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Herbal Glossary

Herbal Medicine uses numerous terms which describe the action of the herb in question.

See below for an alphabetical list of some of the most commonly used herbal medicine terms.

NB - based on human health; some herbs listed may be toxic to horses/dogs.

Abortifacient: Causes premature abortion of the embryo. Examples are pennyroyal, aloe, sandalwood.

Adaptogens: These herbs that help us adapt to stress by supporting the adrenal glands, the endocrine system. They work holistically. Examples are ginseng root, nettle leaf, sarsaparilla, licorice root and ashwagandha.

Alterative: Known as 'blood cleansers' in the past, these herbs improve lymphatic circulation, boost immunity and help clear chronic conditions, particularly of the skin. These herbs help chronic conditions because they aid in the elimination of metabolic toxins. Alteratives may be prescribed for sores, boils, tumours and cancers. In addition they reduce fevers, detoxify the liver, kill parasites and worms, help in the treatment of infectious, contagious diseases and epidemics. Flu, acne, herpes, and venereal diseases also respond to this type of herb. Examples are ginseng, aloe, sandalwood, red clover, burdock, bayberry, black pepper, cinnamon, myrrh, and safflower.

Amoebicidal: These herbs treat illness caused by amoeba e.g. amoebic dysentery.

Analgesic or anodynes: These herbs reduce or eliminate pain. Examples are camphor, chamomile, cinnamon, cloves, echinacea, lavender flower, feverfew herb, cabbage leaves, wintergreen leaf, passionflower herb and flower.

Anaphrodisiac: The opposite of an aphrodisiac. These herbs decrease or delay sexual desires/feelings.

Anaesthetics: Induces anaesthesia or numbness. Examples are ashok, calamus, gudmar, and jatamanshi.

Anthelmintic: Antiparasitic - these herbs destroy and dispel worms, parasites, fungus and yeast. They are also known as vermicides or vermifuges. Examples are Pau d'arco, goldenseal, wormseed, wormwood, ajwan, cayenne, peppers, and pumpkin seeds.

Anodyne: These herbs are pain relievers. Also known as analgesics. Examples are ashok, barberry, cedar, and ginger.

Antacid: Helps to neutralise excess stomach acidity. Examples are marshmallow root and leaf, meadowsweet herb, hops flower, and sweet flag.

Antibilious: These herbs combat nausea, stomach ache, and other bilious symptoms that are caused by an excessive secretion of bile.

Antibiotic: Inhibits the growth of bacteria. Examples are turmeric and echinacea.

Antidepressant: A drug that counters depression.

Antidiabetic: Support diabetes, may also help body to utilise insulin more effectively. Examples of herbs are amalaki, blackberry, fenugreek, gudmar, senna, and shilajit.

Antidiarrhoeal : Useful for helping stop diarrhoea. Examples are Blackberry, comfrey, gentian, red raspberry, and yellow dock, black pepper, and ginger.

Antiemetic: Prevents and alleviates nausea and vomiting. Examples are Cloves, coriander, ginger, and raspberry.

Antiepileptic: Herb that combats epileptic fits or seizures. Anti-haemorrhagic: Prevents or alleviates haemorrhage.

Anti-inflammatory: Reduces inflammation.

Antilithic: Helps to prevent the formation of stones in the kidneys and bladder.

Antiperiodic : This medicine prevents the periodic recurrence of attacks of a disease e.g. malaria. Examples are barberry, chirayata, guduchi, kutaj, and vacha.

Antiphlogistic: Herb that counteracts inflammation. (See anti-inflammatory above).

Antipyretic: Reduces fever, destroys fever toxins and induces perspiration to increase the loss of heat. Similar to febrifuge or refrigerant. Example are amalaki, black pepper, brihati, nirgundi, safflower, sandalwood.

Antirheumatic: Herb that relieves or cures rheumatism.

Antiscorbutic: Effective in the prevention or treatment of scurvy.

Antiseptic: A herb, drug or other substance that prevents decay or putrefaction. A substance that inhibits the growth and development of microorganisms without necessarily destroying them. Also see Bitter. Examples are aloe, chitrak, gokshura, gudmar, sandalwood and turmeric.

Anti-spasmodic: Relieves or prevents involuntary muscle spasm or cramp. Examples are chamomile, ashwagandha, basil, calamus, guggul, licorice, myrrh, sage, gotu kola, jatamanshi, peppermint, sandalwood, and spearmint.

Anti-syphilitic: These herbs are used by practitioners to improve or cure syphilis. Also called antiluetic. Examples are black pepper, cedar, guduchi, guggul.

Antitussive: Used to prevents or alleviate a cough.

Anti-venomous: These herbs can act against poisonous matter from animals.

Antizymotic: Herbs that destroy pathogens or disease producing organisms.

Aperient : A mild or gentle laxative. Example: Rhubarb.

Aphrodisiac: Restores or increases sexual power and desire. There are two types :- Tonics - These herbs tone and develop the sexual organs. Stimulants - These are prescribed to increase the functioning of the reproductive organs. Examples are angelica, ahwagandha, asparagus, fenugreek, fo-ti, ginseng, gokshura, hibiscus, kapikachu seeds, pippali, rose, saffron and shatavari. The nutritive tonics such as aghwagandha, bala, fo-ti, ghee, licorice, marshmallow, sesame seeds and shatavari increase semen and breast milk.

Appetiser: These herbs stimulate the appetite. Examples are cardamom, coriander.

Aperient: These herbs produce a natural movement of the bowel.

Aromatic: Herb with a pleasant, fragrant scent and a strong taste. These may be used to help to disguise the taste of other herbs in preparations. Examples are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, peppermint, and turmeric.

Astringent: These cause a local contraction of the skin, blood vessels, and other tissues and this stops the discharge of blood, mucus, etc. Usually used locally as a topical application. Examples are amalaki, arjuna, ashok, cinnamon, jasmine, sandalwood, and yarrow.

Bactericidal: These herbs are used to counteract and prevent bacterial infections. They deactivate and destroy bacteria.

Balsam/Balsamic: A healing and soothing resin of a tree e.g. myrrh.

Bitter/Bitter Tonic: A solution of bitter, sometimes aromatic, plant products used as a mild tonic. These herbs reduce toxins in the blood and may also help in weight reduction. Herbalists prescribe bitters to destroy infection, reduce fevers and they are also useful for very thirsty patients. They can help to reduce sweating, inflammation, and infection. Examples are aloe, barberry, chirayata, gentian, and goldenseal.

Calmative: These herbs are soothing and have sedative properties. See also nervines.

Cardiac Stimulant: Prescribed by herbalists for patients with weak hearts - these herbs promote circulation.

Carminative: These herbs help normal peristalsis and thus assist in preventing gas from forming in the intestines. They also help in expelling gas. Carminatives increase absorption of nutrients, they dispel water and mucus, relieving spasms and pain. Weak digestion from anxiety, nervousness or depression is improved. Examples are chamomile, chrysanthemum, coriander, fennel, lime, peppermint, and spearmint, ajwan, basil, calamus, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric.

Cathartic: Causes evacuation of the bowels. A cathartic may be either mild (laxative) or vigorous (purgative). Examples are figs, prunes, olive oil (laxatives), senna, castor oil and aloe vera.

Cephalic: This term refers to diseases affecting the head and upper part of the body.

Cholagogue/Cholagogic/ Choleretic: These herbs that stimulate the flow of bile from gall bladder. Examples are arka, guduchi, licorice, safflower, senna and sesame.

Condiment: Improves the flavour of food and drinks.

Cordial: A stimulating medicine or drink.

Decongestant: Used for relieving congestion.

Demulcent: These herbs soothe, protect and relieve the irritation of inflamed mucous membranes. (i.e. protects stomach and urinary bladder lining). Examples are barley, licorice, linseed, almond and olive oils.

Dentifrice: Can be used as a toothpaste.

Depurative: Purifies and cleanses the blood.

Detergent: Cleanses boils, ulcers, wounds, etc.

Diaphoretic: These herbs promote perspiration, particularly excessive perspiration. They will promote circulation, dispelling fever and chills. Diaphoretics are often prescribed to eliminate surface toxins, to relieve muscle tension, aching joints and inflammatory skin conditions. They also have an action on the kidneys, liver, urinary tract and can be used to treat gall bladder disorders; dispelling kidney, gall and urinary bladder stones. Practitioners also prescribe these herbs for genitourinary disease (including herpes), oedema; painful, difficult or burning urination or infections. See sudorific. Examples are basil, barley, ajwan, cardamom, parsley, cinnamon, eucalyptus, spearmint, chrysanthemum, juniper berries, asparagus, marshmallow, burdock, dandelion, chamomile coriander, fennel and ginger .

Digestive: Promote normal digestion in the stomach and intestines. Examples are coriander, cumin, rock salt, and turmeric.

Discutient: Herb that dissolves or causes something such as a tumour, to disappear. Also called discussive.

Disinfectant: These herbs destroy pathogenic microbes that cause infectious diseases. Examples are apamarga, arka, gudachi, katuka, sandalwood.

Diuretic: These herbs promote the production and secretion of urine. Examples are gokshura, apamarga, ashwagandha, barberry, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger,sandalwood gotu kola, parsley gudachi and licorice

Drastic: An aggressive purgative.

Ecbolic: See abortifacient.

Emetic: These herbs cause vomiting. There are three types : Central emetics act through the vomiting center of the brain. (e.g. chamomile). Local emetics irritate the nerves of the gastric mucus membrane (e.g. mustard). General emetics act through the blood on the vomiting centre. Examples of herbs with emetic action include pippali, rock salt, vacha, ipecac, lobelia, apamarga, arka, chakramarda, chitrak and licorice.

Emmenagogue: These herbs brings on menstruation. Herbalists also prescribe them to clear blood congestion, blood clots, enrich the blood, moisten female reproductive organs, counteract aging and address poor nutrition. Examples are chamomile, saffron, angelica, hibiscus, jasmine, peony, rose, and aloe.

Emollient: These are substances that are used externally to soften and soothe the skin. Examples are oils, honey, bread or bran poultice, carrots, turnips.

Epispastic: Substances locally applied to the skin as in poultices, wraps, etc. (e.g. mustard). Errhine: These herbs are applied to the mucus membranes of the nose to increase nasal secretion. Examples are black pepper, ginger, amalaki, apamarga, arka.

Esculent: Edible.

Exanthematous: A herbal remedy for skin eruptions such as measles, scarlet fever etc. The term exanthematous refers to any eruptive disease or fever.

Exhilarant: Herbs that cheer the mind.

Expectorant: These herbs help to clear mucous from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea; sometimes the meaning is extended to all remedies that relieve a cough. Examples are ginger, licorice, calamus, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, sage, eucalyptus, thyme, wild cherry.

Farinaceous: Having a mealy or floury texture or surface.

Febrifuge: Reduces fever and body temperature. A febrifuge is the same as an antipyretic and refrigerant.

Galactogogue: These herbs increase the secretion of breast milk. Examples are cumin, fennel, mustard, pippali. Germicide: Destroys germs and worms.

Germifuge: Expels germs (see germicide above).

Hemostatic: These herbs stop bleeding, they purify the blood, are astringent and alterative. Examples are durba, goldenseal, red raspberry, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger.

Hepatic: Prescribed to promote the well-being of the liver and increase the secretion of bile. Example : Goldenseal.

Herpatic: A remedy for skin eruptions including ringworm, etc.

Hypnotic: Sleep producing.

Hypoglycaemic: Prescribed by herbalists to reduce blood sugar.

Hypotensive: Reduces blood pressure.

Laxative: These herbs act to promote evacuation of the bowels; a gentle cathartic. Examples are castor oil, flax seed, psyllium, rhubarb, senna.

Lithotriptic: These herbs are prescribed to dissolve stones in the kidneys or bladder. Examples are arjuna, arka and amalaki.

Maturating: These herbs cause boils or other eruptions to come to a head.

Mucilaginous/Mucilage: Herbs that have a soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes.

Myotic: Practitioners prescribe these herbs to cause the contraction of the pupil and diminution of ocular tension.

Narcotic: An addictive substance that reduces pain and produces sleep.

Nauseant: Similar to an emetic, this herb that causes nausea and vomiting.

Nervine: These herbs calm and soothe the nerves and reduce tension and anxiety. Examples are ashwagandha, bala, gudmar.

Nutritive: Suitable to eat - nourishing for the body.

Opthalmicum: Prescribed for eye diseases.

Parasiticide: These herbs destroy parasites (see also germicide, antiparasitic).

Parturient/ Parturifacient: Practitioners prescribe these herbs to induce and promote labour. Examples are barley, pippali.

Pectoral: Affecting the area of the chest and lungs, relieving problems in these areas.

Pessary: A preparation in the form of a cone or cylinder to be inserted into the vagina.

Poultice: Herbs that are prepared in a special way and applied to the surface of the body as a remedy for certain disorders.

Pungent: Irritating or sharp. Producing a sharp sensation of taste or smell.

Purgative: These herbs are usually used to relieve severe constipation. Any substance that promotes the vigorous evacuation of the bowels. Examples are aloe, epsom salts, licorice, rhubarb, safflower, senna.

Sedative: These herbs are sleep promoting; they also allay excitement and produce relaxation.

Sialagogue: Promotes the flow of saliva. Examples are arka, black pepper, chitrak, ginger, licorice.

Soporific: Similar to sedatives - these herbs help to produce sleep.

Spasmodic: Causing muscle to contract.

Stimulant: These herbs stimulate and increase the activity or efficiency of a system or organ. They act more rapidly than a tonic. Examples are cayenne, camphor, ephedra, barberry extract, yellow thistle juice, sandalwood, gotu kola, guggul and myrrh.

Stomachic: Practitioners prescribe these herbs to give strength and tone to the stomach, stimulate digestion, and improve the appetite. Examples are amalaki, bilwa, black pepper, cardamom, cedar, chitrak, cumin, ginger, licorice and turmeric.

Styptic: The same as an astringent: Practitioners use these herbs to stop haemorrhage and excessive bleeding. They cause blood vessels to contract or coagulation of the albuminous tissues of the blood. Examples are adrenaline and alum.

Sudorific: These herbs cause heavy perspiration.

Suppository: A preparation in the form of a cone or cylinder to be inserted into the rectum.

Tablet: A compressed, measured amount of a substance.

Tincture: A solution of the active principal of a herb in alcohol.

Tonic: These herbs restore and strengthen the entire system. They work holistically. They produce and restore normal tone. A general tonic would be one that "braces up" the whole system. Examples include aloe, bala, barberry, chirayata, guduchi, katuka, gentian, goldenseal.

Tonic (nutritive): Practitioners prescribe these herbs to permanently increase the tone of a part of the body or the entire system, by nourishing and increasing weight. Examples include amataki, ashwagandha, cane sugar, coconut, coriander, dates.

Tonics, Rejuvenative: These are used to regenerate cells and tissues; promotes longevity. Examples include ashwagandha, guggul, haritaki, calamus, aloe, amalaki, gotu kola, saffron and guggul.

Thymoleptic: Used as an energiser on the mental/emotional level.

Vermicide/Vermifuge: These herbs kill intestinal worms (see anthelmintic).

Vesicant: An agent that causes vesicles or blistering, such as poison ivy.

Vulnerary: Practitioners use these herbs to treat fresh cuts and wounds. Vulnerarys are usually used as a poultice. Examples include marshmallow, aloe, comfrey, honey, licorice, turmeric and slippery elm.