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Understanding the Herbal Terms & Actions of the Western Herbal Tradition

The Herbal Medicine world is like any other with its own terminology.  A lot of the terms we use and that are listed below are very traditional and go back to the roots of the Western Tradition.  On the other hand some of these terms are relatively new like “Adaptogen”

This list will be updated over time as there are many herbal terms. If you have any questions or comments our contact information is at the bottom of this page.

Herbal Actions:




Adaptogen – An herb with the ability to encourage the body to function optimally through different means in a non-specific way. One of the requirements is plants has to be Safe and non-toxic.


Alterative/depurative – And herb that helps the body facilitate detoxification and is often applied to rheumatic and skin complaints. The process is thought to be achieved by helping to clear by products, “toxins” and metabolites.


Analgesic – The ability to reduce pain weather applied internally or topically.


Anaphorodisiac –  a plant that reduces drive and desire for sexual intercourse ultimately reducing libido.


Antacid –  an herb that helps neutralize or reduce stomach acid.


Anthelmintic –  a plant that is used  to help expel intestinal worms


Antiallergic –  compounds within a plant that counter or offset natural biological allergic responses.


Antianaemic – a plant that helps support the body against anemia through many different methods.


Antiarrythmic – the ability to prevent the effects of arrhythmia.


Antibacterial – a plant with properties that prevent bacteria from growing.


Anticatarhal – a substance that breaks up and helps clear mucous.


Antidiabetic – a plant or compound that helps support diabetes in many different ways.


Antidiarrhoeal – a plant or compound that offsets the effects of diarrhoea.


Antiemetic – a plant or compound that prevents or reduces symptoms of nausea and/or vommiting.


Antifungal – a plant or constituents that inhibits and/or destroys fungal cells.


Antihaemorrhagic – a plant that is used internally to reduce or stop internal bleeding.


Anti-inflammatory – A plant that is the opposite of pro-inflammatory.


Antioxidant – a constituent that counters free radical damage.


Antiprostatic – a plant or compound that counters the effects and symptoms of the prostate gland.


Antipyretic – a plant or compound that reduces fever.


Antirheumatic – a plant or compound that is used for complaints that affect the joints.


Antispasmodic – a plant or compound that reduces spasm of skeletal and/or smooth muscle.


Antitussive – a plant or constituent that acts to relax coughing spasm.


Antiviral – a constituent that acts to prevent growth or destroys a virus.


Anxiolytic – a plant or compound that reduces the symptoms related to anxiety.


Aphrodisiac – a compound that increases libido.


Aromatic Bitter – a plant containing bitter compounds with a warming effect on the body and digestive system.


Astringent – a compound’ often a tannin, that binds to proteins causing a tightening affect.  Often used in digestion and topically to tonify mucous membranes and skin.




Bitter – specific compounds that bind to specific bitter receptors stimulating the digestive process.




Cardioprotective – a plant with compounds that have been shown to protect heart tissue.


Cardiotonic – a plant with specific constituents that encourage the heart to be more efficient with each contraction.


Carminative – compounds found in plants that help to reduce gas and bloating through helping to break down gas and/or expel it.


Cholagogue – a compound in a plant that encourage the gall bladder and liver to release bile.


Choleretic – a compound in in a plant that encourages the liver to increase production of bile.


Circulatory system stimulant – a constituent that increases blood flow to the peripheral parts of the body often with a warming affect.


Cognitive enhancement – a plant with compounds that increase cognitive function.


Counterirritant – a compound in a plant that when applied topically that produces mild inflammation superficially to help relieve deeper inflammation in muscle or rheumatic tissue.




Demulcent – a compound that is soothing to the mucous membranes in different body systems including the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems.


Diaphoretic – plants with specific compounds that help with fevers by often inducing a fever.


Diuretic – compounds found in plants that encourage urine production and output.



Emetic – plants with the ability to induce nausea and vomiting.


Emmenagogue – plants with compounds that can begin the process or increase menstrual flow.


Expectorant – a compound in plants that encourage the expelling of mucous from the lungs or upper respiratory tract by either altering the viscosity or improving clearance.




Galactagogue – A plant or constituent that increase milk production in a breast feeding mother.



Haemostatic – A constituent when used can limit or stop bleeding


Hepatic tonic – An herb that strengthens and “tonifies” the lliver.


Hepatoprotective – A constituent in an herb that acts to protect the liver in normal functioning or in excess stress.


Hypnotic – A constituent or plant that has a sedating effect.


Hypoglycaemic – A constituent or plant that lowers glucose in the blood.


Hypolipidaemic – A constituent or plant that lowers triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood.


Hypotensive – A constituent or plant that lowers blood pressure.



Immune enhancing – A constituent or plant that enhances immune function.


Immune modulation – A constituent or plant that can act to enhance or lessen immune function.




Laxative – A constituent or plant that acts to clear stool and induce a bowel movement.


Lymphatic – A constituent or plant that acts to move the lymphatic system.




Mucous Membrane Tonic – A constituent or plant that strengthens the integrity and functioning of the mucous membranes.




Nervine – a substance or plant that calms and soothes the nervous system either through sedating or uplifting.




Partus preparator – A constituent or plant that is used to prepare a woman’s uterus for childbirth.


Peripheral vasodilator – A substance that helps to dilate the vasculature system to help blood flow and potentially reduce blood pressure.


Pungent – A warming bitter often containing volatile oils.




Refrigerant – A constituent or plant with cooling potential.




Sedative – A constituent or plant that causes drowsiness and induces sleep.


Sialagogue – A constituent or plant that causes the salivary ducts to produce and release more saliva.


Spasmolytic – A constituent or plant that can relax smooth muscle spasm.




Thymoleptic – A specific plant or constituent that is considered a nervine that uplifts the mood and relieves stress.


Tonic – A constituent or plant that “tonifies” the whole system through strengthening and enhancing function.


Trophorestorative – A term used to indicate a constituent or plant that restores a specific tissue state.




Urinary antiseptic – A constituent or plant that has antibacterial properties in the urinary tract system.


Urinary demulcent – A constituent or plant that acts to soothe and comfort the urinary tract syste


Uterine tonic – A constituent or plant that has a strengthening or tonifying effect on the uterus.




Vasoconstrictor – A constituent or plant that causes a constricting effect on the vasculature system.


Vasoprotective – A constituent or plant that has a protective effect on the vasculature system often through antioxidant support.


Venous tonic – A constituent or plant that strengthens or tonifies the vasculature system.


Vulnerary – A constituent or plant that acts to help heal wounds.



David is a practising Medical Herbalist living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  The herbal dispensary he works with is stocked with therapeutic grade tinctures that are among the highest strength in the industry.  The dry herbs he uses are all locally or regionally sustainably sourced plants in North America.  If the herb is not accessible locally or regionally the dispensary supports other local distributors in Victoria, British Columbia. This is the vision of Errant Empire Herbal Medicine to re-localize herbal medicine.

If you are interested in learning about how to understand the strength of tinctures or would like to talk one-on-one with a Medical Herbalist, please feel free to reach out to or see our BLOGs and pages below.  Thank you for reading and take care.


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