. It is commonly thought that this is where the Muggle folk tale of strange, predatory marsupials living in eucalyptus trees comes from.

Horror stories aside, an infusion made from the bark of the sugar gum tree was traditionally drunk and used as a cure for diarrhea and muscle spasms. While these uses are still common, more have been added to the list in contemporary times, including using it as a way to clear congestion of the chest and even more recently in the Smooth Smile Elixir that guarantees the user a life free from chapped lips. 

Lemon Grass
Of all the plants we are discussing today, lemon grass is the easiest to care for. This perennial can be planted in any soil that is in arable land, and is resistant to overwatering (as long as you don’t flood it!). The plant can tolerate anywhere from full sun to partial shade and is generally very low maintenance. It will produce brown flowers all year round and grow from three to six and a half feet tall. It grows all over Australia, except for the very southern tip near the capital region.

Cymbopogon ambiguus is used as an ingredient in remedies for several ailments. Traditionally, fevers were treated by boiling the plant in water, allowing the water to cool, and washing the ailing person with the water. The plant was also crushed and the aroma inhaled -- its signature citrusy scent is the reason for the plant’s name -- in order to treat coughs, congestion, and head pains. It is currently used in the Migraine Mixture, purported to be even more effective than its European variants. 

Ah, as always, I wish I had more time. The Australian Outback has a vast wealth of plants to be shared, and if I could, I would squeeze saltbush, snake vine, or bloodwood into the lesson as well, but time waits for no man! Speaking of, it’s that time of year already. The next lesson will be the last of this year and on this topic -- though healing with herbs will always be applicable in this class -- and will also include your final. Best of luck! 

 Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here, here, here, here, and here

Additional photos found 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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