EXCELLENT herbs had our fathers of old -
Excellent herbs to ease their pain -
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane -
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue,
(Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you-
Cowslip, Melitot, Rose of the Sun,
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.
Wonderful tales had our fathers of old -
Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars -
The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
Pat as a sum in division it goes -
(Every herb had a planet bespoke) -
Who but Venus should govern the Rose ?
Who but Jupiter own the Oak ?
Simply and gravely the facts are told
In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.
(from) Our Fathers of Old Rudyard Kipling
Depending on the setting this may be the core of traditional medicine, part of a suite of techniques or merely a source of quack remedies.
Historically the use of plant based therapies goes back to the dawn of time and was a normal part of medicine prior to the development of modern synthetic chemistry … and even in the synthetic era, many pharmaceutical companies are searching the biotae of the world for drugs that can be extracted or copied from natural sources1. In a future where wet biotechnology is the norm, pharm crops may be specifically developed to express useful compounds in fruit or other parts. In an after the end setting, herbalists may use the feral descendants of pharm crops in their practice.
Herbalistic preparations may be delivered in pretty much any conformation known to man, from compresses to enemas depending on the application and requirement … they are not, however, safely injectable.
An indicative list of such preparations would include:
- Tincture: Prepared by steeping chopped herbs in alcoholic spirits2.
- Herbal Wine: Prepared by steeping chopped herbs in (usually white) wine.
- Maceration: Roughly chopped herbs applied directly to the patient.
- Lozenge or pill: Finely chopped or powdered herbs formed into a capsule.
- Salve or ointment: Finely chopped herbs mixed into a cream made from oil and/or wax and rubbed on to the patient.
- Tea or infusion: Prepared by boiling herbs in water.
- Decoction: Prepared by steeping chopped herbs in water and then simmering until the volume of the steep is reduced by a set proportion (generally 1/3 to 2/3).
- Pastille: Either something very like a lozenge, or a tablet of dried herbs that is burned and the smoke inhaled.
- Cordial or syrup: Herbs suspended in a viscous, sugary preparation, typically made from fruit juice, often prepared in a similar way to a decoction.
Many modern liqueurs are also descended from herbal preparations - in many cases mixing aspects of the cordial and the tincture.
- Culpepper's 1653 "Complete Herbal" online - one of the seminal works of English herbalism. Please do NOT attempt to medicate yourself based on this reference work.
- A fan made supplement for the Harnmaster fRPG from Lythia.com, dealing with herbalism in that setting.
- Penn State Medieval Garden - or, more specifically, their inventory of plants, each one with a stat sheet indicating herbalistic applications for them.
- Herbs for the Mediaeval Household for Cooking, Healing and Divers Uses Freeman, Margaret B. (1943) … another herbal offered as a free pdf by the rights owner.
Game and Story Use
- The science of ethnobotany concerns studying herbalistic practices to identify drugs suitable for full medicalisation.
- Herbal medicine is likely to be normal any time before the mid 19th century.
- A GM who wants herbalism to play a big part in their campaign would be well advised to prepare a library of herbs for PC herbalists, together with their effects, where they are found and how they are prepared. Such writers could consult works like Culpepper's, or a modern herbal … or just make it up.
- Effects should suit the desired power level of herbalism in the campaign.
- You then have a free pass to add herbs as you make them up - the PC's knowledge was never total and he or she can always "discover" a new herb … maybe even one that only grows in the area they've just moved to.