Basic Herbal Terminology

An understanding of herbal terminology is absolutely necessary before working with herbs. You should never use an herb or essential oil for medicinal purposes before knowing exactly how it will affect the body.

Herbal TeaPregnant or breastfeeding women need to check with a qualified healthcare provider before beginning any herbal preparations, and the same rules apply before giving herbs to children.

This list will help decode some of the jargon found in herbal books, and should be kept as a reference as you explore the beautiful world of herbal medicine.

Abortificant– An agent that induces or causes premature expulsion of a fetus.

Acrid– Having a hot, biting taste or causing heat and irritation when applied to the skin.

Alterative– An agent which produces gradual beneficial change in the body, usually by improving nutrition, without having any marked specific effect and without causing sensible evacuation.

Analgesic– A drug which relieves or diminishes pain; Anodyne

Anaphrodisiac– An agent which reduces sexual desire or potency.

Anesthetic– An agent that deadens sensation.

Anthelmintic– An agent that destroys or expels intestinal worms; Vermicide, Vermifuge

Antibiotic– An agent that destroys or arrests the growth of micro-organisms.

Anticoagulant– An agent that prevents clotting in a liquid such as blood.

Antiemetic– An agent that counteracts nausea and relieves vomiting.

Antihydrotic– An agent which reduces or suppresses perspiration.

Antilithic– An agent which reduces or suppresses urinary calculi (stones) and acts to dissolve those already present.

Antiperiodic– An agent which counteracts periodic or intermittent diseases (such as malaria).

Antiphlogistic– An agent which reduces inflammation.

Antipyretic– An agent which prevents or reduces fever.

Antiscrofulous– Counteracts scrofula.

Antiseptic– An agent for destroying or inhibiting pathogenic or putrifactive bacteria.

Antispasmodic– An agent that relieves or checks spasms or cramps.

Antitussive– An agent that relieves coughing.

Aperient– A mild stimulant for the bowels; a gentle purgative.

Aphrodisiac– An agent for arousing or increasing sexual desire or potency.

Appetizer– An agent that excites the appetite.

Aromatic– A substance having an agreeable odor ans stimulating qualities.

Astringent– An agent that contracts organic tissue, reducing secretions or discharges.

Bitter– Characterized by a bitter principle which acts on the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach to increase appetite and promote digestion.

Calmative– An agent that has a mild sedative or tranquilizing effect.

Cardiac– An agent that stimulates or otherwise affects the heart.

Carminative– An agent for expelling gas from the intestines.

Cathartic– An agent that acts to empty the bowels; Laxative

Cholagogue– An agent for increasing the flow of bile into the intestines.

Coagulant– An agent that induces clotting in a liquid such as blood.

Demulcent– A substance that soothes irritated tissue, particularly mucous membranes.

Deodorant– An herb that has the effect of destroying or masking odors.

Depressant– An agent which lessens nervous or functional activity; opposite of stimulant.

Depurative– An agent that cleanses and purifies the system, particularly the blood.

Diaphoretic– An agent that promotes perspiration; Sudorific.

Digestive– An agent that promotes or aids digestion.

Disinfectant– An agent that cleanses infection by destroying or inhibiting the activity of disease-producing micro-organisms.

Diuretic– An agent that increases the secretion and expulsion of urine.

Emetic– An agent that causes vomiting.

Emmenagogue– An agent that promotes menstrual flow.

Emollient– An agent used externally to soften and soothe.

Errhine– An agent that promotes sneezing and nasal discharges.

Euphoriant, Euphorigen– An agent that induces an abnormal sense of vigor and buoyancy.

Expectorant– An agent that promotes the discharge of mucus from the respiratory passages.

Febrifuge– An agent that reduces or eliminates fever.

Galactigogue– An agent that encourages or increases the secretion of milk.

Hallucinogen– An agent that induces hallucinations.

Hemostatic– An agent that stops bleeding.

Hepatic– A drug that acts on the liver.

Hydragogue– A purgative that produces abundant watery discharge.

Hypnotic– An agent that promotes or produces sleep.

Irritant– An agent that causes inflammation or abnormal sensitivity in living tissues.

Laxative– An agent promoting evacuation of the bowels; a mild purgative.

Narcotic– A drug which relieves pain and induces sleep when used in medicinal doses; in large doses narcotics produce convulsions, coma or death.

Nauseant– An agent that produces an inclination to vomit.

Nephritic– A medicine applicable to diseases of the kidney.

Nervine– An agent that has a calming or soothing effect on the nerves.

Oxytocic– An agent that stimulates contraction of the uterine muscles and so facilitates or speeds up childbirth.

Pectoral– A remedy for pulmonary or other chest diseases.

Poison– A substance which has a harmful or destructive effect when in contact with living tissue.

Purgative– An agent that produces a vigorous emptying of the bowels.

Refrigerant– An agent that lowers abnormal body heat.

Restorative– An agent that restores consciousness or normal physiological activity.

Rubefacient– A gentle local irritant that produces redness of the skin.

Sedative– A soothing agent that reduces nervousness, distress, or irritation.

Sialagogue– An agent that stimulates the secretion of saliva.

Stimulant– An agent that excites or quickens the activity of physiological processes.

Stomachic– An agent that strengthens, stimulates, or tones the stomach.

Styptic– An agent that contracts tissues; specifically blood vessels to control bleeding.

Tonic– An agent that strengthens or invigorates organs or the entire organism.

Vasoconstrictor– An agent that narrows the blood vessels, thus raising blood pressure.

Vasodilator– An agent that widens the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure.

Vulnerary– A healing application for wounds.

All Information from The Herb Book by John Lust

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One comment on “Basic Herbal Terminology

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