by Whitney Carter
I first started exploring herbs and what I could collect and do with them myself some years ago, and I have to confess that I was nervous about it at first. As a kid, there was a berry bush that grew at the edge of my backyard, and sometimes I would sit out there and pick the berries, just to squish them in my hand and smear the dark purple juice around.
I know now that they were Pokeberries, and they’re quite poisonous if ingested. This discovery highlighted my own ignorance about the plants around me, and even as I started dabbling and researching I was always well aware of the potential to miss something important. I have to imagine that the people who were first discovering the uses for all of our plants today had the same kind of excited fear going on.
As a writer, you needn’t worry about endangering yourself; research and creativity are your tools here. Before we get into some of our herbs that could translate well into a fantasy setting, take a look at the following list. If you’re going to have any healers in any primary or secondary character positions, you might want to consider also having common knowledge treatments for some of these common ailments (also consider that these might be different for adults and children).
- Broken bones
- Joint ache
- Inability to breath
- Lack of appetite
- Inability to sleep
Something else to keep in mind too, is that herbs are good for more than just healing – some of them are quite yummy. Garlic for instance can be used to lower blood pressure and cholesterol but is also pretty common in average, everyday recipes. Same thing for blackberries (which I know isn’t a herb, but it is part of a plant; try not to limit your own catalog of plants too much). They’re yummy prepared almost any way but also good for soothing a sore throat.
Alright, so here are some basic modern day herb-based heals that you can use as a basis for creating your own.
Valerian – The root of this plant is used to treat insomnia and reduce anxiety, and its effectiveness is increased when combined with lemon balm or other herbs that encourage drowsiness. It’s most common preparation is oil, pressed from the dried root.
Clove – Clove oil is an excellent antiseptic for cuts and is also useful for treating toothaches. Because of its numbing effect, it can also be used to sooth sore throats or numb the pain of a sting. It should be cut with a carrier oil when used on the skin since severe irritation can occur if used at full strength.
Aloe – A common treatment for minor burns or sunburn; simply break off an aloe leaf and press to extract the goo, then apply directly to the affected area. Although there are better herbs for it, aloe can also be used as a general treatment to help heal most kinds of open wounds.
Tea Tree Oil – TTO is an essential oil with a distinct odor and pale yellow or clear color. Its most common uses are as an antiseptic and antifungal – if you were unfortunate enough as a kid to get lice, this probably ended up in your shampoo. It’s wide variety of skin care uses is tempered by the fact that if ingested, it is poisonous.
Witch Hazel Extract – Another essential oil, this one made from a flowering plant in the Hamamelidaceae family. It can be applied in a compress to minor burns, sunburns and insect bites, and also applied to the nasal passages to stop nosebleeds.
Comfrey – Comfrey is another example of a plant with multiple practical purposes, though the leaf, roots and stem all contain low levels of a poisonous chemical called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Made into a tea, comfrey can be used to ease upset stomachs, chest pains and painful breathing. It can also be gargled for gum disease or a sore throat. When applied to the skin as a press, it’s good for joint inflammation and fractures.
Especially if use of plant-based medicine is going to be widespread, it’s also likely that it will be stratified by wealth. Only a wealthy noble may be able to afford to have that magic bone powder on hand, but weeds are free to even the poorest, and while their strength might be less than other plants’, people without money always find a way to make do.
Alternately titled “WorldBuilding: Herblore Pt. 2.”
Guest post contributed by Whitney Carter. Whitney is an avid fantasy writer and blogger currently working on her debut novel, Alpha Female. When not writing, she can be found either under a large pile of purring cats or amid collapsed bookshelves. You can find more of her work here and here.