Year One, Lesson Five
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Welcome back, students! If you were tired of all the general theory in the beginning of the year, prepare for things to get very practical and specific! We’re going to be going over four different plants today, and touch on some parts of their history and usage. Unlike last lesson where we talked about roses, we won’t include the entire laundry list of each plant’s properties, though we will note the most useful and common ones. We will also talk about planting specifications and tips for growing or harvesting them! You’ll notice that all of the plants we’re covering today are non-magical plants, despite the fact that they are relatively common ingredients in potions. The other thing these plants have in common is that they should be simple enough for any aspiring herbologist to grow.
Roots and Shoots (Valerian)
Valeriana officinalis is a plant native to Europe and parts of Asia, although it has been introduced to North America as well over time. Like other non-magical plants, Muggles are aware of its existence, though unaware of its full powers. Both the roots and the sprigs of this plant can be used. The roots, as you likely know, are the part of the plant that grows underground and keeps the plant anchored as well as supplies the plant with water. The sprigs, on the other hand, grow above ground and are the part that either bear leaves or flowers. Interestingly, in this case, each of these have different magical and non-magical properties attributed to them, so we will discuss those properties separately!
Valerian can grow to be five feet tall and forms bunches of attractive white flowers. This plant thrives in the sun and, in best-case scenarios, requires at least seven hours of sunlight. When planting, be sure to check that your soil is in the correct pH range for this plant, as valerian prefers soil that is quite acidic, between 4.5 and 5, and bury the seed about an eighth of an inch down. It is best to harvest the roots in the fall or spring. The sprigs, on the other hand, can be harvested at any time. Though, if you desire or require flowers on those sprigs, you will need to wait until the summertime, as these plants bloom between June and July.
Now, onto the properties! Valerian possesses sedative powers, and, when speaking specifically of the root, it is very effective in in calming draughts and sleeping potions. There is also evidence to suggest that potions brewed with the root have some beneficial effect on those suffering from epileptic fits, but this research is still in its beginning stages. Its sprigs, in a similar manner, are used in several sleeping potions. Interestingly enough, this plant will attract cats and drive them into a frenzy, just as with catnip. However, dogs can be repelled with it, particularly when it is made into an essential oil or brewed in a potion. There also exists a Mediterranean plant that goes by the common name “red valerian,” but it is not part of the same genus and does not share very many of the same properties or uses.
In terms of non-magical properties, there is some overlap in that the roots are used on their own to promote sleep and help treat epilepsy in non-magical preparations. Valerian also serves to aid in issues like heart palpitations and poor eyesight.
A Lily by any Other Name
The lovely lily plant comes in nearly as wide a variety as roses, which we discussed last week. They come in an array of colors ranging anywhere from blue and purple to white and yellow and can be one of many different shapes. However, some of you may have a mental image of lilies that is not entirely correct. True lilies come from the genus (or scientific classification) of Lilium, and grow from bulbs, despite the fact that many other plants are called lilies, though don’t fit this category. Of course, that may not mean much to the average First Year and beginning plant enthusiast. Suffice it to say that many groups of plants that have the word “lily” in their common titles are not lilies. This includes plants like daylilies, water lilies, peace lilies, and lilies of the valley.
With this in mind, true lilies grow all over Europe and Asia, and in the northern parts of North America. They can grow anywhere between two and six feet tall. When planting, make sure that you have placed the flower in an area where it will be able to receive between five and six hours of sunlight, and ideally with soil that has a pH balance between 5.5 and 6.5, though there is a little wiggle room outside of these margins that you can work with. You can plant the bulbs around four to eight inches below the ground. Water whenever you see that the soil is dry — this is usually every three days if they are in a greenhouse away from the elements. Something else important to note is that when the season turns towards winter, and the leaves of the lily die off and wilt, make sure to let them finish the process and fall off naturally, rather than prune them. This allows the lily bulbs to prepare for their dormant stage throughout the winter.
While it may seem odd for such a pretty plant, lilies are actually best known for their poisonous uses. The degree to which their poison is effective differs between the hundred or so varieties, but that is a topic better discussed in Potions class. For now, just know that you shouldn’t be eating any. These plants are also highly poisonous to cats and Kneazles, so be wary of where your pets are wandering.
Despite their grimmer uses, some lilies can be used in conjunction with other ingredients to regulate heart rate and some roots can be made into a paste to treat burns. Finally, there are some potions which use small amounts of lilies in order to improve the scent of the concoction. An interesting fact to note overall is that lilies appear to react extraordinarily well with magic, and can even be stimulated to faster or even more luscious growth via magic. Ah, I saw your ears perk up at that! No, there is no spell that can completely substitute good, old-fashioned elbow grease and care, but there are an assortment of spells that can help, one of which we will discuss at the end of this lesson.
Actually a relative of the lily, asphodel is native to the Mediterranean but easily grown in greenhouses under the supervision of a herbologist. Asphodelus aestivus, or summer asphodel, is the species we will be primarily concerning ourselves with today, though there are a few others of lesser uses in magical circles. The plant grows between one and five feet on average and is very common in the wild of its native area.
For ideal growth, be sure to plant the seeds in an area where they get at least partial sun — although note that contrary to the usual distinction for partial sun (which we will talk about in Lesson Eight), it does not matter when the hours of sunlight occur — and in roughly neutral soil. A pH balance of 6 to 6.5 is preferable, but due to the alkalinity of Mediterranean soil in some areas, a higher level is likely fine! Because it grows so commonly on its own in the wild, this plant is rather easy to grow as long as you do not overwater it. Make sure your plant has soil that can drain (like a pot with a hole in the bottom) and water only when the soil is visibly dry.
The uses of asphodel largely center around the roots of the plant, not the flower. It is used in potions to make a Sticking Solution that rivals the Sticking Charm, Astrictus, and is also used in strong sleeping potions such as the Draught of the Living Death. In addition to these traditional uses, Ocamier Flinson, a renowned herboogist in the wizarding community, has discovered many others, though few have undergone enough testing and replication to be widespread. Those that have become widely accepted include the use in controversial skin-lightening potions and in potions to aid regrowing skin, though only the first shoots of the plant should be harvested for this purpose.
Tying it all Together (Knotgrass)
Also known as cowgrass, hogweed, and many other names, Polygonum aviculare is a common weed found all over the globe. Like many weeds, it will grow nearly as much as allowed; in prime conditions it can grow up to six feet or be just a few inches tall if the area is more inhospitable. While the flowers of this weed are not presently known to be useful for any purpose, the plant blooms in May and can continue to sport these little white flowers (though occasionally flowers can be red or pink) until the fall.
Like asphodel, the specifications for planting are not terribly exact due to its ability to thrive in a large range of climates, soil specifications, and levels of sunlight. However, to get the best smack for your Sickle, it is best to plant in neutral soil (around 6 to 7), and in an area that gets at least three hours of sun, though it does not matter if that is during the morning or the afternoon. Lastly, you may water nearly every day, as long as soil still absorbs water. You should have little issue with overwatering!
Commonly present at weddings, particularly in ages past, knotgrass is known to be symbolic of the unification of two people. More modernly, knotgrass mead is consumed at weddings as a nod of recognition to this old tradition. However, we know this symbolism has more literal roots. Knotgrass is a key ingredient in Polyjuice Potion, which allows a person to temporarily take the form of another. Apart from its more illicit uses, knotgrass is used in Shortening Solutions and potions that de-age. Interestingly, it was used in olden days in some love and fertility potions, though more potent substitutes have been found since.
Helpful Hocus Pocus
Now for the spell I told you about earlier. The Growth-Starting Charm was developed by Calla Evora in the early 1900s. This Brazilian housewitch was attempting to enter a plant-growing contest with far too little time to prepare. Still, she would have rather eaten a bowl of Flobberworm mucus than let her rival and next-door-neighbor, Delfina Narciso, win for the sixth year running. Unfortunately, her amaryllis were never going to beat her opponent’s prize winning corsage orchids without a little help, as bugs had ravaged her first crop and her second attempt had barely budded yet. She didn’t want them blooming overnight, as that would be far too obvious and would result in disqualification. So it was then that this charm was born!
This spell may be a bit beyond you at the moment, but with some practice you will be able to get some results from it. It is weaker than its cousin, the Herbivicus Charm, and its effects are not instantaneous (or even close), but is much simpler and gentler on plants and causes a small “boost” in growth. However, do be warned that if you put too much willpower into the spell you can easily exhaust your plant, causing it to bloom quickly, wither, and die shortly after. It is best to use this spell sparingly, either when time is short, or as a last-ditch attempt for plants that will surely die anyway if additional measures are not taken. After casting this spell, be sure to adjust your care for the plant accordingly. Because the spell accelerates their growth, they may need more frequent pruning, watering, and/or application of dragon dung (or other compost) in the following week or two.
This spell often works best on plants that grow from bulbs, due to the fact that they store up a large amount of resources and can handle a sudden growth spurt a bit better. However, there are also some plants that just react with magic in general (this spell included) particularly well. The spell’s details are as follows:
That is all the time we have for today, my eager young herbologists! This list of plants hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the wonderful herbs I have to share with you, so be prepared to discuss some more next week. Good luck with your midterm and make sure to grab your homework on the way out.
Sprig: A portion of a plant that can include the stem, the leaves, and/or the flowers.
Original lesson written by Professor Lily Tudor
Additional portions written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here, here, here, here, and here
At least some content in this article is derived from information featured in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Spoilers will be present within the article.
Valerian is a mundane plant with magical properties.
Growing Valerians is covered in third year Herbology classes at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
- Behind the scenes
- Notes and references
- Jupiter’s Beard Plant Care – Tips On Growing And Caring For Red Valerian
- Ceranthus Jupiter’s Beard Plant
- Growing Jupiter’s Beard
- Care of Red Valerian Plants/Jupiter’s Beard
- Jupiter’s Beard, Red Valerian
- Jupiter’s Beard
Valerian is used as an ingredient in Treacle fudge. Valerian roots are used in Potion-making; they are one of the ingredients of the Draught of Living Death and the Draught of Peace. Sprigs of valerian are used in the Forgetfulness Potion, the Sleeping Draught and the Fire-Breathing Potion. Rubeus Hagrid grew Valerian in his garden.
Behind the scenes
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) was known in medieval times as All Heal, was recognised for its sedative and antispasmodic properties, and so was used as a sleep and nerve remedy and later as a treatment for epilepsy.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (video game) (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- The Road to Hogwarts Sweepstakes
- Fantastic Beasts: Cases from the Wizarding World
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
Notes and references
Miranda Goshawk · Quiac Marinus · Beaumont Marjoribanks · Nepali wizard · Gethsemane Prickle · Selina Sapworthy · Phyllida Spore · Tilden Toots · Hadrian Whittle · Sir Winogrand
Herbology Award · Herbology Lesson Cup · Herbology Race Cup · Herbology Store
One · Two · Three · Four · Five · Six · Seven · Professor’s Office
Herbert Beery · Pomona Sprout · Neville Longbottom
Encyclopedia of Toadstools · Flesh-Eating Trees of the World · Goshawk’s Guide to Herbology · Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean · One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi · Winogrand’s Wondrous Water Plants
Aconite · Asphodel · Belladonna · Bouncing Bulb · Bubotuber · Bubotuber pus · Chinese Chomping Cabbage · Devil’s Snare · Dittany · Fanged Geranium · Fire Seed Bush · Flitterbloom · Flutterby bush · Fluxweed · Gillyweed · Ginger · Knotgrass · Leaping Toadstool · Mandrake · Mimbulus Mimbletonia · Moly · Nettle · Puffapod · Screechsnap · Self-fertilising shrub · Shrivelfig · Snargaluff · Spiky Bush · Spiky Prickly Plant · Stinksap · Umbrella Flower · Valerian · Vampiric vegetation · Venomous Tentacula · Walking plant · Wormwood · Wiggentree · Wild rice
Valerian Roots make a gentle sleepy tea
It’s easy to grow valerian. Though it can get tall and can be knocked down by wind, it’s generally tolerant of both heavy and light soil. The flowers smell gorgeous in summer and attract bees and butterflies. In autumn you dig up some of the roots to use.
Valerian is used as a mild sedative and is taken as a tea or in capsules. The way it works is by gradually making you drowsy and you fall into a natural sleep. Best of all, there’s no hangover in the morning like you’d have with conventional sleeping pills.
In its second year valerian can grow over five feet tall
Valerian for better sleep
Valerian is non-habit-forming which is a good thing if you have irregular sleep patterns. You use second year roots for this purpose and once dried they can be simmered into a strong-tasting sleepy tea. Blend valerian with better tasting calming herbs such as chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm if the flavour is too strong for you.
The taste is why some people prefer to take valerian in capsules. You can fill empty capsules with your own dried herbs and keep them stored for up to a year.
Cats adore Valerian in the same way that they love Catnip
Cats go crazy for Valerian
Valerian has a second use that might surprise you. Its pungent scent is irresistible to many cats and they’ll go absolutely mad for it! It causes cats to start drooling and rolling around until they’re properly silly. If you have a cat that isn’t keen on catnip (it does happen) it’s good to know that Valerian can have the same effect on them.
Giving your kitty a little valerian before taking them into stressful situations can calm them down.
First season Valerian leaves grow to about 2.5 to 3 feet tall
If you have space at the back of a border, definitely grow valerian. I started mine off as seeds that I sowed in spring. I let them grow in the seed tray until they had true leaves before planting them into large modules. They were about three inches tall when I planted them outside.
That first year the Valerian plants grew about 2.5 feet in height and then died down for the winter. They regrew this year sending up new leaves and tall flower spikes with beautifully scented flowers. You can increase the medicinal strength of the Valerian root by removing the flower stalks but I left them on for the bees.
2017 update: I’ve been growing Valerian for six years now and can add that it does well in both clay soil and lighter soil. I’ve given it the occasional mulch of composted manure but have left it to do it’s own thing most of the time. What you should be aware of is that in a good situation it can grow to five feet in height and needs staking. Otherwise you’ll find your plants knocked over by both the wind and their own weight.
You don’t need seed to grow valerian. The plants can send out runners that you can transplant elsewhere and you can also use root divisions to create more plants. In spring or autumn dig up the plant and chop it into a few pieces with leaf, crown, and roots attached. Replant and you’ll have more plants. Valerian also self seeds so you can transplant the volunteers if you wish.
Valerian grows wild throughout Europe and the British Isles. Image via Flickr
Harvesting & Drying
Last week, and after nearly eighteen months of growth, I harvested two of my plants. To grow valerian is an investment but a worthwhile one!
Valerian has long spindly roots that dig up easily but take a lot of cleaning. I can recommend spraying them with the hose to loosen any hard clumps of soil.
Scissors are a great way of cutting the roots off the plant and then give them another wash afterward. Next, cut them to about 1/4″ in length for drying. You can compost the rest of the plant or if there are enough roots attached, you can replant it for next year. I’ve tried it and it works, especially if you remove most of the leaves and cut the plant down to about 6-8″ in height.
Valerian roots are long and stringy and can be difficult to clean
The roots need to be thoroughly cleaned before they’re cut up and dried
Drying Valerian for Tea
There are at least two ways to dry Valerian. The first is to spread the pieces out on drying racks and to let them dry naturally in a dim and airy place in the home. A drying cupboard if you have one would be ideal but I’ve dried Valerian in my garage and it works fine too. It can take up to several weeks for them to dry this way — you know they’re dry when the pieces are dark and brittle.
The other way is to use a food dehydrator. Each model is different so follow the instructions that yours comes with as far as temperature and time. It’s likely that your Valerian roots will be fully dried within a day this way.
Valerian roots laid out to dry
Preparing the Tea
To make a Valerian tea you prepare it as a decoction — basically you need to boil it. Place 2 tsp of the dried herb or 5 tsp of the fresh herb into four cups of boiling water. Boil for a minute then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let it seep for half an hour before straining out the liquid. Drink 2-3 cups before you want to go to sleep.
If you’re having sleeping issues due to a cold or flu, these herbs can help you recover.
Dried Valerian available on Amazon: Frontier cut & sifted Valerian Root Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag
Jupiter’s Beard Plant Care – Tips On Growing And Caring For Red Valerian
For spring and summer color and ease of care, add red valerian plants (also known as Jupiter’s beard) to the full sun herb garden or flower bed. Botanically called Centranthus ruber, Jupiter’s beard adds tall and bushy color in the landscape and is ideal as an easy-care background border plant.
Ceranthus Jupiter’s Beard Plant
The Jupiter’s beard plant reaches 3 feet in height, often the same in width, and displays profuse panicles of fragrant red flowers. Colors of white and pink are found in some cultivars of the wild red valerian plants. Native to the Mediterranean, the Jupiter’s beard has successfully transitioned to many areas of the United States and attracts butterflies and the all-important pollinators
to the area in which it is planted.
Leaves and roots of growing Jupiter’s beard are edible and may be enjoyed in salads. As with all edible plants, avoid eating chemically treated specimens.
Growing Jupiter’s Beard
Jupiter’s beard plant can be propagated from cuttings in summer and often re-seeds the same year. Seeds of Centranthus Jupiter’s beard planted in early spring will flower the same year, in spring to early summer.
This plant flourishes in many types of soil, including poor soil, as long as it is well draining. Red valerian plants also enjoy a sunny location in the garden but will tolerate some partial shade as well.
Care of Red Valerian Plants/Jupiter’s Beard
The care of red valerian is minimal, making it an enjoyable specimen in the garden. Part of its care includes thinning seedlings to a manageable level, depending on how many more of the Jupiter’s beard plant you want in the flower bed. Deadhead flowers of growing Jupiter’s beard before seeds form to decrease re-seeding.
Care of red valerian includes clipping the plant back by one-third in late summer. After this renewal pruning, it is not necessary to prune the Jupiter’s beard plant again until spring. Other care of red valerian includes watering when the soil is extremely dry, but when rainfall is average, additional water is usually not necessary.
Jupiter’s Beard, Red Valerian
Jupiter’s beard, also called red valerian, was described as a “cheerful and blowzy plant” when it first turned up in England in the sixteenth century. Plants are often sold as V. coccineus.
Description of Jupiter’s beard: Fragrant, 1/2-inch scarlet to red flowers grow in dense clusters on 2- to 3-foot stems. They begin blooming in spring and continue over a long period if old flowering stems are removed.
How to grow Jupiter’s beard: Red valerian is not fussy, needing only well-drained soil in full sun, although they will tolerate slight shade. Alkaline soil promotes the best growth. Plants do not grow well if the soil is overly rich. Flowering stems should be cut down to promote new flowers. If flowering stops due to hot summer weather, shear plants back by one-half to one-third to promote another round of bloom in late summer. Valerian self-sows readily and seedlings pop up all over the garden. If this is not desirable, simply hoe or pull out unwanted plants or remove old flowers before they can form seeds.
Propagating Jupiter’s beard: By division or seed.
Uses for Jupiter’s beard: This plant is best when massed and is often naturalized along old walls and rock outcrops. It makes a long-lasting cut flower and is a good plant to supply butterflies with nectar.
Jupiter’s beard related varieties: Centranthus ruber var. alba has white flowers; C. ruber var. coccineus has deep red flowers; and C. ruber var. roseus bears rose-colored flowers.
Scientific name for Jupiter’s beard: Centranthus ruber
Want more gardening information? Try:
- Perennial Flowers: Find out more about how to grow and care for perennial flowers, which come in all thinkable shapes, sizes and colors.
- Annual Flowers: Learn more about annuals and their glorious, must-have summer colors.
- Perennials: Discover many species of flowers that will return year after year to the diligent gardener.
- Gardening: Read our helpful articles and get tips and ideas for your garden.
A young flower cluster nestles amongst yellow oxalis. Detail of flower cluster & foliage position.
Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber), is also referred to as Keys to Heaven or Red Valerian, and is a flowering perennial with fragrant, dome-shaped clusters of small dark-pink or white flowers atop 2- to 3-foot stems. It grows equally well in bright shade to full sun and blooms from late spring to mid summer. A member of the Valerianaceae family, centranthus originally comes from the Mediterranean region like many other plants which do so well in Davis. Jupiter’s beard is also drought-resistant enough to be used in water-saving xeric landscape designs. As beautiful as it is durable, Jupiter’s beard sports blue-green lance-shaped foliage on smooth stems in opposite pairs. Each stem bears dense terminal clusters of electric, rose-red flowers throughout the growing season — it is easy to see why centranthus is sometimes know as scarlet lightning. Though it easily adapts to either dry or moist soil, occasional watering promotes heavy blooming. As flowers begin to fade, plants should be pruned back to the main clump of foliage to promote continuous blooming and keep the plant compact. Flower heads left on the plant will self seed easily in moist soil, but new starts can be easily plucked; because it self-seeds so freely and blooms with such frequency, Jupiter’s Beard can be considered invasive.
For a listing of other plants found growing in Davis, visit our Town Flora.