I’m sure you are excited for another lesson in Herbology definitions!
Below I have listed the most common medicinal actions and what they mean in simple words. These terms are from “The Herbal Handbook” by David Hoffman, a book I use daily and highly recommend to any Herbologist. An online source, which is extremely accurate, is Annie’s Remedy. There she has a menu called “Herb Properties” where you can find these.
The medicinal action of a plant (sometimes referred to as its constituents, qualities, or properties) is the plant’s basic functions-medicinally. This means, how the plant will affect the body. I use these terms in many of my plant descriptions and also in my product details.
Constituents are more accurately defined as chemicals within actions of medicinal plants and will be described more in detail in another section.
Adaptogen– an herb that works best as a preventative form of treating the body to prevent burn-out (illness, nervous break down, etc.)
Alterative– (also sometimes called depurative) herbs that alter the body’s waste removal process, thus cleansing to body and eventually restoring it to normal function (think juicing cleanse)
Anti-catarrhal– herbs that remove discharge or build up, usually in the sinus region.
Anti-depressent– herbalists tend to use the term nervine tonic so refer to that definition.
Anti-emetic– herbs that relieve the feeling of nausea. These herbs usually work in two ways; working to settle digestion and they aid in digestion soothing nausea.
Anti-Inflammatory– now here we will get a little deep. Inflammation is a normal and very healthy response to a problem in the body. Think of it as bubble wrap around an injury so the injury can heal without further damage. It is counterproductive and dangerous to stop or prevent the body from reacting by inflaming. Anti-inflammatory herbs do not actually stop that process; they encourage blood cleansing, which in turn helps to speed recovery of the injury, lowering the inflammation.
Anti-lithic– herbs that help remove urinary and kidney gravel (stones) and prevent more from forming.
Anti-microbial– this is what Herbologists call anti-biotic. Anti-microbial herbs destroy and fend off pathogens (antibiotics literally mean “anti-life”, therefore are not used in the traditional sense- in herbology).
Anti-spasmodic– herbs that relax muscles or prevent them from cramping. Many nervines fall into this category because if the mind is relaxed often the body is as well. There are specific herbs for each part of the body, that work best for certain organs.
Aperient– herbs that are a subtle laxative that relaxe only the bowl, encouraging natural movement.
Aromatic– in Herbology this is often a secondary action. Aromatics are oil-based aromas that are generally pleasant. Essential Oils use their odor’s benefits as a primary function.
Astringent– (often used as tannins interchangeably, but in fact astringent herbs have tannins in them.) Astringent herbs make a barrier on the top of exposed skin or other tissue, which reduces inflammation and pain and irritation from a form of numbing.
Bitter- What IS a bitter?!!?! A very common term used in herbal medicine and a current trend. Bitters work best as a preventative medicine because of their ability to help digestion (thus improving all body functions). The “bitter principle” in bitters produces saliva, also triggering the central nervous system to tell the gut to make more of the digestive hormone-gastrin. This gastrin helps increase the appetite, stimulate liver & gallbladder, helps repair damaged stomach and intestine lining, and helps the pancreas regulate blood sugar through its hormones.
Cardiac Tonic– herbs that provide a normalizing action to the heart.
Carminative- oil rich herbs that mend the stomach and digestive tract, relieve gas and cramping, and promote healthy digestion.
Cholagogue- herbs which useful function pertain to the releasing of bile into the liver to promote digestion, often as a laxative.
Demulcent– a common word in herbal medicine referring to herbs that protect and calm INTERNAL tissue due to the mucilage present in the demulcent (lol) . A herb that protects and calms EXTERNAL tissue is called emollient.
Diaphoretic- herbs that produce sweat to release toxins through the body’s biggest organ-the skin.
Diuretic- herbs that increase urine as a ways of eliminating toxins allowing them to pass through your body (these herbs usually also help soothe urinary tract)
Emetic- herbs that cause vomiting through stimulating nervous system or stomach.
Emmenagogue- herbs that are broadly defined as normalizing for the female reproductive system, particularly by stimulating menstrual flow.
Emollient- herbs that, through mucilage or oils, protect, soothe, and soften external tissues (skin).
Expectorant- herbs that expel mucus from the lungs. There are two different kinds:
Stimulating expectorant– irritates the respiratory tissue to cause expulsion.
Relaxing expectorants– soothe tissue to loosen mucus then expels it (productive cough).
Febrifuge- herbs that reduce fevers by various chemical makeups.
Hepatic- herbs that aid the liver in various ways.
Hypnotic- herbs that induce a healing sleep.
Laxative- herbs that contain a constituent called anthraquinone glycosides that stimulate contractions of the bowl to promote movement within 8-12 hours (may cause cramping).
Nervine- herbs that have an effect on the nervous system. This includes nervine relaxants, nervine tonics, and nervine stimulants.
Nervine relaxant- relaxing action on the mind and body helping to relieve anxiety symptoms
Nervine tonic- aid the body and mind, help with coping, generally also relaxing.
Nervine stimulant- stimulant to the body’s nervous system.
Pectoral- beneficial herb to the lungs.
Rubefacient- herbs that bring blood to the surface when applied to a wound or injury to encourage cleansing or mock-inflammation.
Sedative- herbs that calm the nervous system and relaxes the body through various plant constituents.
Stimulant- herbs that quicken and encourage nervous system.
Tonic- herbs that enhance body systems (tons of sub-categories).
Vermifuge– herbs also known as anthelmintic or anti-parasitic, meaning to expel worms through the digestive tract. Yum.
Vulnerary- herbs that are healing to wounds or ulcers, external and internal.
There are many herbs that fall into many of these categories, each. Mostly they have a main medicinal action (main use for them). Hope this helped!!
Until next time!!