Your Character and Herbs - RP Suggestions

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Fern Wilder

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As someone who plays a character that is pretty well-known in server for being knowledgeable about plants and herbs, I'd like to raise some points about the way many players interact with the harvestable herbs in game. First of all, please don't take these as a mean-spirited critique for your RP, or in any way an attempt to limit your RP! My goal with this post is simply to bring up some lines of thought that I personally feel are not often considered by players and help bring more value to herbs/related RP, as well as more realistic and immersive roleplay overall! 🌿


IDENTIFICATION - Just because the game tells you the name of a plant, doesn't mean your character knows.
As gamers, it is often our nature to have the urge to interact with interactable things, or even just collect items simply to have them. You see a shiny, pretty herb on the ground...you want to pick it. Trust me, I get that. But have you considered your character's knowledge of plants? Can your character even reasonably be expected to identify these plants? Obviously the game tells you what they are when you approach, but does your character actually know that? Have you studied plants at all, or lived a lifestyle that would make you learn these things? (I.E. you're a hermit that lived in the woods, a native medicine woman, a college-educated botanist, an avid gardener, etc.) Does your character even recognize creeping thyme as anything different from the rest of the brush growing in the heartlands? To most people, plants are just plants. I know I certainly wouldn't be able to wander into the woods IRL and identify a lot of the things growing there. Can your character? And if so, how/why?
Ideas:
- you recognize a few things that grow around where you're from, but that's about it.
- you've been told about a plant by someone else.
- you ate something that was poisonous once, and now know to steer clear.
- you have a small book that identifies wildflowers (don't just use this as an easy out - why would your character want or have this item?).
- maybe you don't recognize anything at all (this is very likely without an appropriate background or RP reason, tbh)


HARVESTING - Why does your character want this plant?
If I had a dollar for every time someone came up to me BEGGING for me to take their herbs because they picked a bunch on a whim and now their inventory is cluttered with things they don't care about...phew. I'd be rich! If your character has no interest in plants, and/or cannot positively identify them - what are your IC motivations for picking them? Realistically, WOULD you even be picking them at all? My alt character, who is an Irish street urchin with little in the way of wilderness survival skills, doesn't interact with herbs at all. Why would she? She can't identify most of them to know if they could be food or not. They aren't valuable in a monetary sense. They hold no interest for her. So what drives your character to care about some random plant?
Ideas:
- you see a violet snowdrop or prairie poppy and, even if you can't identify it, you want to give the pretty flower as a gift.
- you've seen your doctor friend make use of the yarrow plant, and see some while you're out. Maybe they could use more for their stores!
- you want to make a nice dinner for your sweetheart, and decide to gather some chanterelle mushrooms to go with the nice cuts of pork you bought from the butcher.
- your character has a fascination with the color purple, and compulsively collects purple things.
- you're on a hike with friends, and see some wild raspberries. You all grab them as a snack.
Something else to consider: Where are you storing all these herbs? Are you preserving them in any way or will they eventually rot/wilt? As it is now, most people seem to have bags filled to the brim with herbs - this makes it difficult for characters who are knowledgeable about herbs to sell or give them to others, or to accept them from other people who gather them, simply because soooo many people are trying to unload theirs. Be mindful of this...If you are focusing on the "ooh, a piece of candy" mechanics of harvesting every herb you see and not considering your character's relationship to these plants, you are effectively contributing to denying RP for others by making herbs a practically trash item and crashing their economy. You're also denying yourself RP - instead, go seek out people who have the things you want that your character wouldn't realistically get themselves!


CONSEQUENCES - Not all plants are harmless.
The harvestable herbs in game all have different RP uses - medicinal, culinary, poison, etc. Some even have mechanical benefits, like feeding your horses or replenishing your HP! And, of course, all plants have the mechanical function of being able to be eaten. This has the potential to lead to interesting RP - but should always be taken seriously. It's very frustrating (and immersion breaking/arguably NVL) to tell people that oleander sage is highly poisonous or that chewing the leaves of indian tobacco will make you vomit profusely, only to have another player go "LOL OK" and immediately shove it in their mouths. For instance, here are some notes I have on the poisonous nature of oleander (Nerium oleander), which the oleander sage in RDR2 is based on:
Oleanders contain two extremely toxic cardiac glycosides, oleandroside and nerioside. These toxic components exist in all parts of the plant, from the leaves to the branches, seeds, flowers and even the flower nectar. Toxins are effective whether the plant is fresh or dry, and honey made from the flowers is also poisonous.

Simply touching an oleander plant can cause skin irritation, particularly if you come into contact with the plant sap. If you are cultivating an oleander, wear gloves when you prune the shrub, and wash your hands well afterward. Disinfect your pruning shears by soaking your tools in a solution that is equal parts alcohol and water for five minutes. Rinse with water and air dry. Do not burn oleander clippings, as the smoke can irritate the eyes and lungs.

Ingesting even a very small piece of the plant may be fatal – a single leaf can kill an adult. People have died from using oleander branches as skewers for meat. Also, children have been poisoned from chewing leaves and sucking nectar from blossoms. Poisoning symptoms may include severe stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, weakness, dizziness and irregular heartbeat. Also, pupils may appear dilated. In the worst case scenario, respiratory paralysis, coma and death occur.
Everyone knows not to eat strange mushrooms or berries you find in the woods, for fear of poisoning. Most people know that bright colors in nature generally means stay away. You would never choose to eat something IRL that you could not positively identify and definitively know to not to be harmful - your character should not either. If you do, a quick google search can help you RP out the proper consequences (if there are any).

Eating random plants is gambling with your character's life, even if you know OOC that you will not perma from it.


RESEARCH - It makes a big difference.

Obviously if herbs aren't a big part of your characters, you have very little reason to be actively researching herbs and their uses. I don't expect you to research all these plants and know everything about them! But as previously mentioned, if you ingest a plant or plan to use it in some way, do a quick search on how it might affect you or ask someone about the plant IC before you search for/use it! Obviously, be careful not to meta your knowledge here - if your character doesn't have justification for knowing about plants, you can't just google them and suddenly know. Find someone to ask IC, RP going somewhere appropriate to do research, etc. However, google is useful for finding the effects of a plant you've already eaten or otherwise used and need to know the effects, flavor, etc. of!

Additionally, please be mindful of speaking about or RP-ing with herbs that you haven't taken the time to learn about (unless, of course, it is your intent to RP your character this way for whatever reason). For instance, a common misconception I see on the server is that indian tobacco is basically just wild tobacco or something akin to marijuana...when in reality it is the lobelia plant (which is possibly toxic). There's actually very little scientific evidence to support that it creates any kind of high when smoked, although it may help with coughs; however, it also has many potential negative side effects...and, when injected, could possibly even kill you.

If you are able to rationalize your character identifying, harvesting, and using a herb, and then someone later tells you the actual properties of the herb which you haven't RP-ed out appropriately...it makes things a bit awkward (and again breaks immersion) to have to hand-wave things away. Your character might not know what they're handling...but you should.


🌿☘️🍄🌱🪴🌼🍃🫐


Obviously you know your own characters best and what they would do in different scenarios! These are just some thoughts I've had for a while after observing other players and their behaviors regarding the mechanically-harvestable herbs. I've found that herbs are often treated as a collectible/mechanic instead of an RP element and, for me, this tends to break immersion and/or step on actual herb-related RP.

If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to add it here...and feel free to bring up your own thoughts/suggestions in the replies! I'd love to see herbalists, apothecaries, medicine men/women, holistic doctors, etc. actually get to use their knowledge (and vast stores of herbs) more in various RP scenarios. Seek us out! We'd love to do more than just take all your unwanted herbs. 💚
 
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Metea Shaw

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This is a very informative and important post. There is nothing I can add to it. Thank you for writing it. I know the time and effort you put into researching plants in character and reached out to me and others who had this knowledge as well.
 
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Franciszek Kowalski

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What an awesome post. People way too often use the game description of an item straight away as IC knowledge. I'm glad you took time to offer this advice to fellow roleplayers as it extends way beyond herbalism. Keep up the good work! :)
 
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Five Wounds

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Fern,

As the Medine Man and Spiritual Council of the Comanche i created efforts to help with medicine and healing rp using 0 western practices. In our Comanche information boards I shared a post and correlated real life western biomes with native species of plants and how they were used in early treatment. So when ever we were low on supply we would rp traveling to that biome in game to harvest it.

See the collection below for the community of its common name, what it treat and how it was typically prepared:

New Austin:

Agave - This plant has thick leaves clustered at its base, and near the end of its life it grows a tall stalk. It is high in sugar, and the leaves are full of fiber. Its base MUST be cooked and the stalk can be eaten raw or cooked. The juice can be boiled down into a delicious syrup which is actually found in grocery stores as a sweetener. The plant has antibiotic, antiviral, and fungicidal properties as well.

Barrel Cactus - The barrel cactus is a short plant with a thick round shape. Flowers and fruit are both edible. The fruit can be consumed raw and since it does not have needles it can be picked right off the plant. The black seeds inside can be eaten as well.

Butterfly MilkWeed (Also in Great Plains)- Grows in well-drained soils in prairie fields or canyon bottoms. Its gorgeous orange clusters of flowers attract numerous insects, particularly butterflies, that can negotiate the insect-trapping characteristics of the flowers and access the plant’s nectar reserves. The dried roots of the plant are added to teas to treat lung ailments (pleurisy) or winter illnesses.

Gumweed - The plants contain grindelia, a medicinal spasmodic compound used to stimulate mucous membranes in the treatment of asthma or chronic bronchitis. The floral heads may be eaten whole, popped in the mouth like a menthol lozenge. If you feel the sticky floral heads of gumweed, you’ll understand the name. It grows in sandy soils, disturbed areas and along stream banks.

Jojoba - The jojoba plant is a bush with tiny, grayish-green leaves. Its oil is popularly sold for hair care and cosmetic purposes. Inside each fruit of the jojoba plant is a single seed. These can be ground up and used as a coffee substitute.

Mesquite - These trees have pods that look like string beans and are quite nutritious. The best time to harvest the beans is when they are hard and golden. They can be eaten fresh, dried, baked or pounded into a meal to make flour. Mesquite flour has a sweet taste and can be used to replace some of the flour in baking recipes. The flowers from the mesquite tree can be roasted and made into balls, or steeped as a tea.
Mesquite tree sap makes a great eye wash or antiseptic when it is boiled and diluted with water. It can also be used to treat sunburns and chapped skin.

Mormon Tea - Mormon tea is a plant made up of long, thin green stems. It is typically steeped into a tea to heal a variety of ailments, including kidney problems, colds, congestion, and urinary tract infections.

Peyote - TABOO This desert cactus was considered more priceless than eagle feathers or shells from the ocean. In Native culture it was akin to being cursed for generations to even consider the use this in your thoughts without the help of a shaman or elder or medicine man/woman. Consequences of anyone seen using this was instant and gruesome justice in death to include scarring the victims soul so it may never cross over.

Prickly Pear - The prickly pear cactus is easy to identify with its flat, medium-sized pads and oval-shaped fruits that ripen in late summer or early fall. The flowers and pads of the plant are edible when young and tender, and fruit is ripe and ready to eat when it becomes a deep red color. The best way to eat the fruit is to scoop it out of the shell and roast it. Prickly pear has some medicinal properties as well—it can help to balance blood-sugar, its pulp and juice can soothe the digestive tract, and the inside of the pads can help to heal burns, wounds, or inflamed skin when applied topically.

Wild Licorice - Wild licorice grows in small, dense stands in fields or disturbed areas. The roots are ground up and added to teas as a support for the immune system. Commercially, licorice is used in lozenges, teas and syrups. These large plants (up to four feet tall) bear tight clusters of whitish-colored (sometimes greenish-white) pea flowers.
 
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Five Wounds

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Tall Trees:

Black Cap Raspberry - The berries are great for eating raw and for making jam. Medicinally it is used as an astringent to stop bleeding and treat dysentery. Also the roots and leaves may act as a mild sedative.

California Spikenard - Spikenard berries can be harvested and eaten fresh, cooked, or dried. Like its ginseng relatives, is used medicinally as a tonic. The roots are used as an anti-inflammatory remedy and as a cough suppressant and expectorant.

Hazelnut - A rich food source for centuries, and the nuts are still grown commercially in some places. Eat the nuts whole or boil them to extract the flavorful oil. Hazelnut wood is used for arrows, hooks, utensils, baskets, and fishing traps.

Huckleberry - Huckleberries are some of the tastiest of native berries and can be eaten fresh, dried, or preserved. They are a close relative of the blueberry and have a high Vitamin C content.

Madrone - Both the fruits and the flowers are edible, although the fruits are high in tannins and therefore are sometimes made into cider. Long known as bee plants, madrones provide honeybees with ample nectar and pollen and are important tree species for bees. Madrone wood is dense and durable, making it popular as a flooring material and an efficient fuel source. The bark has also been used to tan leather and the wood to make charcoal for gunpowder.

Salal - Berries grow sweeter with autumn frosts, and can be eaten fresh or made into jams, preserves, pie fillings, or even wine. Native Americans utilized them as a regular food source, often drying them into cakes and mixing them with bear fat. The leaves can be used to flavor soups, and also have medicinal value as anti-inflammatory teas, tinctures, and poultices.

Thimble Berry - The sweet and tangy fruits ripen to a deep red in summer, and can be eaten fresh, dried, or as preserves. Shoots can be peeled and eaten as a vegetable or made into a tonic herbal tea. The bark can be used to make soap, and dried and powdered leaves can be used to prevent scarring from burns.

Woodland Strawberry - In addition to being a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants, both the berries and the leaves of the woodland strawberry act as natural bleach, whitening tooth enamel as well as preventing the buildup of tartar. The leaves and roots were used for tooth and gum health. All parts of the plant have been used medicinally, as digestive aids (roots, stalks), astringents (leaves), and antibacterial salves (leaves, juice).

Wood Rose - They can be eaten raw or cooked; however, it is important to first remove the seed hairs as they can cause irritation to the mouth and throat. Shoots and petals can also be eaten raw, and the seeds (hairs removed) are high in Vitamin E, good as a nutritional supplement, ground and added to flours. There are many medicinal uses for the wood rose: chewed leaves can be applied to reduce localized pain and swelling, as well as to make teas. The pliable woody stems can be bent into hoops or used to make arrows.

Yerba Buena - The small, shiny green aromatic leaves have been used in soothing teas, as a cooking herb, or in potpourris and perfumes. Yerba Buena – the common name of related plants found on several continents – has long been used medicinally by Native American, Mexican, and European peoples for a variety of digestive ailments.
 

Five Wounds

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Great Plains:

Leadplant - Called “buffalo bellow plant” because it was the dominant prairie flower during rutting season. The Lakotas dried the leaves for tea or mixed them with buffalo fat for pipe tobacco; and the stems were used by the Omaha to treat neuralgia and rheumatism.

Narrowleaf coneflower (Echinacea) - It was an antidote for snake and other venomous bites and stings, burned as a smoke treatment for headaches or, for horses, for distemper. It was placed on burns, on aching teeth or on enlarged glands (e.g. mumps).

Purple poppy mallow - The leaves were cooked to thicken stews. The starchy tubers taste somewhat like sweet potatoes and were eaten raw, roasted or boiled.

Purple prairie clover - The Pawnee name “broom weed” referred to the use of the tough, elastic stems to make brooms. Oglala dried the fragrant leaves to make tea and the Ponca chewed its roots for their pleasant taste.

Soapweed - Yucca glauca, roots were soaked in water to make a sudsy soap for washing hair. It was also used to make fires on the treeless prairie—the hard, sharp-pointed blades were bound together with sinew to make a fire drill and the stems, peeled and dried, were used to start fires. Leaves were pounded to reveal fibers that were used as thread and the tips were used as needles. Immature flower spikes were boiled and eaten like asparagus and the mature flower petals were eaten raw.

Spiderwort - Called snot weed and cow-slobbers, was named for the mucilaginous juice drawn out like a spider’s thread when a leaf or stem is broken. The Lakota made a blue paint from the flowers. Cherokee made a tea for the treatment of "female" problems and a laxative for stomach and kidney problems. The sap was used for skin conditions. Perhaps most importantly, a poultice of crushed leaves plants helped treat insect bites and stings. Leaves were eaten raw or cooked in soups or stews, while the stalks were cooked like asparagus. The leaves and roots are still used as alternative medicines by medical herbalists.
 

Five Wounds

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Grizzlies and Big Valley Area:

Alfalfa - Who needs to go buy sprouts at the general store when there is alfalfa growing everywhere? The seeds of alfalfa can not only be sprouted, but also roasted or made into flour. The flowers, leaves, and young shoots can also be eaten.

Blue Flax - While the seeds this flax produces are smaller than the flax seeds you buy in the general store in Saint Dennis, they are just as nutritious and well worth the harvest-time. The fibers in this plant can also be used for cordage.

Chokecherry - Bitterly sour fruits, but remove/don’t eat the seeds! The bark is great for coughs and chest colds.

Dandelion - All parts of this plant are very useful. The flowers and leaves are edible and tasty, and the leaves are very nutritious. Eat them raw or cooked. The leaves are bitter. The root is wonderful too, and has many uses… pickle the roots. Infuse vinegar with dandelion roots and other herbs for salad dressing. They can also be chopped up and roasted to make a tea with a bold, rich flavor. Dandelions are a wonderful nutritious food, a diuretic, and a bitter, and are helpful in treating UTI’s, kidney, and liver issues.

Dock - The young leaves are quite nutritious—high in iron and other vitamins. They should, however, be eaten in moderation. The presence of oxalic acid in the leaves can give the unsuspecting wild foods glutton a stomachache. The seeds can also be eaten. Ground up they are wonderful to mix in to flour for breads, crackers, etc. For medicinal purposes, it is traditionally the root that you want to use. It is wonderful for the liver, and therefore also acts as a blood purifier. As a bitter it stimulates bile production, aids the liver in its functions, and helps promote healthy digestion.

Giant Hyssop - Mint family, this plant is a good source of calcium and magnesium. It also has wonderful antiviral qualities. Feel like you're coming down with a cold? Add some leaves into your meal as a spice, or add a few leaves to tea! This plant does not have a minty taste, but has a flavor all its own. This plant also has a reputation for calming various digestive complaints and cooling fevers.

Lamb’s Quarter - Wild spinach! The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and are a nutritious addition to meals.

Mallow - The leaves, flowers, young shoots, and little “fruits'' are edible. The same gooeyness from this plant that you would use for the homemade marshmallows is also what is medicinal about this plant. The gooey substance that is found in all parts of the plant is very soothing– great to put over skin.

Quaking Aspen - Contain salicin—an element of pain relief that is a pre-cursor to modern day aspirin. The members of this family act as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, fever treatment, and astringent from the soft bark of the tree. This plant is also an antifungal and antibacterial

Rose - Rose grows just about everywhere, so everyone should be taking advantage of its tasty rose hips and fragrant flowers. The flowers can be used to flavor honey or water, as well as made into a flower essence or potpourri. As for food, the rose hips are delicious and filled with vitamin C… just be sure to not eat the irritating hairs that surround the seeds in the center of the fruit. Dehydrate the rose hips and add to flavor tea or add them to various baked goods. Even the seeds have purpose. Oil made from rose hip seeds is great for the skin. Put the oil over scars to help them disappear, and even add the oil to the face to help keep the wrinkles away and to rejuvenate skin.

Salsify - Grows in every stretch of disturbed soil that there is around here. The flower pods have quite a unique look to them. Once you get up close it is easy to see the flower with those special bracts, and stems with very non-dandelion leaves, is nothing else but Salsify! The flowers, flower buds, young stalks, and leaves are all edible raw or cooked, and are very tasty. Be sure you get the young stalks because after the flower goes to seed they stalks seem to be a bit more woody.

Shepards Purse - All parts of this plant are edible, but don’t eat in large quantities. It acts as an antiseptic and diuretic, so is good for UTI’s. As an astringent, it is also useful in treating diarrhea and other “weepy” conditions.

Sitka Valerian -This plant operates as a nervine relaxant and sleep aid. Does just fine in relieving nerves and helping to get a good night's sleep.

Yarrow - Make a poultice of the leaves and apply it to the wound to help staunch the flow of blood. Yarrow is an excellent hemostatic/styptic—it will help to clot the blood and stop a wound from bleeding excessively. Along with its styptic qualities, it is also anti-inflammatory, slightly antimicrobial and antibacterial, and can induce sweating (which can be very helpful in bringing down a fever or helping the body sweat out toxins). Use as tea, tincture, or poultice. New roots also ground to make a numbing agent
 

Five Wounds

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Lemoyne Bayou’s and Marshes

American Elderberry - Elderberry flower tea was traditionally used by healers for fever, chills, and headache, especially for flu. Elderberry fruits help soothe chronic disease, as well—they are among the richest sources of anthocyanins and phenolic compounds, with strong antioxidant capacity. These compounds help to prevent heart disease and cancer, and can even benefit visual acuity and cognition. The use of elderberry to alleviate eczema and other skin disorders, and to reduce pain and inflammation.

Bitter melon - Bitter melon fruit was traditionally eaten for menstrual cramps, and was also used externally to treat cuts and burns. Uses also include antibacterial. Other studies have corroborated bitter melon’s promise in countering cancer and oxidative stress. Treats obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes

Cockle bur - The root of cockle bur was boiled to make tea to reduce fever. It was also used for severe headaches, with directions to coat four or five cockle bur leaves with vinegar and salt and apply them to the head. A number of studies have reported antibacterial, antifungal activity, but also scolicidal (tapeworm killing) activity.

Coral bean - In traditional Lemoyne healing, tea from the boiled seeds of coral bean were used for pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, colds, pleurisy, and whooping cough, as well as stomach cramps. A potent bactericidal agent against MRSA. This bactericidal action is supported by numerous reports.

Groundsel bush - Described as “a horrible-tasting tea reputed to cure almost anything”, groundsel bush showed some of the most potent activity in the Boudreau et al. antidiabetic study. Traditionally, it was used to treat inflamed kidneys, congestion, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. Though it is not well-known outside of Lemoynes, this was one of the most highly regarded medicinal plants among Native American, Cajun, and Creole healers.

Lizard’s Tail - Another of the most potent compounds with anti-diabetic activity, was traditionally used as an antispasmodic, sedative, and astringent. Used it to treat wounds, and its astringent properties may make it especially well-suited for this purpose. Water infused with lizard’s tail and elm was also recommended to help babies with teething pain.

Sassafras - Best-known as the main ingredient in file gumbo, sassafras was traditionally used as an infusion to treat measles. It was also used in poultice form to treat insect and snake bites. Studies have found the sassafras essential oil safrole to have antifungal properties.

Sweet gum tree/ Red gum tree/Copal - The soaked leaves of the sweet gum tree were applied to the head to treat headache. The essential oils include components with anti-inflammatory activity.

Wormseed - Wormseed, as the name implies, is an antihelminthic. Also known as Jesuit’s tea, it was traditionally taken to expel worm parasites from the digestive system. The leaves were also added to foods like beans to prevent flatulence. Laboratory studies have found wormseed extracts to also be effective against the protozoan parasite Leishmania, and several studies have found it to be antimicrobial, including against antibiotic resistant Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium associated with ulcers. It is also a promising natural insecticide.
 

Fern Wilder

Cowpoke
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Apr 16, 2021
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St. Louis, Missouri
twitch.tv
Fern,

As the Medine Man and Spiritual Council of the Comanche i created efforts to help with medicine and healing rp using 0 western practices. In our Comanche information boards I shared a post and correlated real life western biomes with native species of plants and how they were used in early treatment. So when ever we were low on supply we would rp traveling to that biome in game to harvest it.

See the collection below for the community of its common name, what it treat and how it was typically prepared:
What a tremendous wealth of information - thank you! It's clear a lot of time and love went into this. 💚