D&D Herbalism Kits: What Are They and How to Use Them
A band of adventurers travels through a murky, fog-laden swamp, vigilant against another ambush by the clan of lizardfolk infesting this blighted wetland. Their first fight was tough, as the lizardfolk were equipped with poison-tipped javelins that could leave even the hardiest warrior paralyzed for a number of minutes.
One day into a week-long trek through hostile territory and with no time to go back to town for supplies, the party’s best chance at survival may lie in the druid’s skill in herbalism. As the sun rises and the party breaks camp on their second day of travel, the druid places a small oaken case on a tree stump. She lifts the lid to reveal a cache of herbalist’s tools. Exhaling pensively, she considers her next steps: she must accurately identify the plant by consulting her notes, properly harvest the herb with her clippers, grind it with her mortar and pestle, mix it with other necessary ingredients, and correctly administer the medicine. The process will take about a day and will yield only one vial of antitoxin, but it’s better than going in unprepared.
Most players who don’t ignore the kit completely will likely use it only to make antitoxins and potions of healing, but if you’re just saying “I spend my downtime making a healing potion,” you might be missing out on some fun role-playing opportunities. And even beyond the typical applications, the ability to identify and use herbs can be engaging—and powerful—in its own right.
What Is in an Herbalism Kit?
The herbalism kit allows a character to add their proficiency bonus to any ability checks made to identify and apply herbs. The basic kit contains clippers for harvesting leaves, flowers, and stems, pouches in which to store them, a mortar and pestle for grinding ingredients, and vials and bottles for the finished products. But beyond these basics, an herbalism kit might include string for binding and drying herbs, cheesecloth for extracting oils from plants for ointments, and a journal or almanac to assist in the identification and classification of useful plants.
While just having the kit and the proficiency is all you need to gain its benefits, there is more fun to be had in role-playing your herbalist’s journey. When you find yourself in a new part of the world, for instance, ask the locals about the native flora. They might give you some useful advice that you can add to your journal. Libraries and apothecaries in larger cities and witches in rural areas might be willing to share, sell, or barter information about herbs, as well.
What Is Not in an Herbalism Kit?
Tools for brewing and identifying magical potions (alchemist’s supplies)
Tools for creating poisons (poisoner’s kit)
Bandages and splints that can stabilize dying allies (healer’s kit)
Adding Personality to Your Potions
You’re going to be a famous herbalist one day. But what will you be known for? Certainly not those generic bottles of red liquid every general store is selling. Instead, you might create poultices to apply to wounds, brew fragrant herbal teas and rich broths that accelerate healing, or craft tinctures to be dropped in the eyes or on the tongue. These creations might be especially useful (and impressive to PCs and NPCs alike) in a low-magic setting, where magical healing might not be readily accessible.
Maybe you’re drawn to herbalism because being a divinely-inspired battle priest isn’t your thing and you want to play an earthy witch or a learned physician. In those cases, a druid with the guild artisan background or a wizard/monk with the hermit background (and the healer feat for both) would be an excellent place to start. That way, you’ll have access to both the herbalism kit (which are not artisan’s tools) and the alchemist’s supplies (which are). You’ll be able to not only craft antitoxins and potions of healing but other medicinal potions, such as a calm emotions potion for an anxious patient, a sleep potion
If your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) doesn’t mind some out-of-the-kit thinking that isn’t explicitly covered by the rules, you can make the herbalism kit the centerpiece of your character’s abilities. Since antitoxins grant advantage on saving throws against poison, it wouldn’t be game-breaking to suggest similar effects for other conditions and abilities. With mastery of herbs, you could try to:
Gain advantage against conditions other than poison: a drop of oil in the eye or ear to protect against blindness or deafness, an ointment rubbed on the skin to prevent paralysis or invigorating leaves that stave off exhaustion when chewed
Enhance non-magical healing during downtime through aromatherapy
Season a meal with tasty herbs to impress the NPC patron you are trying to woo
Drop a highly-concentrated fiber tincture into the temple guard’s stew to send him running to the privy so your rogue can sneak in and steal the ancient artifact
The rule-book explicitly allows you to do two things with an herbalism kit: identify/apply herbs and create antitoxins/healing potions. The rules governing tool use may seem frustratingly vague, limited, and contradictory, but they are also open-ended enough to allow your imagination and creativity to take center stage.
Have you used your herbalism kit in an interesting way in one of your games? Share a story in the comments below!