Black Panther may not be a traditional origin story, but it still reveals the source of its hero's superpowers: the Heart-Shaped Herb. It's a concept that comic book fans will find very familiar indeed - the Heart-Shaped Herb was first mentioned way back in 1966, when the Black Panther made his debut - although not all questions about the plant are fully answered in the film.
Fantastic Four #53 revealed that the Black Panther eats "certain herbs" and undergoes "rigorous rituals" in order to acquire his powers. Over the decades, fans learned that the specific herb in question is a rare Wakandan flower, and that its power is somehow derived from the fictional African nation's rich deposits of vibranium. The idea has been subtly adapted for the MCU, but is played out in a way that truly honors the original comics. So what is the Heart-Shaped Herb, how does it grant the Black Panthers their powers - and, after the ending of Black Panther, has the Heart-Shaped Herb truly been destroyed?
How Does The Heart-Shaped Herb Come From Vibranium?
To understand the Heart-Shaped Herb, it's first important to realize that Wakanda's ecosystem is unlike anywhere else on Earth. 2.5 million years ago, Wakanda was the site of an asteroid impact; but this was no ordinary asteroid. It was composed of vibranium, and although the bulk of the asteroid remained intact, a layer of vibranium ash coated the land for miles around the impact site. This ash was absorbed into the fertile African soils, and the radiation emitted by the vibranium led evolution to take a very different path in this area. As a result, Wakanda is home to plants and animals that aren't found anywhere else on the planet. Even the humans of Wakanda have traces of vibranium in their blood.
The Heart-Shaped Herb is a plant that grows in the Wakandan soil. 10,000 years ago, a shaman dedicated to the Panther Goddess was led to the Heart-Shaped Herb and discovered its properties. The precious flower is cultivated at the Hall of Kings, one of Wakanda's most sacred locations. This ancient and mysterious site may actually be where the first samples of the Heart-Shaped Herb were found.
How Does The Heart-Shaped Herb Give Black Panther His Powers?
Even in the real world, certain herbs can promote muscle growth, decrease stress, and boost stamina. The Heart-Shaped Herb, though, is much more potent. Ingesting the Herb appears to allow the Black Panther to enter another plane of existence. There, he can interact with the spirits of his ancestors. When the Panther returns to our reality, his strength, endurance, agility, and stamina are all enhanced; in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa was able to hold his own against super-soldiers like Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
Black Panther also revealed that ingestion of another herb can actually strip the Black Panther of his powers. This allows T'Challa to compete in ritual combat; the effect was almost instantaneous. T'Challa actually needed to ingest more of the Heart-Shaped Herb in order to recover his abilities. It's quite remarkable that he could undergo this process twice (first against M'Baku, then against Killmonger), in quick succession, and with no visible negative health impacts bar a great deal of discomfort.
Is All The Heart-Shaped Herb Destroyed?
Killmonger certainly destroyed the ceremonial stocks of the Heart-Shaped Herb, but that doesn't mean the Herb was been rendered extinct. After all, the plant grew up naturally in the fertile Wakandan soil. Unfortunately, given the first Black Panther ingested the Herb in a time of conflict, it's likely he destroyed the wild Herb. Hopefully he was unsuccessful, and the millennia since have seen the plant grow in the wild once again. Even if that is the case, though, these wild flowers may not be quite so potent as the carefully-cultivated ceremonial stocks.
In the long run, this is easily the single most damaging consequence of Killmonger's brief reign. If he was indeed successful in his attempt to destroy the Heart-Shaped Herb, then T'Challa could well be the last Black Panther. That will ultimately face Wakanda with a terrible crisis when the time comes for the succession.
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