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[ANON POST] Effects of Herbs
Inara
orange_fell wrote in little_details
My character is a female warrior in yet another pseudo Medieval European fantasy land. She's brewing herself a sort of good luck tea as a pre-battle ritual. What I need are the herbs she might use. They have to be herbs that will bring her courage, heroism, strength, and overall "manliness" (gender roles, gender perceptions, and the blurring thereof are major themes in the story), and she'll probably throw something in for good fortune, as well.

I'm going heavy on the historical accuracy and easy on the magic and invented plot-helpers, so I want herbs with actual folkloric connections or historical usages. I could invent my own Warriorfoil, but I'd rather stick with real world plants. Bonus points if it's something available in grocery stores so I can know first hand what it smells and tastes like.

I've been dredging through websites like these, but since they list herbs by name instead of supposed effect it's a LOT of dredging.
http://www.anniesremedy.com/folklore.php
http://www.theoi.com/Flora1.html

According to my copy of Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, these are herbs that might be used for courage: borage (bugloss), black cohosh, columbine, masterwort, mullein, poke, ragweed, sweetpea, tea, thyme, tonka, wahoo, yarrow. A number of these have masculine genders in terms of this magical tradition, and I notice that some say to just carry a sprig instead of brewing it.

to instill strength: bay, carnation, masterwort, mugwort, mulberry, pennyroyal (I'd avoid this one--I believe it might bring on her period!), plantain, saffron, St Johns Wort, sweetpea, tea, thistle.

luck has an even longer list, but includes: allspice, aloe, cabbage, daffodil, chinchona, hazel, huckleberry, nutmeg, orange, persimmon, pomegranate, poppy (which might help her sleep the night before), rose, star anise, strawberry, vetivert, violet, wood rose

I'd recommend heading over to the library and finding books on the subject. Most of the good ones will have a reverse index or table that will provide a list like this, plus you can find out what part of the plant to use (not all parts of a plant are edible or even non-toxic--rhubarb, after all, has poisonous leaves but edible stalks). And check a basic herbal such as Rodale's for locations, side effects and hazards of them, like the pennyroyal. I believe that's the one several women applied once as an insect repellant, but it did bring on their cycles, too! Location you'll probably want for accuracy (unless the equivalent of the Americas is already known).

"Bring on t,heir cycles" being of. Course a euphemism. Raspberry leaves have the same effect.

Mugwort grows almost anywhere in England; its active constituent is thujone (the substance that got absinthe banned). It used to be used to make ale for weddings; the effect must have been interesting.</p>

Mrs Grieve's "Modern Herbal" is available on line and very good for the effect of herbs.


You have to read between the lines sometimes, though; as sollers says, some of these are euphemisms or have overtones you may not have picked up. It used to be said that 'borage giveth corage', but the 'corage' meant was the between-the-sheets kind, for men!

Yeah, to amplify on your point of checking for location, the author would need to watch out for New World herbs in a modern magical encyclopaedia- black cohosh definitely doesn't work in a mediaeval Europeanish setting, and I suspect many of the others don't either. Looking at an old herbal like Culpeper is probably a better idea, to see which ones are mentioned at all and what properties were associated with them at the time, as opposed to "after a few hundred more years of memetic drift".



According to my references St. John's Wort was known as a general-purpose healing herb in antiquity. However, today "modern herbal studies have shown that the medicinal properties of St. Johns Wort actually do have a relaxing effect when ingested" and "today, is often called the natural Prozac."

My research has been on the actual, medicinal benefits, usually as verified by modern (or at least post-Medieval) research. So not much help, there.

Pennyroyal is known to be an abortefacient; which may, or may not, be an affect she intended. Any herbally-knowledgable woman would probably know that.

Of course it achieves this affect by *being poisonous* and it is a fine line between "enough to kill the foetus" and "enough to kill the woman".

(Pennyroyal tea tastes a lot like mint tea; trying this at home may be hazardous to health)

Older herbalists such as Nicolas Culpeper might list them that way. Kipling did a story about Culpeper and herbs allied with the Planet Mars, iirc.

For herbs that modern readers know are associated with masculinity etc, and that modern readers may have actually tasted, you might try Chinese herbal material. For the most familiar, start in the tea section of Whole Foods etc ... then Chinese sections of catalogs of health food products.

Heh. For easy lists of both Western and Chinese herbs, start with the teas named "Women's something" and "Men's something", and read the list of ingredients on the back of the box. ;-)

One potential problem I can see is that the belief that a given herb is 'masculine' often goes with the notion that it helps men but not women. Herbalism worldwide and through the ages tends very much to be a matter of matching the remedy to the individual, so for a woman to use 'masculine' herbs might be considered extremely unwise.

You might try browsing through one of the really old herbals? Gerard's Herball or General Historie of Plantes is available online in several places, and with the beautiful woodcuts it's a pleasure to rootle around in.

I highly recommend the Herb Book by John Lust. I have used it as both a writing reference and a health reference for decades. It is compact and very well cross-referenced; you can look herbs up by use as well as common or latin name. Includes some brief notes on folklore along with modern usage, lots of glossaries, etc. Looks like it can be bought as an e-book now too.

Also second the recommendation of Mrs. Grieves' for an online source.

A lot of warriors would add something that's a stimulant to increase their speed of reaction, plus something that has the reputation of being a painkiller. They might also throw in something that will help the immune system deal with cuts and wounds--something we might call an antibiotic, an immune system stimulant, or a cleansing tonic.