You don’t need to have attended Professor Pomona Sprout’s Herbology lesson at Hogwarts to know that plants and flowers are not just good to look at – many of them possess medicinal properties which make them seem almost magical.

Granted, we often see all kinds of flowers in our Garden City – bougainvilleas, ixoras, hibiscuses, and others – which may be why they don’t carry that much mystique in Singapore. But if you read our guide to magical plants, you might realise that you could be living in an enchanted wood for all you know.

Be prepared for some flowery language in this post.

 

1. Four-leaf clover

Four-leaf clover. Credit: Sassy Stephie Facebook Page

Four-leaf clover. Credit: Sassy Stephie Facebook Page

Clovers normally have three leaves, which is why four-leaf clovers are rare. You can think of them as mutant clovers (like X-Plants, instead of X-Men), and are said to bring good luck. Find enough four-leaf clovers and they can even grant you a wish!

Although scientists say that approximately 1 out of every 10,000 clovers is a four-leaf clover, a group actually went out hunting for them and discovered that in reality, 1 out of every 5,706 clovers is a four-leaf clover (disclaimer: they did their study in six European countries). That works out to be a 0.017% chance of finding a four-leaf clover.

Good luck hunting for them!

 

2. Daisy

Daisy. Credit: Beautiful Garden of Flowers Facebook Page

Daisy. Credit: Beautiful Garden of Flowers Facebook Page

Remember all those romantic comedies where the lovestruck protagonist would pull petals off a flower, saying “he/she loves me, he/she loves me not?” Well, you shouldn’t just use any flower with petals. The true flower that has such predictive properties is actually the daisy, which is why this is known as the Daisy Oracle.

It is French in origin (who else would come up with such a romantic idea?), and if you really want to impress your friends, you should pull the petals off while speaking French.

 

3. Mandrake

Mandrake roots. Credit: Emporio del Viandante : Poppy's Sorceries Facebook Page

Mandrake roots. Credit: Emporio del Viandante : Poppy’s Sorceries Facebook Page

Fans of Harry Potter will remember how during Herbology class, the students had to wear giant earmuffs to protect themselves when pulling out mandrakes. That’s because in the Harry Potter universe, mature mandrakes give off a fatal scream when they are pulled out. They also look like freakish plant hobbits.

But J.K. Rowling was actually basing this off real-life legends. A mandrake technically refers to the root of either the Mandragora or Bryonia alba plant, although “mandrake” is now used interchangeably to refer to the plant and the root.

Mandrakes are said to thrive on the blood of hanged men, and legend has it that it would release a scream that would kill the person who pulled it out of the ground. In the past, the only safe way to pull out a mandrake was to tie it to a dog, and let the dog pull it out. The scream would then kill the dog, and you could retrieve it safely once it was out of the ground.

But why would people go to such lengths to get a mandrake? Remember how in Harry Potter, they look like plant humanoids? In real-life, they look vaguely like babies, which led to them being used as fertility charms. So in the Middle Ages, couples would sleep with a mandrake under their pillow to increase their chances of having a baby.

Mandrakes also have hallucinogenic properties, so they were used as painkillers and anaesthetic for surgery in the past.

 

4. Dandelion

Dandelion. Credit: Mildly Interesting Facebook Page

This is a really huge dandelion. Credit: Mildly Interesting Facebook Page

Did you know that the dandelion is part of the sunflower family? These giant puffballs also hold a very special power.

The ability to grant wishes.

It is said that if you make a wish and manage to blow off all the dandelion’s seeds, that wish would come true. Dandelions are also said also said to be able to tell you if a person loves you – if you can blow off all their seeds in one breath, it means that the object of your affection loves you back, too.

We haven’t seen dandelions in Singapore, but its local equivalent can be said to be the cupid’s shaving brush, which is of completely different genus from the dandelion but also develops seeds that can be dispersed by wind in a similar manner. Wonder if the wish and love legends also apply to it…

 

5. Frangipani

Frangipani. Credit: Raymond Ware NYC Illustrative & Surface Design Facebook Page

Frangipani. Credit: Raymond Ware NYC Illustrative & Surface Design Facebook Page

In Singapore, the smell of frangipani can mean only one thing – a pontianak is nearby! Although pontianaks live in banana trees, for some reason they emit the scent of frangipani.

We don’t know why either. Maybe they all use the same supernatural perfume? Nevertheless, if you pick up any of Russell Lee’s True Singapore Ghost Stories, there’ll always be one tale about the whiff of frangipani and the inevitable pontianak.6. Cordyceps

Every summer, harvesters will comb the mountains for wild cordyceps for sale. (Image credit: animalworld.com.ua)

Every summer, harvesters will comb the mountains for wild cordyceps for sale. (Image credit: animalworld.com.ua)

When literally translated from Chinese, this herb’s name is Winter Worm, Summer Grass, which leads one to wonder: Is it animal or plant? The answer: It’s an animal in winter, and in summer, changes in appearance to resemble grass. Cordyceps sinensis is actually a fungus whose spores feed on batmoth caterpillar larvae, invading and replacing its host tissue, and eventually sprouting from the head of the caterpillar by summer. (Yes of course the caterpillar dies.)

Harvesters gladly go down on their hands and knees to dig for it in the summer months, because wild cordyceps are worth more than gold by weight. Said to be a natural aphrodisiac, as well as a panacea for poor immunity and respiratory illnesses, demand far outstrips supply. Why? The best ones grow at altitudes of 4,500 metres above sea level on the Tibetan plateau and in Qinghai, and can only be harvested during the summer month.

 

7. Wild American Ginseng

Don't the wild ginseng roots look like they're trying to get away? (Image credit: Mother Nature Network)

Don’t the wild ginseng roots look like they’re trying to get away? (Image credit: Mother Nature Network)

Cordyceps may not be your backyard herb, but you could stumble upon wild American ginseng in a national park in eastern United States (if you’re blindingly lucky). A highly popular and powerful adaptogenic herb, wild American ginseng – not cultivated ginseng, not Chinese ginseng, not Korean ginseng – is said to be more “cooling” than its Asian cousins and contain more and different compounds (called ginsenosides) that are helpful to health. Folklore has it that wild ginseng is so elusive because it is able to morph into man, beast, bird, or another plant. The fact that it has leg-like man roots definitely reinforces the notion that it can run away from greedy poachers.

Prized at several hundred to thousands of dollars a pound depending on grade, ginseng harvesting is no walk in the park. And there’s a reason for it too – ginseng is said to be able to restore your qi (气), the life energy that flows within everyone. The stronger your qi, the more internal strength you have.

 

8. Truffles

A freshly dug up truffle. (Image credit: www.canidae.com)

A freshly dug up truffle. (Image credit: www.canidae.com)

Truffles are a fungi that have mystified humans ever since 3,000 BC. They were thought to be born in places where Zeus’s thunderbolts hit the earth, and with ancient Greek thinkers believing that lightning (Plutarch) and thunder (Juvenal) were instrumental to their origin.

It may look like a lump of dirt, but truffles certainly smell divine, with prices to match. Quality truffles such as the white Alba or black Perigord can fetch up to US$2,000 a pound. Unfortunately, truffles live under the soil and locating them requires the help of trained porcine or canine noses. Since ancient Roman times, pigs have been used to dig up these delectable gems but recently, dogs are increasingly being used instead.

Guess it’s way more inconspicuous to take your dog for a strolls in woods than a leashed truffle hog.

 

Mary and the Witch's Flower. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Wouldn’t it be great if a plant could give us magical powers? That’s exactly what happens in Mary and the Witch’s Flower! A klutzy girl discovers the mystical fly-by-night flower that, when crushed in her hands, grants her magical powers for one day that can rival the greatest witches in the land.

Unfortunately, with great power comes great responsibility, and Mary soon finds herself embroiled in a plot that could tear apart the world. She soon learns that magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s what inside her that counts.

Catch Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then see if you can find a fly-by-night to grant you magical powers later!

 

Credits: Purple Plan, Sassy Stephie Facebook PageBeautiful Garden of Flowers Facebook PageEmporio del Viandante : Poppy’s Sorceries Facebook PageRaymond Ware NYC Illustrative & Surface Design Facebook PageMildly Interesting Facebook PageGolden Village Cinemas, National Geographic, AsiaOne, Smithsonian.com, Canidae.com