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Basic Information

A herbalist is one who practices herbalism for a living. This may be by trade or retail (acting as a sort of primitive pharmacist) or as an end user - and therefore a type of healer.

The job requires sufficient botany to identify plants and the skills to find, harvest and prepare them - as well as preserving any that keep and knowing what can be kept and how.

A literate herbalist may record his knowledge in a journal known as a herbal and may pay good money for any herbals that are presented to him. Of course, in the pre-patent era, much of the information may be heavily encoded, deceptive or incomplete. Others may keep all their knowledge in their head. A herbal may also contain information on the artificial cultivation of herbs (and/or where to find them in the wild).

Where a guild system exists, this is highly likely to be a guilded profession.

In many settings, the herb business and the spice trade may overlap - historically many spices were used for medical purposes and many herbs make for decent seasoning - so the herbalists may belong to the spicer's guild, or the apothecaries, or hang out with the barber surgeons - or even have their own operation.

A herbalist may also have a side line in selling cordials and similar soft drinks, probably (at least at first) as a way of disposing of unwanted raw materials - but just as likely as a way of making an income. The idea of a 'health drink' is also possible, and appears in a variety of eras.

Depending on a variety of social factors, some herbalists may sell less reputable herbs such as recreational drugs, contraceptives, aphrodisiacs and poisons. Or you may need special contacts to buy that sort of thing. Or they may just sell them and then pass your name and description onto law enforcement (or local organized crime, depending…).

A herbalism may also find himself retained by an alchemist who wishes to meddle in spyragic.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Herbalism was a normal part of medicine until at least the mid 19th century - and it still plays a significant role in Vedic and Taoist medicine.
  • A herbalist is likely to be a significant source of medical care in low (or no) magic settings that lack formal medicine.
  • Likewise, a source of fetch quests.
  • They may also be a good person to identify an unusual plant - or the party herbalist may spot that the plant life in their area is somehow wrong…
    • By way of an adventure hook, a civilian herbalist may pass word to the PCs that something is very wierd with the flora in the area … leaving them to investigate what is causing it.
    • Some of the more adventurous ones might pay good money for samples of unusual plants in the hope of finding useful properties. This may be a sign that they are not good people to approach for treatment.
      • Or a completely reputable herbalist might need components from an inaccessible place, or components that fight back when harvested.
    • Might be useful developement if the PCs sell their finds to a not apparently altruistic herbalist and later find that he is offering free treatment to the local poor … if what they have sold is wierd enough, further adventures may ensue.
  • Preserved herbs may be of use as treasure.
  • As may herbals.
  • PCs may be sent to find a specific herbalist and accquire knowledge from them (one way or another) - or to hunt down a legendary herbal. Possibly causes include a cure to a re-emergent historical disease, the drugging or poisoning of an otherwise immune monster or some other rare feat of herbalism. Possibly even the cultivation of a specific herb that is very hard to grow outside its native range.
  • A PC with herbalist skills may well be able to make himself very popular by trading knowledge as he goes - the recipies from the guildsmen of one region, traded for those of another to everyone's benefit.
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