All of the following is applicable as of patch 3.3.5.
The druid is armed with an arsenal of spells which gives us a great deal of flexibility in fights.
I’ll start with a recap of the spells available to us and a few additional abilities which aren’t always on the forefront of one’s mind when thinking about healing.
Rejuvenation: Instant cast. Heals the target for 2305 over 18 seconds. (Talented for increased effects and duration).
Regrowth: Heals a friendly target for 2482 to 2679 and heals for an additional 3465 to 3474 over 27 seconds. (Talented for increased duration).
Nourish: Heals a friendly target for 2071 to 2406. Heals for an additional 20% if you have a Rejuvenation, Regrowth, Wild Growth, or Lifebloom on the target.
Wild Growth: Instant cast. Heals up to 5 friendly party or raid members within 15 yards of the target for 784 to 791 over 6 seconds. The heal is applied quickly at first and slows down as the Wild Growth reaches its duration. (Talented).
Lifebloom: Instant cast. Heals the target for 441 over 9 seconds. When Lifebloom reaches its full duration or is dispelled, the target instantly heals themself for 776 and the Druid regains half the cost of the spell. This effect can stack up to 3 times on the same target.
Healing Touch: Heals a friendly target for 4137 to 4884.
Swiftmend: Instant. Consumes a Rejuvenation or Regrowth effect on a friendly target to instantly heal them for an amount equal to 12 seconds of Rejuvenation or 18 seconds of Regrowth. (Talented).
Tranquility: Channeled. Heals all nearby group members for 3035 while channeling.
Nature’s Swiftness: Instant. When activated, your next Nature spell with a base casting time less than 10 seconds becomes an instant cast.
Barkskin: All damage is reduced by 20%. While active, damaging attacks will not cause spellcasting delays. This spell is usable while stunned, frozen, feared, incapacitated, or asleep. Usable in all forms. Lasts 12 seconds.
Nature’s Grasp: While active, any time an enemy strikes the caster, they have a 100% chance to become afflicted by Entangling Roots. 3 charges. Lasts 45 seconds.
I’ve listed all of these for two reasons, one, for those brand new to healing as a druid, and two, as many druids seem to either not know or simply not use all the spells available to them.
Heal over Time spells (HoTs) are a major part of the druid’s healing and gives a distinct flavour to our healing. Our HoTs are particularly excellent for raid healing, but druids can cover tanks as well.
Your HoTs are generally the most valuable tool when it comes to raid healing. On fights with constant raid damage, Rejuvs and Wild Growth are invaluable, as their ticks will be constantly topping people off. It’s best to target your Wild Growths so that they hit as many raid members as possible so that the heals are most effective and not wasted. Wild Growth is best targeted at groups stood quite close together - often it is well placed on the melee or on ranged that are grouped together.
Keeping Rejuvs up on raid members also makes it easy to quickly top up any targets who suddenly take a bigger burst of damage, either by using Swiftmend or by a quick Nourish cast (which will have its heal boosted by the HoT on the target). For targets who need a bigger heal and who I know will be taking some more damage quite soon, I may use a Regrowth to apply that additional HoT as well.
Lifebloom is another heal to use, however, for overall raid healing it is less effective than your Rejuvs and Wild Growths and generally can take a lower priority. There are a few nice uses for Lifebloom in raid healing, though. The bloom at the end can be useful on targets that are still taking damage, if timed right the bloom can give a nice big heal to top someone up after a small damage spike. Because it is an instant spell, it is also a nice spell to toss out while on the move, particularly on targets that need some extra heals but already have a Rejuv on them and Swiftmend is unavailable or unnecessary. It is also a heal that I will often cast on myself when I’m having to move in a fight, if I’m kiting, for example. Lastly is the mana return of Lifebloom when it blooms - I will often apply Lifebloom to a target when Omen of Clarity(OoC) procs. Because the Lifebloom will not cost any mana with OoC, it is essentially a free mana return, and is an excellent way to recoup bits of mana throughout fights.
Although Lifebloom can be stacked 3 times on a target, I don’t find this to be effective when applied to raid healing. In those three global cooldowns required to stack the LB on a target, you could have easily applied three Rejuvs to three different raid members, which would provide longer heals over more people. Greater stacks do have their place, but it’s fine to just apply single stacks and move on to different targets.
Druids are best known for their strengths in raid healing, but druids can also be effective in healing tanks. While we won’t match a Paladin’s Holy Light spams (or Beacon, for that matter), we can still offer strong heals on tanks. I always consider it my duty while healing to keep an eye on the tanks as well even if assigned to the raid.
One of the most effective strategies for tank healing at the moment is the Nourish supported by HoTs strategy. Nourish can be a very powerful heal due to its inherent boost when a target is affected by one of your HoTs, plus points in Empowered Touch and the Glyph of Nourish (see Specs and Glyphs). It is also a very fast heal, particularly when you reach the high levels of haste needed to lower the global cooldown - Nourish can end up having a 1 or 1.1 second cast time, dropping even lower with Nature’s Grace procs.
To do this, one would HoT the tank (Regrowth, Rejuv, Lifebloom, Wild Growth), then use Nourish as the primary heal on the tank to top them up, reapplying HoTs as needed. It’s always a good idea to HoT up a tank pre-pull (even if raid healing) as well.
It’s not always feasible to keep all four of your HoTs running on a tank, whether you can’t afford the global cooldowns to keep reapplying or something like your Wild Growth would be best utilized elsewhere. Depending on the fight, the tank may or may not be close enough to the OT or to the melee group. If they are, Wild Growth may still be very effective as it will land on more than just the tank; if not, you may find the WG to be more effective elsewhere on the raid. You should aim to always keep at least your Regrowth and Rejuv up on the tank, though, as they will 1) Keep ticking on the tank, providing constant heals, 2) Ensure that a swiftmend will be available on the tanks whenever it is off cooldown, and 3) It will continue to boost your Nourish heals.
In its current inception, I tend not to keep 3 lifeblooms rolling on the tank (due to upcoming changes in Cataclysm, this may change, but that’s a discussion for another day!). This is largely due to the waste in global cooldowns, the mana inefficiency, and simply as it’s easier to just apply a single stack to keep all four HoTs up on the tank. It can have its situational uses though, for example; I’ve been playing with rolling 2 or 3 stacks on the tank in the Halion fight, as, when timed right, it will bloom right when the tank has a damage spike from the dragon’s breath, topping the tank back up at a moment where I’ve found I’m usually having to move (and so cannot cast a Nourish).
A note on Healing Touch:
At first glance, many druids think this should be their primary healing spell, as it is such a large heal. Unfortunately, though, it has a very long cast time. The cast time can be reduced by speccing 5 points into Naturalist and using the Glyph of Healing Touch, however, doing so requires 5 points that could be more effective elsewhere in your talent tree, and the glyph reduces the healing done by the spell. Doing these two things effectively turns your Healing Touch into a Nourish, but without the bonus effects from HoTs, so it really isn’t worth doing.
Healing Touch is best to use only with Nature’s Swiftness, as this will turn it into an instant cast spell. This makes an excellent ‘oh sh*t!!!’ button when someone is in desperate need of a big heal, whether it be a tank or a raid member or even yourself.
A note on Tranquility:
In its current inception, Tranquility isn’t always a great spell. It’s limitation is that it will only affect members in your party rather than work raid-wide. From what I’ve read, it is sounding like Tranquility will change in Cataclysm to act more like a Priest’s Divine Hymn, which will make it a much more useful spell. That being said, it still has its place in our arsenal and can be a useful spell to use, particularly if your entire party needs to be healed up.
Now that you know about all the different spells and some of the different styles and strategies, the best thing you can do now is go out and practice! It’s best to always be thinking as you’re healing, so that you can learn and adapt as you go. Find out what works for you, try out different strategies in different situations, and test things out.
It’s important to really learn the encounters you face in order to maximize your heals. As you learn fights you’ll be able to anticipate incoming damage and act and react accordingly. For example, a fight such as Festergut has varying damage levels and types throughout the encounter. At the start, there is much more damage on the entire raid due to the gas around the room. At this part of the fight, you will likely find yourself HoTing up the raid to keep them all topped off. As the fight progresses and Festergut starts inhaling the gas, the damage begins to shift - there is much less raid damage but much greater damage to the tanks. Now you may have to shift not only your healing targets but your whole strategy - you’ll be HoTing up and Nourishing the tank to deal with the big hits your tank will be taking. After those three inhales, Festergut will then stop to cast Pungent Blight, which will cause heavy raid damage. By knowing the fight and the expected incoming damage, you can preemptively resume HoTing the raid and be ready to finish topping them up after the Blight hits.
A big aspect to druid healing, and why it is so important to know the fights and expected damage, is how preemptive it is. We’re not waiting to see whether a person has taken damage, we’re anticipating the damage that will be incoming and acting accordingly. Whether HoTing a tank pre-pull or applying Rejuvs to raid members before a Bonestorm, we’re acting and timing our heals to quickly deal with the damage.
I’ll wrap up with the final two spells I listed earlier, Barkskin and Nature’s Grasp. While not expressly healing spells, they still deserve a place on your bars. Barkskin is incredibly useful for its damage reduction and might even save your life in a fight. Along with learning encounters to know when to expect damage to heal, timing your Barkskin to protect you against large bursts of damage in a fight is incredibly helpful. Nature’s Grasp, particularly in its current inception, I find is particularly useful when clearing trash (if an add escapes the tank) or in fights like Faction Champions in ToC. If a mob strikes you, they’ll be afflicted by Entangling Roots, snaring them, which will give you crucial time to escape. It is also useful to keep Cat Form and Dash on your bars. There may be a moment in an encounter when you need to run, and being able to quickly shift into cat to dash away may save your life in a fight.
That’s all for now, feel free to post with any comments or questions! Don’t forget to check out Specs and Glyphs and Gear, Gems and Enchants!
You can see the full guide altogether on the Guide to Healing page! I will try to keep that page updated with new patches and expansions along with the usual posts about changes on the normal blog.