Double Proficiency

By Anna Urbanek

Were we surprised by the success of Herbalist’s Primer on Kickstarter? Of course!

But were we ready…?

Kinda.

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A majestic, cold-loving plant bearing heavy crowns of green flowers. Its unique licorice-like taste and musky scent grant it multiple culinary uses.

Angelica archangelica. Also known as: Holy Ghost. Wild Celery. Angel Root. Masterwort.

Family: Apiaceae | celeries
Habitat: temperate to cold, wetlands and riverbanks
Size: 100—250 cm
Life cycle: biennial
Foraging: roots, stems, and seeds
Flowers: small and greenish, July
Leaves: multiple small leaflets

Illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by the author.

Description

Angelica is a tall, erect plant with bright, yellow-green leaves aggregated toward the base and greenish flowers grouped into large, globular umbels which bear pale yellow, oblong fruits. The above-ground part of the plant has a licorice-like taste and a strong aroma, similar to musk and juniper. The root contains a high concentration of angelic acid: a volatile solid with biting taste and pungent, sour odor.

It looks similar to other plants of the Apiaceae family and is easy to confuse with poisonous hemlock and hogweed. Use only after identification beyond any doubt.

Habitat and Cultivation

Angelica grows widely and abundantly in temperate and cold zones, even in polar regions. It requires damp soil and flourishes near rivers. Cultivate this hardy plant in full sun or partial shade, but it will withstand full shade if necessary. It can be turned into a perennial plant if prevented from setting seeds.

Foraging and Preparation

Gather the root in the first year’s autumn and early winter as it’s bitterer and more resistant to mold than older specimens. The medicinal and magical properties of angelica are partially extracted by water and fully by alcohol – if possible, all the preparations should be alcohol-based to achieve the best results.

Culinary Properties

Peeled hollow stems are edible and can be eaten like celery or made into jams or food flavoring; use candied ones to decorate cakes and desserts. Distilleries use the roots in the production of gin (with juniper and coriander) and to flavor liqueurs (especially quince-based), absinthe, bitters, and aquavits.

Medicinal Properties

The most potent version of angelica is an alcohol-based root extract, but stems and seeds can be used instead. Use angelica’s antibacterial properties in curing problems of the digestive tract: flatulence, colic, indigestion, stomach ulcers, appetite loss, and nausea. It improves circulation, raises body temperature, has a positive effect on the lungs, and alleviates rheumatic pains.

Do not use angelica in diabetes (it raises sugar level in urine) or while pregnant (it causes uterus cramps). Ingestion of the plant increases sunlight sensitivity and can exacerbate the sunlight allergy.

Magical Properties

Angelica is mostly valued for its protective qualities. If grown around a building, it creates an anti-sorcery barrier, which can be reinforced by sprinkling dried herb in the corners. Added to bath (powdered root or the essential oil), it breaks curses and unwanted spells, especially when mixed with nettle (see Curse-Breaking Bath).

Burn the dried root as incense to bring visions and help meditation. While not advised to browse past or current events, angelica enhances divinations of the future and is especially useful for piercing the veil regarding the games of chance.

Use the juice squeezed from fresh stems to comfort and mend broken hearts. As noted above, you can heighten the effect by mixing the juice with alcohol. Or just drink some gin.

Additional Context

Angelica is the most important medicinal plant in the Sámi culture. Known in Scandinavia since at least 12th century, it is valued both as a vegetable, and a shamanic medicine. The hollow stems were used to make a flutelike instrument, called a fátnu, able to produce a couple of notes in a gentle, melancholy tone for as long as the herb was fresh. Those pipes were used in magical rituals together with drums.

Outside of the region, angelica was often considered a panacea; its name, archangelica, comes from the belief that it was bestowed upon humanity by archangel Michael as the cure for the bubonic plague, amongst other diseases. The existing studies of the plant’s properties give some credibility to the claims—if not those about the supernatural origins, then definitely those about the medicinal usefulness in treating tumors and ulcers, protecting the liver, fighting fungal infections, stimulating the bodily functions, and relieving cough.


Do you love plants, green magic, folklore, and ethnobotany?

Find more of it in our current project, Herbalist’s Primer – an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. Learn more and support the project on Patreon!

A popular garden plant, grown for its beautiful golden and orange flowers. Often used to cure skin irritations, strengthen psychic powers, and see through illusions.

Calendula officinalis.
Also known as: Marigold. Pot Marigold. Ruddles. Summer’s Bride.

Family: Asteraceae | asters
Habitat: warm and temperate, widely cultivated in gardens
Size: 30—60 cm
Life cycle: perennial or annual
Foraging: flowers and leaves
Flowers: yellow to orange, May—September
Leaves: light green, slightly hairy

Illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by the author.

Description

A herbaceous, flowering plant, often growing in dense pillows. On long, rigid stems grow spirally placed light green, slightly hairy leaves and flat yellow and orange flowers. Calendula attracts many insects, from aphids to ladybugs, butterflies, and bees. The petals have a characteristic, sunny scent and a delicate, peppery taste.

Habitat and Cultivation

No evidence of wild, natural habitat of calendula has been found. It is commonly cultivated as an ornamental, medicinal, and edible plant in gardens and pots. It grows best in sunny exposition and rich, well-draining soil. In temperate climate, it is an annual plant, easy to propagate and cultivate from seeds; calendulas are self-sowing if left to their own devices. Remove deadheads to encourage reblooming in the same season.

Foraging and Preparation

Collect leaves and flowers once they fully open, in mid-afternoon on a sunny day. The resin content is then the highest, which strengthens the medicinal and magical properties of the herb. Use calendula fresh or dried. Dry whole flowers or just the petals—they can be easily removed from the head and dry much quicker that way.

Culinary Properties

The whole plant is edible, but only leaves and flowers are commonly used. Put fresh leaves in a salad with spinach and other dark greens. Use flower petals as a dash of color in soups, rice dishes, salads, and confectionery as edible decoration. If finely chopped or dried and crushed, calendula is almost as good food colorant as saffron.

Medicinal Properties

Calendula has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a treatment of choice for all kinds of skin irritations, acne, wounds, bites, and infections. A marigold salve treats diaper rash, bruises, and tender breasts. Calendula can be used topically or internally as a tincture or tea, but should not be ingested during pregnancy or if the patient is allergic to plants in the aster family.

Magical Properties

Calendula is an important herb in all kinds of light, fire, and sun magic, giving strength to spells and enchantments. As a sun herb, it brings confidence and respect, especially if added to the bath before important meetings or worn as perfume.

Seeds sown at the doorstep help to solve misunderstandings and encourage affection between the lovers. The petals are commonly used during marriage ceremonies, as they bestow luck upon the newlyweds and protect them from the effects of other people’s envy.

Use calendula flowers in divination, prophecy, and dream magic, either burned at the altar or kept in a bag under the pillow. They help access the psychic powers, help in lucid dreaming, perceiving auras. Fey creatures are often drawn to calendula; fresh flowers are a valuable offering in deals with the fairy folk.

Mixed with rosewater, hollyhock, hazel, and thyme, calendula flowers make an ointment allowing to see invisible creatures and look through illusions and fey glamours.

Additional Context

The Romans, who named the plant, thought it funny to pretend that calendulas bloom on the first day of each month, ie. on the kalends. While it is obviously factually wrong, calendulas do flower almost constantly if they are kept in a mild climate and regularly deheaded before setting seed.

In almost all cultures, calendulas have some connection to the sun. Greek mythology mentions a story about four wood nymphs who fell in love with the sun god, Apollo, to such degree that they forgot their duties to their goddess, Artemis. The annoyed goddess turned the nymphs into dull-white marigolds. Apollo, after learning what had happened to those who loved him, took pity over them: he sent down his brilliant sun rays to paint the flowers gold. As opposed to, for example, actually helping. His job there was done.

Calendulas are often used in love magic or as an aphrodisiac. An European legend says that if a maiden steps on it with her bare foot, she will understand the language of birds, which was empirically tested by the author about fifteen years ago and deemed unlikely; it is possible that local birds were being difficult on purpose and only pretending to tweet as usual.

Nevertheless, the medicinal properties of calendula are mostly scientifically proven. The plant is antiseptic, astringent, promotes wound healing, and does reasonable wonders to sensivitve, irritated skin and chapped lips. An easy salve can be made from calendula-infused oil mixed with beeswax. It keeps well and helps with scratches, rashes, and dry skin. Very early in vitro tests show it has some anti-genotoxic properties, which has made certain people call it a herbal remedy for cancer. Do not trust those people.


Do you love plants, green magic, folklore, and ethnobotany?

Find more of it in our current project, Herbalist’s Primer – an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. Learn more and support the project on Patreon!

by Anna Urbanek

Get ready for the spooky!

Today we will be talking about the spookiest plants you can put in your Halloween game. We’re not here to discuss the most toxic plants, because let’s be honest – death by poison is a rather boring thing to play out at the table. Instead, we’re about to go for a deep dive into the weirdest, the creepiest, and most horrifying. 

If you’ve been following Herbalist’s Primer and Globetrotter’s Guide to Greenery, you probably know at least some of them!

1. Deadly Nightshade

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Probably one of the most devious plants in folklore. It is planted and tended to by the devil himself, who only leaves it unattended for one night every year – Walpurgis night, known as Witches’ Sabbath. Which is, by the way, the night of 30th April to 1st May. While Devil’s out carousing, this toxic bush changes into a mysterious enchantress, as beautiful as she is deadly. 

2. Bladderwort

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

This lovely carnivorous plant grows in lakes and ponds. The floating stems are covered in transparent bladders, almost invisible underwater. They suck in everything that comes in contact. All it takes is a fraction of a second, and a poor insect or a fish are trapped with no chance of escaping. Now, bladderwort is too tiny to be of any risk to a human… But in your game, it doesn’t have to be.

3. Baneberry

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Did you ever have the players’ characters walking through the forest and feeling as if they’re being observed? If not, this is the perfect opportunity to give them a taste. White baneberries are known as doll’s eyes, for probably obvious reasons. Next time the party feels too perky with their survival skills, they can have those disembodied eyes on fleshy stalks follow them around.

4. Corpse Flower

New York Botanical Garden corpse flower in bloom June 27, 2018 via Wikipedia Commons

This beauty is native to rainforests of Sumatra and can grow to over three meters tall, which is equivalent to a portion of a football field, probably. Not only the main leaf has the color and texture of fresh meat, the whole thing also stinks of rotting flesh and for as long as it’s blooming, it stays at the temperature of the human body. It also has a ridiculous Latin name if this is your type of humor. No judgement.

5. Aconite

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Also known as monkshood and wolfsbane. As the story goes, the first plant grew from the saliva of Cerberus, and ever since, it is strongly connected to all kinds of lore about wolves and werewolves. If you ever need some lycanthropy-adjacent potions or elixirs, aconite is your best bet.

6. Ghost Plant

Photo: Will Brown via Flickr

If, like myself, you grew up with stories about dark, scary forests, you’ll feel right at home. These delicate, parasitic flowers need no sunlight and can grow even in complete darkness. Usually white or pink, they can appear overnight like a tiny army of ghosts. Fun fact: in the 19th century, they have been used in Europe as an anti-anxiety medication, and I am personally convinced that they are the reason for the existence of Hattifatteners, which were the biggest scare of my childhood.

7. Pitcher Plant

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

A scent of sweet nectar drives the misguided and misinformed straight into the shapely, colorful pitchers. Where they get trapped and slowly drowned and digested, of course, because nature is more metal than one usually thinks. Some of the pitcher plants come equipped with specialized leaves creating fake exits and mini-labyrinths to keep the poor prey occupied while it dies.

8. Mandrake

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

Everybody’s favourite – it’s toxic, it’s hallucinogenic, it’s going to kill you with its scream when you pull it out of the ground. Obviously. Enterprising harvesters were using pigs or dogs for the operation, hoping the curse will befall the animal, although technically, it’s the string that should get hurt. In any case, the humanoid roots of mandragora were thought to cure anything from impotence to cancer, work as voodoo dolls, and sometimes walk around on their tiny legs and become familiars to witches and warlocks.

9. Venus Flytrap

Venus Flytrap showing trigger hairs.jpg
Photo by Noah Elhardt via Wikipedia Commons

There is just something inherently terrifying about the idea of a giant maw closing around you. Trapped in the darkness, fighting to escape, you can feel the digestive fluid slowly coating your body. Soon, you struggle to breathe… If you’re a fly, that is – or if your game master upsized the plant a bit. I don’t know if it helps that the digestion process takes around ten days, but it is a thing you know now.

10. Red Tide

File:La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780.jpg
Photo by Alejandro Díaz via Wikipedia Commons

We’re starting to cheat from here, because the following aren’t technically plants. They are, however, way too spooky to not be discussed. Red tide is caused by blooming algae. If you ever get stuck on the sea adventure, because the players’ characters have stolen a ship and now need to sail for two months in whichever direction, give them the proper fright by changing their whole environment into red, murky depths full of poisoned fish and shellfish, dead octopuses, and the unfortunate Kraken with an upset stomach. Oh, did I mention that the air is now full of toxins too?

11. Bleeding Tooth Fungus

File:Hydnellum peckii.darvin.jpg
Photo by Darvin Deshazer via Wikipedia Commons

Number eleven: bleeding tooth fungus, also known as devil’s tooth – by a very specific type of people, also known as strawberries and cream. These fungi ooze thick, blood-like substance – fun fact: the secretions have anticoagulant properties, so they can really make you bleed. Add to that nasty-looking spikes that cover the base, and you have a recipe for a Halloween special.

12. Octopus Stinkhorn

Clathrus archeri.jpg
Photo via Wikipedia Commons

A treat for all you warlock types. One look at these fleshy eggs erupting in an array of crimson tentacles, and you start designing a Fungus Warlock Patron for your next campaign. If the Devil’s fingers aren’t haunting you yet, just think about the fact that this lovely mushroom smells of putrid flesh and has a global distribution – which means there are probably some growing quite close to wherever you are.

13. Vampire Pumpkins and Watermelons

Via Rawpixel.com

This folktale comes from the Balkans, the source of all best vampire stories. According to the account, any pumpkin or watermelon that has been left outside in the night during a full moon will turn into a vampire, free itself from the ground and go for a hunt. They leave a trail of blood behind them, as they slowly creep towards houses full of sleeping people. (Read more on Wiki.)

Now, as it is the year 2020, let me just say that this Halloween is going to happen with a full moon right there on the sky, because of course it is. Even more, according to the Internet, the full moon will also be visible from every single place on the planet, for the first time since 1944. Oh, and it’s a blue moon.

In short, we’re doomed.

What’s Your Favourite?

So, what’s your Halloween favorite? Are you planning on using any creepy plants in your games or books? Let us know in the comments before the vampire pumpkins eat us all!

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by Anna Urbanek

Imagine that: I’m 20% done.

Well, not really – but I’ve finished twentieth plant entry from the planned hundred, and I think it calls for a celebration. Or, at least, for noting it in a blog post for future reference.

If you haven’t heard of the project, Herbalist’s Primer is my pet project: an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. It’s a guide for beginner herbalists, magicians, witches, and alchemists. It’s an exercise in whimsy: a mix of honest-to-science botany, even more enjoyable ethnobotany and folklore, the modern occult, and a completely fantastical resource for tabletop roleplaying and writing fantasy novels.

I like my hobbies eclectic.

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