Glossary of Herbal Terms

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z  

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Abortifacient — Induces abortion

Adaptogen — Stabilizes physiological processes and regulates system function while helping the body adapt to a variety of stressors

Adjuvant — Aids in the action of a medicinal agent or other herbs when added to a formula, also used to enhance taste of herbal formulas

Alcalizing — Often rich in minerals, aids in reducing acidity

Alterative — See also: depurative. Also known as blood cleansers, aids in restoring vitality and health when taken over long periods

Amphoteric — Relates to the capacity of certain plants to possess seemingly opposing actions (like wild cherry bark being both an expectorant and antitussive) and a capacity to normalize organ or body system function

Analgesic — See also: anodyne. Relieves pain (used internally or externally), whereas anodyne herbs are used externally or topically

Anaphrodisiac — Reduces libido and capacity for sexual arousal

Anodyne — Relieves mild pain, used externally

Anthelmintic — See also: vermifuge. Helps destroy and expel worms and parasites from the body

Anti-catarrhal — Lowers or stops formation and secretion of mucus in the body, such as the respiratory system, and indicated to clear excess mucus during ear, nose, and throat infections

Anti-inflammatory — Lowers inflammation in the body, either through an astringent or emollient effect, or from salicylates blocking prostaglandins

Antianemic — Prevents or cures anemia, generally rich in iron

Antibacterial — Destroys or stops the growth of bacteria

Antibilious — Normalizes bile production and flow through its effect on the liver and gallbladder

Antibiotic — Inhibits growth of pathogenic microorganisms, commonly bacteria

Anticoagulant — Slows or impedes blood coagulation via platelet activity

Antidepressant — Acts to prevent, cure, or alleviate mental depression. Often nervine tonics, and adaptogenic herbs

Antidiabetic — Prevents or relieves diabetes, moderates tendency and symptoms. Assists with blood sugar management. Often inulin rich

Antidiarrhetic — Prevents or treats diarrhea, often astringents

Antiemetic — Stop nausea and prevents vomiting, often carminatives

Antifungal — Destroys or inhibits the growth of fungus and yeasts

Antihemorrhagic — Controls hemorrhaging or bleeding, often astringents

Antilithic — Prevents the formation of kidney and bladder stones and assists with dissolving and excreting them from the body

Antimalarial — Prevents or relieves malaria

Antimicrobial — Helps destroy or resist to pathogenic microorganisms, acting as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, or anti-parasitic

Antioxidant — Prevents free radical formation and reverses oxidative damage, such as oxidative stress on the organism

Antiperiodic — Lowers intensity and return frequency of recurrent, cyclic diseases (like malaria or tropical fevers)

Antipruritic — Prevents or relieves itching

Antipyretic — See also: febrifuge. Lowers body temperature to relieve fever, often salicylates

Antirheumatic — Relieves or cures rheumatism by lowering inflammation along with pain and swelling, often anti-inflammatories

Antiscorbutic — Cures or prevents scruvy, vitamin C rich

Antiseptic — Prevents the growth of disease causing organisms, destroys microbes upon contact

Antispasmodic — Relieves or prevents cramping or spasms, often related to the nervous system

Antitussive — Controls or relieves coughing, often calming expectorants, astringent emollients, or antispasmodics acting on the respiratory system

Antiviral — Inhibits viruses, such as herpes and influenza

Aperient — Gently laxative without purging, favorizes healthy elimination through the bowels

Aperitive — Stimulates the appetite, often bitters and aromatic herbs

Aphrodisiac — Increases libido and capacity for sexual arousal, often general tonics

Aromatic — See also: carminative. Rich in volatile oils and fragrant scents, assists with digestion

Astringent — Often rich in tannins, contracts tissues and tightens mucous membranes


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Bacteriostatic — Stops growth and implantation of bacteria

Bitter — Stimulates appetite or digestive function along with secretion of gastric juices. Often digestive and liver tonic

Bronchodilator — Usually antispasmodics, helps relax the bronchi and facilitate passage of air to the lungs


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Cardiotonic — Increases heart strength and supports the cardiovascular system

Carminative — Often volatile oil rich aromatics, helps soothe cramping, bloating, and gas in the gastrointestinal tract

Cathartic — See also: purgative. Strong laxative

Cholagogue — Often bitters, increases flow of bile from liver and gallbladder

Choleretic — Enhances and stimulates bile production from the liver, as opposed to cholagogue which also affects gallbladder

Cicatrizant — Supports wound healing, often vulnerary herbs used on fresh cuts


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Decongestant — Clears excess mucus from the respiratory passages

Demulcent — Soothing and rich in mucilage (see: mucilaginous). Relieves inflammation and irritation of mucous membranes such as the throat, digestive and intestinal lining (see: emollient for use related to skin)

Depurative — See: alterative. Purifies the blood

Diaphoretic — Produces sweating and facilitate excretion of toxins from the body through the sweat. Can be febrifuge

Diuretic — Increases the secretion and flow of urine


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Emetic — Induces vomiting

Emmenagogue — Facilitates or promotes menstrual flow and function

Emollient — Softens and soothes inflamed skin when applied locally, often anti-inflammatory and rich in mucilage (see: mucilaginous)

Estrogenic — Affects the production of estrogen

Expectorant — Facilitates clearing of mucus or phlegm from the lungs and throat by liquefying mucus and supporting productive cough


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Febrifuge — Has a cooling effect to help reduce fevers


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Galactagogue — Promotes the flow of milk during breastfeeding


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Hemostatic — See also: astringent. Controls the flow or stops the flow of blood, for internal or external bleeding

Hepatic — Liver tonic, tones and strenghtens while supporting bile flow

Hypoglycemant — Lowers blood sugar via action on the pancreas or liver, often rich in inulin

Hypotensive — Lowers elevated blood pressure


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Immunomodulant — Deep immune tonics to modulate immune system response


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Laxative — Encourages and promotes bowel movements

Lithotriptic — Dissolves stones in the urinary tract (bladder and kidneys)

Lymphatic — Stimulates flow of lymphatic fluid and decongests lymphatic system


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Mucilaginous — Contains mucilage, soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes (see also: demulcent, emollient)


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Nauseant — Induces nausea and vomiting

Nervine — Nervous system tonic, helps bring into balance and assist with tension, anxiety, fatigue

Nootropic — Enhances cognitive function, memory, and learning

Nutritive — Rich in vitamins, minerals, trace elements, polysaccharides, amino acids


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Parturient — Prepares for childbirth, uterine tonic

Pectoral — Acts on the lungs

Purgative — See also: cathartic. Strong laxative


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Remineralizing — Rich in minerals, assists with mineral balance in the body

Rubefacient — Increases blood flow and local circulation (vasodilation), often to ease pain and swelling associated with arthritis


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Sedative — Calms and promotes sleep

Sialagogue — Increases salivation

Spasmolytic — See also: antispasmodic. Lessens or stops spasms

Stimulant — Heightens physiological processes, often in relation to a specific bodily system, faster acting than a tonic

Stomachic — Strengthens the stomach, builds appetite, and relieves indigestion

Styptic — See also: astringent, hemostatic. Stops external bleeding and hemorrhage

Sudorific — See also: diaphoretic. Induces profuse sweating


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Tonic — Nourishes and strenghtens bodily systems and organs, or general tonic to enhance health overall. Can be adaptogens or trophorestoratives

Trophorestorative — Restores normal function of organs and tissues as an organ or system specific tonic


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Vasodilator — Widens blood vessels and helps lower elevated blood pressure

Vermifuge — See also: anthelmintic. Destroys or expels parasitic worms from the intestines

Vulnerary — Speeds healing of wounds