WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A MEMORY OF LIGHT
This article looks at the herbs and (few) other medicines in the Wheel of Time series. While the Wheel of Time ‘setting’ is equivalent to the 17th to 18th centuries, judging by the social structure, fashions and inventions, a time when many minerals and animal parts were used as medication, Jordan has followed the late 20th century attitude to Western traditional medicine and has featured almost exclusively herbs. (Except for a few preparations, it is obvious from the name of the medication or the context that they are plants). Of the fifty six medicinal items mentioned in the series so far, eight have a name very similar or identical to that of a real world plant but a different medicinal action; twelve have the medicinal action of a real world plant; nineteen have the same name and action of a real world plant; and four have the name of one real world plant and the action of another. Thirteen have no similarities with the name of a real world plant and it was not possible to determine by the action which real plant might be referred to.
Alhuin Guenna, who lived in a large city gleaned (gathered) at least some of her own herbs. Many herbalists, unless wealthy, would do the same: source as much locally, either collected personally or by local gatherers, as possible; and purchase or trade for herbs from more distant places.
Preparations used are teas, tinctures, ointments, salves and poultices. Many spices are, or were, also used in real world medicines but spices are only mentioned in food and wine. However Chesa did prepare warm milk and spices for Egwene to settle her nervous stomach (Lord of Chaos, The Amyrlin Is Raised).
Unlike other Aes Sedai, the best Aes Sedai healers have respect for herbs. Nynaeve, of course, was trained as a herbalist, but Samitsu was happy enough to work with herbalists. She thought that herbs might help Dobraine and ordered a Reader be brought to supervise his convalescence (Crossroads of Twilight Prologue). In the Last Battle, herbs were used wherever possible, to save the channellers’ strength.
Herbal preparations are sometimes used unethically. Poisoning people is one major unethical use, but others are: to control people (prevent them from channelling, coerce them) or to punish them (with terrible tastes, skin irritation).
The herbs will be examined in alphabetical order. A few unknown items worthy of comment appear at the end.
Nynaeve wanted to use acem for the lump on Thom’s head (The Shadow Rising, Need). In Arad Doman she used it internally combined with feverbane for a child who had the white shakes (symptoms: coughing, fever, weight loss, pallor) (The Gathering Storm, Rivers of Shadow). Acem could be something like witch-hazel (Hammamelis virginiana) bark and leaves, which has been used to reduces swelling externally and bleeding internally.
Andilay root is used for fatigue (The Eye of the World, The Caemlyn Road); it clears the head and eases tired muscles. Nynaeve’s herbal draft for Alanna at Shayol Ghul contained andilay:
She had mixed a draught of herbs for Alanna and forced it through her lips. It wouldn't do much, but every little bit might help. It would keep Alanna's strength up, help her with the pain, keep her heart from giving out as Nynaeve worked.The name may be a joke name. Unlike in the later books, the herbs mentioned in The Eye of the World often have jokey names. Andale is a Mexican expression meaning "come on" or "keep moving." Too much hurrying leaves you tired and needing andilay root so you can hurry some more.
A Memory of Light, The Last Battle
The andilay, Nynaeve realized, remembering the herb she'd used to give the woman strength. It brought her out of her stupor. It awakened her.
A Memory of Light, To Awaken
Asping rot is a potent poison – a drop can kill according to Egwene – and it kills quickly and peacefully within an hour of ingestion in a (rather bitter-tasting) tea. Verin drank the tea in sips to kill herself slowly enough that she could pass on her research on the Shadow to Egwene and remain coherent while she did so. The poison appears to have strong narcotic or sedative properties, since she soon began to yawn and then gently lost consciousness and died (The Gathering Storm, A Visit from Verin Sedai).
While the word ‘rot’ implies a fungal poison – and many fungi certainly are poisonous – most fungi cause very painful deaths. The effect of asping rot is similar to that of an overdose of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), which incidentally is not absorbed quickly by the stomach, but it doesn’t have the lethal potency of asping rot and usually would require more than a drop to kill.
Asping alludes to asp, the venomous snake said to be used in Ancient Egypt for executing criminals who were thought to deserve a kinder death than that from regular executions. Cleopatra was said by Plutarch to have tested various poisons (on others, naturally – rank has its privileges!) and thought that the asp’s venom, which made the victim sleepy and weak, yet without pain, was the least terrible way to die. This is the death she chose herself when she suicided. Asping rot has a very similar physical effect although it is a plant, not snake venom.
The Calabar bean (Physostigma venenosum) or Ordeal bean also has interesting parallels with asping rot. It is very poisonous and the ground beans infused in water were used in West Africa as an ordeal to prove innocence or guilt:
If the prisoner vomits within half an hour he is accounted innocent, but if he succumbs he is found guilty.It generally kills within an hour.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
The explanation for the survival of the innocent is that they trustingly drank the poison straight down and their body reacted to the rapid dose with intense vomiting and diarrhoea, thus purging the poison from their system before it was absorbed. The guilt sipped their poison and this slower dose was absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract without being violently ejected as a large dose would be and they died of cardiac arrest (Malcolm Stuart, Colour Dictionary of Herbs and Herbalism). (Mind you, it all seems a bit rough and ready!)
Verin’s actions in sipping her poison not only allowed her to hand on her report and explanations, but reflect that she that she accepted her guilt in swearing to the Dark One and for her actions (however reluctant) as part of the Black Ajah and was prepared to pay the price.
Nynaeve created the impression of blackwasp nettles brushing Moghedien to tame Moghedien to the a’dam in Tel’aran’rhiod (The Fires of Heaven, To Caemlyn). Nettles sting when fresh, and blackwasp emphasises the strength of the sting.
Moiraine used blisterleaf on Lan in an effort to get a reaction from him (New Spring, Some Tricks of the Power). It grows in a patch. From Lan’s thoughts, the plant caused a rapid skin reaction (irritant contact dermatitis). Poison ivy and similar plants cause allergic contact dermatitis, and such rashes take a day or two to appear and usually last longer than irritant dermatitis (Peter B. Kaufman, Natural Products from Plants).
Blisterleaf slows the spread of the poison from Thakan’dar blades:
"The blisterleaf slows the taint left by the cursed metal."…"I don't know how it dampens the poison," Melten said. "But it does. It's no natural poison, mind you. You can't suck it free."Blisterleaf is perhaps being used as a counter-irritant: “fighting poison with poison”, or at least with something else that is inimical to flesh.
A Memory of Light, Prologue
A hot poultice made with the water from boiled blue goatflowers will greatly improve the healing of a broken bone:
“After you give him the boneknit,” Mother Guenna was saying, “you wrap the broken limb in towelling soaked in water where you’ve boiled blue goatflowers - only the blue, mind!” - Nynaeve nodded impatiently -“and as hot as he can stand it. One part blue goatflowers to ten of water, no weaker. Replace the towels as soon as they stop steaming, and keep it up all day. The bone will knit twice as fast as with boneknit alone, and twice as strong.”Comfrey has blue flowers and is used in a hot poultice to repair broken bones. It is also called boneknit (see below).
- The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft
A tea of bluespine has no medicinal value but tastes very bitter and is used as punishment or coercion by Wise Ones (The Fires of Heaven, Among the Wise Ones). Bluespine sounds as though it could be a cactus, especially considering the arid environment of the Waste. Some cacti are blue in colour.
A tea of bluewort settles a queasy stomach (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). The similarly named blueweed (Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss) has been used as a medicinal plant at times, but not for nausea.
Boneknit is ‘given’ (ie probably taken internally; if it were used externally, Alhuin would have said ‘apply’) for bone fractures. It works better if used in conjunction with an external application of hot blue goatflower tea (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). The herb comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is also called boneknit and was used in hot poultices (Paul Schauenberg and Ferdinand Paris, Guide to Medicinal Plants) and for bone fractures in the Middle Ages. It is/was also taken internally. Comfrey has blue flowers. Perhaps Jordan has split the characteristics of one real world herb into two herbs, boneknit and goatflowers?
The US plant boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is not used for broken bones but for fevers such as break-bone fever (dengue fever) (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal). Egwene had break-bone fever as a child and Healing her was the first time Nynaeve channelled.
Strong brandy was used as a “painkiller” in extremis by Talmanes in the battle for Caemlyn.
"You said this is part of the cure for the pain. What is the other part?"Alcohol has had a long history of use as a painkiller. It does bring some relief due to its ability to depress or slow down the central nervous system but as Talmanes observed it’s far from ideal in battle because it slows the reflexes. With nothing else on hand to help him, and collapse a surety otherwise, it was worth the risk.
Melten unhooked a metal flask from his belt and handed it over. "Shienaran brandy, full strength."
"It's not a good idea to drink in combat, man."
"Take it," Melten said softly. "Keep the flask and drink it deep, my Lord. Or come the next bell, you won't be standing."
Talmanes hesitated, then took the flask and took a long swallow. It burned like the wound…
Melten's flask of brandy was gone, long since drained to deaden what it could. His mind was already as fuzzy as he dared allow.
A Memory of Light, Prologue
This plant isn’t used, but Mat was compared with someone who had been enmeshed with one:
"Light, Mat," he said. "You look like you tangled with a briarstich patch and came out sore."It’s a reference to the trickster Br’er Rabbit of the Uncle Remus stories manipulating the fox and wolf to throw him into a briar patch so he can escape them. Trickster Mat had just escaped the gholam and been told the Aes Sedai were leaving when Thom made his remark. Briars are very thorny plants, usually wild roses or brambles, that form a thicket which is very hard to penetrate.
- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting
A bunch of broomweed tied with a yellow ribbon is an emergency signal for the Yellow Ajah. There are a few real world plants called broom and many of them have yellow flowers. One, dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria), yields a strongyellow dye. Broom is thus an appropriate call sign for the Yellow Ajah because even though the Ajah disdains herbs, dye plants such as dyer’s broom would have to be used to get the dye for their yellow clothes and the yellow fringe of their shawls.
Common broom (Cytisus scoparius) grows in places that are “forsaken, stony and untilthed” (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal), which seems appropriate for the Aes Sedai view of Amadicia, and there is a tradition:
that when Joseph and Mary were fleeing to Egypt, the plants of the Broom were cursed by the Virgin because the crackling of their ripe seed pods, as they touched them in passing, risked drawing the attention of the soldiers of Herod to the fugitives.Elayne and Nynaeve were fleeing Tarabon and trying to avoid notice by any Forsaken or Whitecloak. Ronde Macura was afraid of displaying broomweed in her shop window because it is very dangerous for women to deal in herbal cures in Amadicia, lest they be Aes Sedai (witches). Broom plants really were used as brooms in earlier times and, in folklore, brooms (the household objects) of course are associated with witches.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Boiled catfern tastes terrible and is used as punishment eg for lying. Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) tastes sweet, astringent, then nauseating and bitter (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal).
Chainleaf tea settles a queasy stomach (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). There is a chainleaf aster (Aster adnatus).
Corenroot helps make blood (The Dragon Reborn, Maidens of the Spear).
The root is used. It is white and has a sweet taste. In small doses crimsonthorn is a painkiller; in higher doses it slowly kills through paralysing the muscles, as happened to Adeleas and Ispan. The victim would be aware but unable to move. Death, probably by asphyxia, could take hours. Nynaeve does not know of an antidote for a strong dose. In French the name "crimson thorns” or red thorns is used in connection with Holy Thorn, the bush that was used to make Christ’s crown of thorns at his Crucifixion.
Two plants with actions similar to crimsonthorn are:
Yellow jasmine (Gelsemium nitidum), a very poisonous plant which has been used medicinally in the past, including as a painkiller. The root was used, along with the rhizome and bark. It is a spinal depressant and attacks the respiratory control centre of brain:
Consciousness is usually preserved until late in the poisoning, but may be lost soon after the ingestion of a fatal dose.However, the plant with the most similar physiological effect, and with some associations with the name crimsonthorn, is hemlock.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Hemlock is very poisonous and its leaves (sometimes seeds) were used as a painkiller, a sedative and a muscle relaxant. It is still sometimes used medicinally. There is little difference between a therapeutic and a toxic dose and an overdose produces paralysis:
In poisonous doses it produces complete paralysis with loss of speech, the respiratory function is at first depressed and ultimately ceases altogether and death results from asphyxia. The mind remains aware to the last.These symptoms are pretty much as Nynaeve described for crimsonthorn.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
In folklore, the reddish or purple spots on the stem of hemlock are thought to represent “the brand put on Cain’s brow after he had committed murder” (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal). In Shakespeare’s plays hemlock is the poison of intrigue and mystery. The Athenians used hemlock as the state poison for execution in ancient times. Adeleas’ murder and Ispan’s ‘execution’ by crimsonthorn were likewise a mystery until Knife of Dreams.
The name crimsonthorn is linked with Christ’s Crucifixion and hemlock is thought to have been given to Christ along with vinegar and myrrh when He was crucified.
Dogwood tea tastes terrible and was used as punishment/coercion to lift moping (depression?) by Nynaeve (The Shadow Rising, Playing With Fire). There are two US plants named dogwood: burning bush or wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) which has a very bitter taste, and American dogwood (Cornus florida) which is also bitter.
Dogwort aids wound healing (The Dragon Reborn, Maidens of the Spear). There is a plant named dogwort or dogbane (Plectranthus neochilus) but it is not used medicinally.
Not surprisingly, feverbane is used to ease fevers (The Dragon Reborn, Secrets). Nynaeve gave a tea of feverbane and acem to a child with the white shakes (symptoms: coughing, weight loss, pallor, delirium and fever) in The Gathering Storm, Rivers of Shadow. Real world plants with similar names include feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium, not now used for fevers (Paul Schauenberg and Ferdinand Paris, Guide to Medicinal Plants)), feverwort (also called red centaury (Erythraea centaurium)), and fever bush (Garrya fremonti).
Five-finger is combined with ground ivy and sunburst root in an ointment to relieve pain and heal bruises (The Eye of the World, Rescue). Nynaeve used it on Perrin after he was beaten by Whitecloaks. Five-finger or cinquefoil (Potentilla sp, especially Potentilla reptans) is used on bruises and blows and is most likely the plant referred to.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is also called five fingers and is used as a tonic. Five fingered root (also known as dropwort or water hemlock (Oenanthe crocata)) is poisonous and is not used medicinally (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal).
Flatwort tea is used to treat fatigue. It clears the head and eases tired muscles (The Eye of the World, The Caemlyn Road). Lord Agelmar used it in the Last Battle (A Memory of Light, To Feel Wasted) – after keeping long hours and Graendal’s invasion of his dreams probably adversely affected his sleep - and he would not have been the only one. Verbascum thapsus (Great Mullein) is also known as flatwort but is not used for fatigue. Unlike in the later books, the herbs mentioned in The Eye of the World often have jokey names. Flatwort is used for fatigue (feeling flat ;) but it is the name of a real plant and describes the plant’s rosette of leaves.
Flatwort was not the only stimulant used in the Last Battle:
Berelain kept her feet by using some herbs she did not think Rosil would approve.and while they were not specified, they are obviously much stronger or have more dangerous side-effects than flatwort.
A Memory of Light, The Last Battle
The name of the plant would be a description of the plant’s root - a forked root. The plant occurs in Amadicia and Tarabon. It is beginning to be over-collected in the wild. However it can be cultivated:
"I've solved that problem, however, by inducing the local farmers to plant some of their fields in forkroot. By this summer I will need to build something bigger to house this manufactory.Yet these farmers will be growing an inedible crop at a time when famine is gripping the world.
- Knife of Dreams, A Manufactory
After receiving instructions from Ronde Macura, the Seanchan prepare forkroot by roasting and grinding the root. Perrin sees this in action:
The stalls at the front were filled with stacked wooden crates, and in the back, the stalls had been removed except for the uprights that supported the loft. Now men and women were working back there, some using mortars and pestles or sieves at tables, others carefully tending flat pans sitting on metal legs above charcoal braziers, using tongs to turn what appeared to be roots.Once prepared in this way, the drug looks like fine dark grains (Knife of Dreams, As If the World Were Fog).
- Knife of Dreams A Manufactory
Ronde Macura prepared forkroot as a tea (infused in water), as do the Seanchan. The Tower Aes Sedai prepare it as a tincture (infused in alcohol and water) according to Silviana (Knife of Dreams, Prologue), but later Egwene and Leane describe drinking forkroot tea (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea).
The tea has a cool, minty taste.
Forkroot affects channelers much more strongly than those who cannot channel. We have seen the effect on women who can channel: soon after drinking the tea they feel tired, dizzy and weak, can’t move or speak, can’t channel and then become unconscious. The effects come on rapidly and take some time to wear off. Once they come around, they gradually regain movement and speech, but feel weak. Walking helps wear it off. Later they have cramps and headaches for some time:
I [Ronde Macura] will dose them more properly when it's time to send them off. They'll have headaches and stomach cramps to pay for it…The White Tower experimented with dosage and found that a much smaller dose than Ronde Macura used was still adequate to affect a channeller and give fewer side effects:
- The Fires of Heaven, Figs and Mice
"At any rate, greenwort and goatstongue might make you sleep, but they're sovereign for stomach cramps. I thought you would prefer the sleep."
Elayne shuddered. The days right after Ronde Macura dosed her and Nynaeve with forkroot had been a misery she had tried to forget.
- Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds
” During the day, you [Egwene] will not be shielded at all. But every hour you will be given a mild tincture of forkroot… The tincture won’t make you dizzy, but you won’t be able to channel enough to cause any problems. Only trickles… At night, you will be shielded, since giving you enough forkroot to make you sleep through the night would leave you doubled up with stomach cramps the next day.”I wonder which poor devil they experimented on.
-Knife of Dreams, Prologue
(This is typical of the dosage of many drugs: the wrong dosage – too strong a dose - will bring on many side effects, with the right dosage the symptoms disappear for a while. Egwene and Leane seem to have been given closer to the right dosage than anyone else we've seen.)
The forkroot allowed only a trickle of the Power, but did not reduce the number of threads the Egwene could channel simultaneously. Forkroot limits the amount of saidar that a woman channel, but it places no limitation on her skills. She doesn't need to draw on more saidar to make more flows. Egwene was able to divide her flow 14 ways even though it was a tiny flow.
Strength in the Power seems to make no difference on how severely a channeller is affected. Nynaeve and Elayne had the same dose at the same time and, if anything, Nynaeve came around first, although there was little difference. At Malden, Morgase collapsed after drinking water containing forkroot, and was affected just as much as any Shaido Wise One (Knife of Dreams. The Last Knot).
Any woman who has channelled is affected by forkroot, and perhaps also those who have the spark to channel. The Seanchan are using forkroot to detect and capture these women:
"There's a Seanchan army on the border of Murandy…Everybody who passes through they make drink a cup of some herbal tea..Every so often, this tea makes a woman go unsteady in her legs, and then the sul'dam come and collar her.”The women are made damane. Forkroot at the dosage the Seanchan are using doesn’t affect women who could learn to channel but have not done so. They have not yet connected to the Source and so there is nothing for the forkroot to deactivate. These are the women who could become sul’dam. The Seanchan have discovered that forkroot tea affects male channellers too:
- Knife of Dreams, A Hell in Maderin
"A woman or a man." she [Tylee] drawled at last. "I've heard of several men being caught that way."This is confirmed by information Mat received that everyone is tested with the tea, not just women, even though forkroot is in high demand and is thus too valuable to use needlessly. Forkroot was used on captive channellers of both genders in the Black Tower to keep them from channelling so that Black Asha’man were not tied up shielding them. The dosing was stopped a short while before they were read to Turn the captive because Turning can only be done on someone able to channel:
- Knife of Dreams, A Deal
Androl noticed for the first time that he was shielded, which they never did to captives unless letting their dose of forkroot wane so they could be Turned.As an aside, Nynaeve created forkroot tea in Tel’aran’rhiod and used it to knock out Moghedien so that she could capture her back in Salidar. Moghedien probably didn't even know what forkroot was, and yet it had the exact same effects on her real body that real forkroot would have had.
A Memory of Light, Doses of Forkroot
Forkroot does affect non-channellers but at a higher dosage:
Someone who cannot channel can drink five times the amount that makes a sister pass out and barely grow dizzy from it.Ronde Macura made a strong brew of forkroot tea, strong enough for Luci and her to be knocked out when they were given it. Ronde was very afraid of having to forcibly detain two channellers – we saw this in her nervous manner and in her comment that what the Aes Sedai demanded was almost impossible for a non-channeler – so she made the tea strong.
- Knife of Dreams, Prologue
The large quantity of forkroot Perrin had placed in the Malden cistern made a fairly weak dose: strong enough to knock out the Wise Ones who could channel, but not to affect the other Aiel.
Discovery and Timing of Dissemination:
Ronde Macura said she discovered the effect of forkroot tea on channellers accidentally (The Fires of Heaven, Figs and Mice). Therefore she was using forkroot for medicinal purposes. It may be a regular medicinal herb that is uncommonly used. (Of course, she could have mistaken the plant for another). Forkroot induces sleep, so perhaps she was using it as a sedative or even a painkiller; and it gives stomach cramps, so she might have been using it as a purgative. She had to have used it on someone known to be a channeller to discover its anti-channelling effect. As an agent of the Yellow Ajah, Macura has had contact with Aes Sedai, so perhaps an Aes Sedai needed medicine urgently (in Amadicia, where she would be recognised and killed?) and accepted a herbal treatment. The problem would not be an infection, because Aes Sedai are protected by the Source from those (The Eye of the World, Old Friends and New Threats). Once dosed, the channeller became paralysed, unable to channel and then unconscious. Macura also knew there would be stomach cramps, headache, etc (The Fires of Heaven, Figs and Mice).
Information about forkroot spread fairly rapidly:
- Macura used forkroot on Elayne and Nynaeve on the equivalent of August 15.
- Elaida’s letter commanding Macura to be soundly punished for letting them escape was seen in Tel’aran’rhiod on August 31 (The Fires of Heaven, Dreams of Galad). Therefore Macura’s information (sent by pigeon soon after Nynaeve and Elayne fled), had arrived at the Tower by this time. Perhaps an Aes Sedai was sent to perform the severe beating. As a consequence of Elaida’s arrogant belief that Aes Sedai can abuse non-channellers and need fear retribution only from other Aes Sedai, now well and truly out-dated, Macura sold the information about forkroot to the Seanchan for revenge.
- Elaida’s embassy to Rand left Tar Valon before Macura’s information reached the Tower ie before the end of August (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). It must have been close. Elaida regretted this, but didn’t send any message about forkroot after Galina or Coiren.
- Elaida did send the information to Teslyn and Joline on January 1. Teslyn drugged Joline to prevent her from interfering in Elayne’s and Nynaeve's departure from Ebou Dar on January 9-10 (The Path of Daggers, To Keep the Bargain and Winter’s Heart, Three Women). Apparently Teslyn had no trouble obtaining it, supporting the idea that forkroot was already used as a medicinal plant, even if only rarely. There is no hint that the Seanchan were using it in Altara at this time.
- Elaida was annoyed on February 6 that everyone in the White Tower now seemed to know about forkroot (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return).
- Elayne was drugged by Hanlon on February 16 (Winter’s Heart, A Cup of Tea). Lady Shiaine may have had the information from Moridin or Moghedien.
- Ronde Macura was on Tuon’s ship on February 17 when it docked in Ebou Dar (Winter’s Heart, What A Veil Hides). She had been well rewarded for her information given some time previously.
- By Crossroads of Twilight What The Oath Rod Can Do, the White Tower had supplies of it and had been experimenting with dosage prior to drugging Egwene and Leane on March 29. They were given forkroot for over 90 days.
- The Seanchan were using it regularly by Knife of Dreams, and have a manufactory with thousands of pounds of forkroot as Perrin saw on April 6:
”I [the Hand] have four thousand eight hundred seventy-three pounds nine ounces. A remarkable achievement, if I do say it myself, considering how much I have shipped off.”
- Knife of Dreams, As If the World Were Fog
- Perrin took all this stock and dumped it in Malden’s water supply. The herb is now harder to find in the wild, due to over-collecting and will take some time to grow as a crop. Most herbs take a week or two to germinate, then at least 30-50 days to grow a sizeable root. This is currently academic, since in The Gathering Storm few crops are sprouting at all, let alone growing.
There is no antidote to forkroot’s anti-channelling action, but some herbs can mitigate the side effects. Nynaeve gave Elayne greenwort and goatstongue to ease the stomach cramps and sleep off the worst of the forkroot (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). The herbs did not reduce the weakness that forkroot produces:
Whatever the herbs were that Nynaeve had given her, she felt no weaker than the forkroot would have made her.And no less weak either.
- Whinter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds
The real world equivalent of forkroot is probably mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) a dangerous plant with a forked root chock full of alkaloids and the subject of many legends and associations with witches. The forked root of mandrake, and its humanoid appearance, was an important factor in these superstitions.
Mandrake was used as a sedative, and an anaesthetic, and to relieve chronic pain:
The ancients…used it for procuring rest and sleep in continued pain, rheumatic pains and tumors…Mandrake was used in Pliny’s days as an anaesthetic for operations.Forkroot induces sleep or unconsciousness.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Mandrake was also used as an emetic and purgative and we are told that strong or continual doses of forkroot give stomach cramps.
In small doses mandrake was used:
for melancholy (depression)… and employed by the Ancients in maniacal cases…and insanity. Channellers, people who affect matter with their minds so long as they believe they can (haven’t blocked themselves), or who were affected by the taint on saidin so that they heard voices, have similarities with schizophrenics. Drugs used to treat schizophrenia aim to stop hallucinations by reversing supposed excesses of neurotransmitters in the brain. Forkroot prevents channelling, the alteration of reality to what is in the channeller’s mind, and mandrake was used in small doses to treat mental illness including schizophrenia and ‘possession by demons’.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
In large doses it [mandrake] is said to excite delirium (hallucinations) and madness.Mandrake is a parasympathetic nervous system depressant and a hypnotic. It does not allow deep sleep to occur, but lowers brain waves into the dreaming state. Regular small doses of mandrake can induce trances, visions and dreams and were believed to increase oracular powers. The ancient seers and oracles took mandrake as a divinatory drug. When taken in small doses, mandrake will produce a light, sleep-like trance with very lucid dreams, the sort of waking dreams that the Aiel Dreamwalkers trained Egwene to achieve.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Interestingly, the scientific name of Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, is very similar to Mandragoran, Lan’s and Isam’s family name. Isam skits in and out of the dream world, and kills in the waking world and the dream world.
Users of mandrake develop a tolerance to it in the parasympathetic nervous system and require increasingly larger amounts of mandrake to achieve the same dream state effects. However, the drug affects the heart, and tolerance is not developed for the plant’s cardiac effects, and so severe damage may occur.
Mandrake was called Satan’s apple by the Arabs (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal and Aes Sedai (witches) are linked by Whitecloaks with Shaitan (Satan). Mandrake was a major ingredient in ‘flying’ ointments or potions believed to have been used by witches to induce the feeling of flying on their brooms.
The forked roots of mandrake were dried and used as amulets because they were believed to have occult powers. In a way they do, since they induce hallucinations, visions or dreams. (Just the sort of garbled fact turned into legend that Jordan appreciated and described in the series). In Germany, some people kept mandrake amulets in order to consult them on important questions. In France, they were considered a kind of fairy or elf, called the main-de-gloire or magloire. Possessing a mandrake could result in the owner being charged with witchcraft in Europe during the times when witches were feared and searched for everywhere. Jordan has reversed this and made the channellers, the witches, fear forkroot (mandrake) and those who possess it.
There was a superstition that uprooting mandrake could be fatal, that the plant would scream or groan as it was pulled out and whoever heard the sound would die. Elaborate measures were devised to get around this. For example, the soil would be loosened around the plant and a string tied around the top of the root and hitched to a dog. The dog was then encouraged with the offer of food to come to the gatherer, who was safely out of earshot of the root, thus pulling the plant out. The dog was expected to die.
Jordan has provided an explanation for the superstitious belief that mandrakes kill the person who uproots them: that channellers don’t want mandrake to be harvested and used to prevent them from channelling, and spread the story that the plant would kill whoever pulled it up.
Mandrake can be cultivated, just as forkroot will be. According to Maude Grieve in A Modern Herbal, the seed of mandrake has a short viability and should be sown as soon as it is ripe at the end of the summer or in the autumn. It will sprout in the following spring and the roots are ready to harvest at the end of the summer. So from the plant’s sprouting until harvest is at least three months, possibly four.
Nynaeve gave Moiraine a weak tea of foxtail and marisin and… Nynaeve didn’t complete her list, but perhaps one or more herbs, to help Moiraine sleep for an hour and not be groggy (The Eye of the World, Shadow’s Waiting). In the real world there are foxtail grasses (Alopecurus sp) and the chenille plant (Acalypha hispida) is also named fox tail. They are not used medicinally.
Powdered gheandin blossom on the tongue helps the killing kind of heart pains (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). There are a few real world plants that are or have been used to treat heart complaints – all dangerous. The most well known is foxglove (Digitalis purpurea); however the leaves of this plant are used, not the flowers. The whole plant of Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis vernalis) has been used for heart problems and therefore the flowers could be used (Paul Schauenberg and Ferdinand Paris, Guide to Medicinal Plants). More likely still as parallels of gheandin blossoms are lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) or crown vetch (Coronilla varia) (Paul Schauenberg and Ferdinand Paris, Guide to Medicinal Plants), which also affect the heart. Either the leaves or flowers of these two plants are used. The flowers of lily of the valley are the most medicinally active part of the plant according to Maude Grieve in A Modern Herbal and in powdered form have been used to induce sneezing and relieve headaches and earaches. Lily of the valley is thus the closest match to gheandin.
Goatstongue and greenwort make one sleep, and relieve stomach cramps such as those caused by forkroot (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). A herb such as balm (Melissa officinalis) would make a patient drowsy and relieve stomach cramps.
Goosemint leaves are frilly (Lord of Chaos, Questions and Answers). Nynaeve ate fresh goosemint leaves to soothe her burning stomach wile she worried about Moghedien and the stresses of Salidar and berated herself. Mint, especially peppermint, eases indigestion. Goosemint is peppermint for a goose!
Goatstongue and greenwort make one sleep, and relieve stomach cramps (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). Nynaeve gave them to Elayne to relieve some of the side effects of forkroot. Kale was called greenwort in earlier times, as was sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica). Neither ease stomach cramps. However yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which is closely related to sneezewort, has been used for cramps.
Grey fennel is a rapid acting poison. The assassins who attacked Elayne had daggers poisoned with gray fennel and powdered peach pit. One of the assassins was stabbed with a dagger by Hanlon and died – poisoned by the fennel and the peach pit according to Nynaeve (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). The dead man’s eyes and tongue were abnormal. Fennel is an edible plant, but there are other plants in the fennel family that are very poisonous, such as hemlock (Conium maculatum), or water dropwort (Oenanthe sp), although neither is rapid acting enough to use on a knife. However, there are plants from other families that are rapid-acting poisons: aconite (Aconitum napellus) was used on spears and arrows to kill (Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal) and white hellebore (Veratrum album) was used on arrows and daggers.
Ground ivy is combined with five-finger and sunburst root in an ointment to relieve pain and heal bruises (The Eye of the World, Rescue). Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is a real world plant and is indeed used on bruises. In China it is used as a painkiller (Claire Loewenfeld and Philippa Back, Complete Book of Herbs and Spices).
Healall is applied to open wounds as an ointment (The Fires of Heaven, An Unexpected Offer and To Boannda) even by Aes Sedai when necessary: when the Seanchan raided the Tower there were more wounds than Healing could deal with, so non-life-threatening wounds were dressed with it (The Gathering Storm, A Fount of Power). Healall is the name of a real world plant, Prunella vulgaris, which is used to treat a variety of ailments including wounds.
Stone root (Collinsonia canadensis) is also called heal all and is used on bruises and wounds; however Prunella vulgaris is more popular.
A tea made of heartleaf is universally used as an effective contraceptive. From Elayne’s POV in (Knife of Dreams, A Different Skill) it prevents pregnancy if it is drunk before intercourse:
Of course, she could have drunk the heartleaf tea before lying with him [Rand]and may not have to be taken regularly and long-term for effect, but just drunk ‘as required’.
- Knife of Dreams, A different Skill
Min’s and Aviendha’s comment supports this:
"She should have drunk that heartleaf tea," [Min] babbled. She never told what she saw except to those involved, and only then if they wanted to hear, but she had to say something. "She'll get with child from this. Two of them; a boy and a girl; both healthy and strong."Obviously the tea doesn’t have to be taken over a period of time beforehand to prevent pregnancy.
"She wants his babies," the Aiel woman mumbled. Her green eyes stared straight ahead; her jaw was tight, and sweat beaded on her forehead. "I will not drink the tea myself if I—"
- Winter’s Heart, A Lily in Winter
There are two real world plants named heartleaf: Hexastylis arifolia and Anemone hepatica, both occurring in the US and both used medicinally, but not as a contraceptive.
The herb silphium, now extinct, was used as a herbal contraceptive in Roman times, and the seeds of Queen Anne’s lace (or wild carrot, Daucus carota) were recommended by Hippocrates, "the father of medicine", as a contraceptive. Judging by the drawing in Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica shown here, silphium was the plant Jordan had in mind.
A weak mixture of honey and water was given to Dobraine to supply him with energy after Healing left him extremely weak (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). In Illian, Nieda offered Perrin a mixture of honey and sulphur to treat his sore throat (The Dragon Reborn, Easing the Badger). Honey is still used to soothe sore throats but sulphur is not.
Powdered itchoak will irritate the skin (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame). The name indicates that it is a product of a tree. Rhus trees, poison oak (Rhus toxicodendron) in particular, cause contact dermatitis – rash and blisters.
Siuan and Moiraine washed Elaida’s shifts in itchweed (The Fires of Heaven, Sallie Daera), or according to New Spring, Practice, itchoak, because she demanded a lot of them and made them miserable. Itchweed (or American hellebore, Veratrum viride) is a North American plant which irritates the skin because it is poisonous. This symbolises Sian and Moiraine poisoning their relationship with Elaida when she meant well.
Lionheart relieves pain (Winter’s Heart, What A Veil Hides). There are two real world plants named lionheart: Lallemantia peltata (lion’s heart) and Physostegia virginiana (lionheart, fall obedient plant, false dragon head). They are not used medicinally.
Nynaeve used mardroot-oil liniment on Uno's bruised shoulder (The Fires of Heaven, To Boannda). The herb is probably something like arnica, the root of which yields an essential oil which is made into ointments and applied externally to soft-tissue injuries.
Nynaeve gave Moiraine a weak tea of foxtail and marisin and… Nynaeve didn’t complete her list, but perhaps one or more herbs, to help Moiraine sleep for an hour and not be groggy (The Eye of the World, Shadow’s Waiting).
A tea of marshwhite leaves settles a queasy stomach (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). It is long-keeping and bitter tasting; the longer it is left the more bitter it becomes.
Powdered mavinsleaf tastes terrible and is used as punishment in the Two Rivers eg for lying (The Fires of Heaven, What Can Be Learned In Dreams).
Peach pits or kernels contain a rapid-acting poison, rapid enough to use on a weapon. The assassins who attacked Elayne had daggers poisoned with gray fennel and powdered peach pit. One of the assassins was stabbed with a poisoned dagger by Hanlon and died – poisoned by both the fennel and the peach pit according to Nynaeve (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds), judging by the appearance of the dead man’s eyes and tongue. Kernels of Prunus tree fruits (such as apricot, cherry and bitter almond (bred out of sweet almond)) contain compounds which make cyanide when crushed. Cyanide is indeed a rapid-acting poison. Some varieties of wild cherry have cyanide in their fruits to greater or lesser degrees. Due to the poisonous nature of the pit, the whole peach fruit is mistakenly believed to be poisonous in the Third Age of the Wheel Of Time world (The Wheel of Time Companion although they were eaten in the Age of Legends (Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News). The unripe fruits of Prunus species release cyanide when eaten, as poisonous as the Wheel of Time ripe peaches.
Pokeleaf is normally used for sore gums and toothaches, but it can remove the dark dye of white henpepper from hair (The Fires of Heaven, To Boannda). There is a real world plant named pokeweed (or poke, pokeroot, Phytolacca americana) and it has been used medicinally. Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye.
Rannel is a mild tonic with a terrible and long-lasting taste used in combination with sheepstongue root by Nynaeve as punishment/coercion (The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn).
Nynaeve threatened to make Elayne a tea of red daisy and sheepstongue root (The Fires of Heaven, A Small Room in Sienda). Presumably red daisy, like sheepstongue root, tastes terrible. The real world herb red centaury ( Erythraea centaurium), a member of the daisy family, tastes very bitter.
Red fennel was used by Nynaeve to settle her stomach (The Fires of Heaven, To Boannda). Real world fennel, especially the red variety, (Foeniculum vulgare var. rubrum), is used in the same way.
Sheepstongue root is good for eye pain (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). It is also a mild tonic with a long lasting and terrible taste. Raw sheepstongue root is the worst tasting thing Nynaeve knows of (The Great Hunt, To the White Tower). She uses it to punish/coerce people. There is a real world plant called sheep’s tongue (or ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolatus) and it has a very bitter taste.
A tea of silverleaf and timsin root was given to Mat to relieve his headache (The Shadow Rising, He Who Comes With the Dawn). There are a few real world plants named silverleaf: Stillingia sylvatica and Spiraea tomentosa, both used medicinally, but not for headaches; and silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium), not used medicinally.
Sleepwell clears headaches so you can sleep. It only makes you a little drowsy (The Dragon Reborn, Threads in the Pattern and Lord of Chaos, A Pile of Sand). Darkfriends in Cairhien drugged Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve with it, aiming to keep them asleep until Myrddraal came. They used the wrong herb for this: sleepwell alleviated the pain of being hit on the head and after a while Nynaeve and Egwene woke up. A similar real world plant would be valerian (Valeriana officinalis), the root of which allays pain and promotes sleep.
A tincture of sorfa was applied to Lidya’s wounds after a caning (Winter’s Heart, What A Veil Hides).
Sprigleaf is a fragrant plant that was thrown onto the fires to cover up the terrible stench of burning shadowspawn (A Memory of Light, Into the Thick of It).
The herb thyme (Thymus vulgaris) was burnt as incense by the Ancient Greeks and used by the Romans to purify their rooms. It is a small shrub used by the sprig.
In his trickster guise, Mat spiked some buns with this plant:
"Sprinklewort," Mat said. "It'll turn her mouth blue for a week, maybe two. And she won't share the sweetbuns with anyone, except maybe her Warders. Joline is addicted to the things. She must have eaten seven or eight bags' worth since we got to Caemlyn."It’s not known which part of the plant is used, or whether Mat sprinkled a juice or a powder made from the plant on the buns.
- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting
My first thought was that sprinklewort was like gentian violet, but that is an aniline dye and not derived from plants. In the past it was applied to mouth ulcers.
Probably a closer parallel would be the herb woad (Isatis tinctoria), the leaves of which are fermented to make a blue dye. The fresh juice of the plant will stain:
Simply gathering the leaves is enough to produce a lasting blue-black stain upon the handsjust as Mat expected Joline's mouth to turn blue.
Daniel Varney Thompson, The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting.
According to Maud Grieve woad:
is so astringent, that it is not fit to be given internally as a medicine, and has only been used medicinally as a plaster, applied to the region of the spleen, and as an ointment for ulcers, inflammation and to stanch bleeding.Woad was used by the Ancient Britons to colour their skin, and it grew particularly well in the tribal lands of the Iceni. The Iceni’s most famous leader was Boudicca, who led her people to war against the Romans, an appropriate parallel for a Green. It makes Mat’s trick all the more amusing.
- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal
Nieda offered Perrin honey and sulphur to treat a supposed sore throat (The Dragon Reborn, Easing the Badger). This is the only instance of an inorganic substance used medicinally in the Wheel of Time series, whereas inorganic substances were and are commonly used in the real world. Prior to antibiotics, sulphur was the leading anti-bacterial medication and was used for throat infections.
Sunburst root is combined with ground ivy and five-finger in an ointment that relieves pain and heals bruises (The Eye of the World, Rescue). This is a jokey name: sunburst root treats the effects of a beating by a Whitecloak (whose sigil is the sunburst).
Tarchrot is a poison obtained from a fairly common plant. Like many poisons it has a very bitter and unpleasant flavour and must be taken internally. It is not very strong, according to Nynaeve:
You either had to use a lot of it— as she had with the hound—or you had to administer it several times for it to take effect. But if you did it slowly like that, the person you killed with it would seem to die naturally.In the Two Rivers Nynaeve used it to euthanize a dog. Nynaeve doesn’t say how it kills, or what symptoms it produces apart from drowsiness, weakness and pallor, so it is difficult to determine if there is a real world equivalent. If tarchrot caused diarrhoea (and the cell stank of excrement) and/or vomiting in its victims, as many ingested poisons do, this may have been attributed to an illness such as jail fever caused by the poor conditions.
- The Gathering Storm, Rivers of Shadow
The fact that Nynaeve used tarchrot for veterinary purposes suggests the plant might be like Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) also known as Dog Poison. Fool’s parsley is a fairly strong poison and inflames the gastro-intestinal tract.
Timsin root and silverleaf were made into a tea to treat Mat’s headache (The Shadow Rising, He Who Comes With the Dawn).
A little whitefennel is all that Alhuin Guenna uses to ease the pains of a particularly difficult childbirth (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft). Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and black cohosh (Cimifuga racemosa) were used by Native American women during childbirth to ease labour pains. Black cohosh has white flowers. Pulsatilla vulgaris was used for anxiety and stress during childbirth.
White henpepper relieves toothaches and also can be used to dye hair black (The Fires of Heaven, Figs and Mice). The hair dye can be removed with pokeleaf (see above). Hen pepper is another name for shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). It does have a peppery taste, but a different medicinal action.
Henna combined with indigo is used externally as a herbal dye to colour hair black.
Willow bark is used as a painkiller (Knife of Dreams, The Golden Crane) and to reduce fever (The Great Hunt, Wolfbrother), which are the same applications for willow bark in the real world.
Worrynot root is used to reduce fever (The Dragon Reborn, Secrets).
Nynaeve coloured her hair red as a disguise (The Fires of Heaven, Performances in Samara) and was delighted to remove it. A slight amount of red remained (The Fires of Heaven, To Boannda). Henna, a herbal hair dye, would be a real world parallel, and it is not easy to remove either.
Sorilea gave Verin tasteless drops which in a small dose (three drops in water or one in wine) induce sleep and in larger doses kill (Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News). Verin still has them. She was prepared to use them on Cadsuane until reassured that Cadsuane’s aims about Rand were compatible with her own:
Hastily filling a second cup, Verin slipped the small vial back into her pouch unopened. It was good to be sure of Cadsuane at last.Chesa gave Egwene a terrible-tasting herbal tea that seemed to ease the headaches induced by Aran’gar.
- Winter’s Heart, Bonds
“I could brew another pot of tea. I got it from a peddler who said it was sovereign for aching heads. And joints, and belly upsets, too.”Egwene began to doubt that it was the tea that helped, since she found the peddler’s claims far-fetched:
- Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night
Heads and joints and bellies? Nynaeve would laugh herself sick to hear that. Perhaps it had been all those chattering Sitters who chased her headache away after all.The tea’s success did not last long against Aran’gar’s weaves, but it was enough to make Chesa an enthusiast:
- Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night
After Chesa’s tea worked on her headaches—at least for a few days, until they returned fiercer than ever and every night—the plump woman had turned out to have a collection of herbal remedies for every ill, purchased from every peddler with a glib tongue and each viler-tasting than the last. She had a way of looking so downhearted when you would not drink the awful mixtures that you found yourself swallowing them just to keep her from worrying. Sometimes, surprisingly, they worked, but they were never anything Egwene wanted to put in her mouth.
- Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do
Written by Linda, March, 2008 and updated August 2013