The Ustam is a common perennial herb that usually grows in southern Naktian countries, mostly in hot regions. Being a perennial herb, the Ustam never withers during the cold seasons, and it's known for being used for culinary and medical reasons. It's also known for giving hallucinogenic effects to the Hatran.
The Ustam is an important culinary herb, used for the flavour of its leaves, which can be more flavourful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in intensity. Good quality Ustam may be strong enough almost to numb the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climates often have a lesser flavor. Factors such as climate, seasons and soil composition may affect the aromatic oils present, and this effect may be greater than the differences between the various species of plants.
In Abun, for example, it is most frequently used with roasted, fried or grilled vegetables, meat and fish. The Ustam combines well with spicy foods, which are popular in the Barefoot Queen's country. It is less commonly used in the north of the country, where less spicy food is preferred.
The Abunese also eat Ustam leaves with flat bread, and that's considered as a tasty snack.
In Hat'Ny instead, the dried and ground leaves are most often used to add flavor to salads, and is usually added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies many fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.
The Ustam is also known for its medical properties. If boiled, it can be used to cure stomach and respiratory ailments, and it's usually used to cure coughs and colds. It can be used both internally (as a tea) or externally, (as an ointment) to cure them.
Medical usage of the Ustam is widely adopted in Hat'Ny, Samhon and Kol, although its effectiveness may vary according to the races. Their leaves can also be sniffed, if crumbled to pieces, as a way to ease respiratory issues.
The mysterious effects on the Hatran
A peculiar characteristic of this herb is that it gives hallucinogenic effects to the Hatran, if they sniff them. Physicians, priests and shamans have tried fruitlessly to find the reasons of this effect, but their efforts have been vain so far, since it affects only them. The same effects is found on feral animals too, such as cats and lions, although the hallucinogenic effect come only if the leaves are fresh, rather than dry.
If an Hatran sniffs the leaves, the first effect that will notice is a particular relaxing sensation, with an uncontrollable urge to either lick or eat the leaves of the plant. After that, the Hatran will feel tired and will begin to hallucinate, seeying things that the others cannot see, often being spirits of deceased relatives, gods or even "unmentionable abominations". After the first three minutes, the Hatran might become either euphoric, apathetic or even aggressive, according to the individual. During this phase, the Hatran is overcome by anxiety, purring and fast breathing. This phase lasts only for a minute. After that, the Hatran regains consciousness and won't remember what happened during the hallucinations.
Not all the Hatran are affected by the Ustam; the effects vary according to the individual. The behavior is hereditary.
Due to the hallucinatory effects that the Ustam has among the Hatran, it's used as a "religious drug" by some priests and shamans, in order to speak directly with the Gods or receive signs from them, while in some countries such as Abun, Samhon, Nylus and Istris, the selling of fresh Ustam leaves to the public is forbidden and punishable with jail. During the drying process of leaves, Hatran tend to wear bandages around their muzzles in order to not sniff the herb.