Herbal Terminology: General Herbal Terms

Posted by Iya Ifayomi Fasola - Initiated Practitioner on 23rd Jan 2021

These are some general herbal terms that you'd see when learning about herbs:

Binomial, or Latin binomial: The two-part scientific Latin name used to identify plants. The first name is the genus and is a general name that may be shared by a number of related plants. The second is the species name, which refers to the name that is specific to that individual plant, e.g., Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia.

Crude drug: A naturally occurring substance that has undergone only the process of collection and drying, i.e., plants, parts of plants, extracts, or exudates.

Drug: a pure substance or combination of pure substances (isolated from natural sources, semi-synthetic, or purely chemical in origin) intended to mitigate, treat, cure or prevent a disease in humans and/or other animals.

Garble: to remove the useful part of the plant from that which has less potent or no medicinal effects. e.g., removing petals from the calyx or removing leaves from the stem.

Formula: A combination of foods or herbs that can both enhance and neutralize potential effects of other ingredients in the preparation; where the formula as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Herb: The word herb (sometimes referred to as a botanical) has several different meanings depending on the perspective:

  • In commercial terms, herb generally refers to the leafy part of the plant used for culinary purposes. Seeds, bark, roots, etc. are usually referred to as spices and may have tropical or sub-tropical origins
  • In horticultural terms, herb refers to the plant being herbaceous, i.e., a non-woody, vascular plant.
  • In taxonomic terms, herb generally refers to the aboveground or aerial parts of the plant, i.e., the flower, leaf, and stem.
  • In terms of herbal medicine, herb refers to plants used in various forms or preparations, valued for their therapeutic benefits, and sold as dietary supplements in the US marketplace. This includes trees, fungi, and marine substances.

Maceration: An extraction process that occurs for a specified period of time during which fresh or dried plant material, cut into small pieces, are immersed in a liquid solvent or menstruum so that the medicinally active plant material maintains contact with the liquid component, releasing its chemical components into it.

Marc: The plant material that is used in making an herbal extraction or preparation.

Materia Medica: a Latin term from early pharmacy meaning medical material/substance

Pharmacopoeia – a medical textbook or official publication containing a list of medicinal drugs or herbal medicines with their properties, inherent effects and instructions for use.

Menstruum: A naturally-derived substance used as a solvent to extract compounds from plant material when making herbal extractions or preparations.

Pharmacognosy: The study of natural products, i.e., plant, animal, organism, or mineral in nature, used as drugs or for the preparation of drugs. Derived from the Greek pharmakon meaning drug and gnosis meaning knowledge.

Pharmacology: the study of the origin, nature, chemistry, uses and biochemical effects of drugs; it includes pharmacognosy, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, pharmacotherapeutics, and toxicology.

Phytochemicals: Chemical compounds or chemical constituents produced as a result of the plant’s normal metabolic processes. The chemicals are often referred to as secondary metabolites, of which there are several classes including alkaloids, anthraquinones, coumarins, fats, flavonoids, glycosides, gums, iridoids, mucilages, phenols, phytoestrogens, tannins, terpenes, terpenoids, and others. Extracts contain many chemical constituents, while chemicals that have been isolated from the plant are considered pharmaceutical drugs, e.g., salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, originally isolated from the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria, syn. Spiraea ulmaria, Rosaceae).

Phytoestrogens: A type of phytochemical with some influence on the estrogenic activity or hormonal system in humans. This rather broad term does not mean that the plant mimics human estrogen, but rather can compete for estrogen receptor site access blocking harmful estrogens, such as xenoestrogens, which can result in harmful effects.

Phytomedicines: Medicinal substances that originate from plants. This may include specific phytochemicals as well as whole plants or herbal preparations.