Herbal Terminology - Actions and Properties

23rd Jan 2021

I wanted to make a post about the terminology that you'll see when working with herbs. These actions and properties are usually listed in the Materia Medica, or any guide that provides the description of the herbs.

abortifacient – induces abortion, miscarriage, or premature removal of a fetus

adaptogen – works through the endocrine system to modulate the physical, mental, and emotional effects of stress and increase resistance to physiological imbalances and disease by strengthening the immune system

adjuvant – aids the action of a medicinal agent

alterative – strengthens and nourishes the body, often through the removal of metabolic wastes

amphoteric – normalizes function of an organ or body system

analeptic – restorative or stimulating effect on central nervous system

analgesic – relieves pain

anaphrodisiac – reduces capacity for sexual arousal

anesthetic – induces loss of sensation or consciousness due to the depression of nerve function

antianemic – prevents or helps with anemia

antibacterial – destroys or stops the growth of bacteria

antibilious – eases stomach stress

anticatarrh – reduces inflamed mucous membranes of head and throat

antidepressant – acts to prevent, cure, or alleviate mental depression

antidiabetic – prevents or relieves diabetes

antidiarrhetic –prevents or treats diarrhea

antiemetic – stops vomiting

antifungal – destroys or inhibits the growth of fungus

antihemorrhagic – controls hemorrhaging or bleeding

anti-infectious – counteracts infection

anti-inflammatory – controls inflammation, a reaction to injury or infection

antimalarial – prevents or relieves malaria

antimicrobial – destroys microbes

antioxidant – prevents or inhibits oxidation

antipruritic – prevents or relieves itching

antipyretic – reduces fever (febrifuge)

antirheumatic – eases pain of rheumatism, inflammation of joints and muscles

antiseptic – produces asepsis, removes pus, blood, etc.

antispasmodic – calms nervous and muscular spasms or convulsions

antitussive – controls or prevents cough

antiviral – opposes the action of a virus

anxiolytic – reduces anxiety

aperient – relieves constipation; mild laxative

aperitive – stimulates the appetite for food

aphrodisiac – increases the capacity for sexual arousal

aromatic – a herb containing volatile oils, fragrant odor and slightly stimulating properties

asepsis – sterile; free of germs, infection, and any form of life

astringent – constricts and binds by coagulation of proteins

aquaretic – increases blood flow to the kidneys without increasing sodium and chloride resorption, thereby retaining electrolytes while increasing urine output; increases intravascular fluid volume which increases vascular resistance and blood pressure

bitter – stimulates appetite or digestive function

bronchial –relaxes spasms or constriction of the bronchi or upper part of the lungs, thereby improving respiration

carcinostatic –halts or inhibits the development or continued growth of cancer, carcinomas, or malignant tumors

cardiotonic – increases strength and tone (normal tension or response to stimuli) of the heart

carminative -- causes the release of stomach or intestinal gas

catarrhal – pertains to the inflammation of mucous membranes of the head and throat

cathartic – produces bowel movements

caustic – contains acidic compounds that have an escharotic or corrosive action that is capable of burning or eating away living tissues

cholagogue – increases flow of bile from gallbladder

cicatrizant – aids formation of scar tissue and wound healing

counterirritant – produces an inflammatory response for affecting an adjacent area

demulcent – soothes and protects inflamed and irritated mucous membranes both topically and internally

deobstruent – removes obstructions to clear or open natural ducts of the fluids and secretions of the body

dermatitis – inflammation of the skin evidenced my itchiness, redness, and various lesions

detergent – cleanses wounds and sores of infected or damaged tissue

diaphoretic – increases perspiration (synonym: sudorific)

digestive – promotes or aids the digestion process

disinfectant – destroys pathogenic microbes, germs, and noxious properties of fermentation

diuretic – increases urine flow

ecbolic – tends to increase contractions of uterus, facilitating childbirth

emetic – produces vomiting and evacuation of stomach contents

emmenagogue – regulates and induces normal menstruation

emollient – softens and soothes the skin

errhine –stimulates sneezing, increasing flow of mucus in nasal passages

escharotic – a caustic substance that destroys tissue and causes sloughing

estrogenic – causes the production of estrogen

euphoriant – produces a sense of bodily comfort; temporary effect and often addictive

expectorant – facilitates removal of mucus and other materials

febrifuge – reduces or relieves fever

galactagogue – promotes the flow of milk

hemagogue – promotes the flow of blood

hemostatic – controls or stops the flow of blood

hepatic – having to do with the liver

herpetic – treats skin eruptions relating to the herpes virus

hypertensive – raises blood pressure

hypnotic – strong-acting nervous system relaxant (nervines) that supports healthy sleep

hypoglycemant – lowers blood sugar

hypotensive – lowers blood pressure

lactifuge – reduces the flow of milk

laxative – loosens bowel contents

lithotriptic – a substance that causes kidney or bladder stones to dissolve

masticatory – increases flow of saliva upon chewing

mucilaginous – polysaccharide-rich compounds that coat and soothe inflamed mucous membranes

narcotic – induces drowsiness, sleep, or stupor, and lessons pain

nephritic – has a beneficial influence on the kidneys

nervine – a nerve tonic

nootropic – enhances memory, improves cognitive function and mood, reduces oxidative and eschemic damage to the brain

nutritive – a herb containing nutrients required to nourish and build the body

orexigenic – stimulates or increases the appetite

parturfaciant – induces contractions of labor at childbirth

purgative – causes the evacuation of intestinal contents; laxative

refrigerant – relieves thirst with its cooling properties

relaxant – tends to relax and relieve tension, especially muscular tension

renal –strengthens, cleanses or treats imbalance or disease states affecting the kidneys

resorbent – aids reabsorption of blood from bruises

rubefacient – reddens skin, dilates the blood vessels, and increases blood supply locally

sedative – exerts a soothing, tranquilizing effect on the body

sialagogue – increases the production and flow of saliva

soporific -- induces sleep

stimulant – increases body or organ function temporarily

stomachic – aids the stomach and digestive action

sudorific – increase perspiration

tonic – stimulates energy and increases strength and tone

trophorestorative – nourishes and restores balance to the body. Trophorestorative herbs typically have a strong affinity for an organ or organ system and correct deficiency and weakness not only through temporary stimulation but by deeply nourishing that organ or organ system.

vermifuge – expels worms from the intestines

vulnerary – aids in healing wounds