Adaptogen Broadly defined, this is essentially something that helps the body adapt well to stress. Adaptogens are considered to be building herbs that are often used for people with signs of weakness or deficiency such as chronic fatigue. The herbs in this category have a wide range of energetics and are most effective when the herb is chosen to match the person. Astragalus, ashwagandha, holy basil, and ginseng are examples of adaptogen herbs.
Aerial Portions This refers to all of the parts of the plant that grows aboveground (as opposed to roots).
Alterative Alterative herbs generally support detoxification by aiding specific elimination pathways of the body. Various herbs support different organs or systems including the liver, urinary system, skin, lymph, lungs, colon, etc. Many alterative herbs are bitter; they include artichoke, dandelion, and echinacea.
Amenorrhea This condition is characterized by the absence of a menstrual period in a woman of reproductive age.
Analgesic An analgesic is any substance that relieves pain. Analgesic herbs dull pain in a variety of ways. Some relieve muscle tension, some resolve blood stagnation (bruises or contusions), and some relieve pain by affecting the nervous system.
Antiemetic Antiemetic herbs relieve nausea and the urge to vomit. Ginger is an example.
Anti-Inflammatory An agent that reduces the heat, redness, and swelling of inflammation.
Antioxidant A natural biochemical compound that protects living cells against damage from molecules called oxygen-free radicals, which are major causes of disease and aging. Antioxidants readily react with oxygen breakdown products and neutralize them before oxidative damage occurs.
Antispasmodic Muscular tension or cramping can be relieved with antispasmodic herbs. Chamomile is an example.
Antitussive An antitussive stops coughing. Herbs do this is a variety of ways. Some moisten a dry cough, some are antispasmodics that inhibit spasmodic coughing, and others are expectorants that relieve the congestion that is causing a cough. Thyme is one example of an antitussive.
Anxiolytic These herbs help relieve anxiety by affecting the nervous system. Lavender is an example.
Astringent Astringency is an important herbal action related to the tightening and toning of mucosal tissues. This is useful for healing wounds or reducing excessive discharges (e.g., runny nose or diarrhea). Sage, rose, and oak bark are astringent herbs.
Bioavailability This term refers to how well a substance (nutrients, drugs, etc.) can be absorbed by the body. Certain herbs, such as black pepper, are known to increase bioavailability of other herbs or nutrients.
Carminative Carminatives are herbs that help with symptoms of stagnant digestion. These herbs are often aromatic (meaning they have a strong scent) and contain volatile oils. Fennel, ginger, parsley, and chamomile are examples of carminative herbs.
Cholagogue Cholagogue herbs stimulate the gallbladder to release bile. These herbs are useful when someone has trouble digesting fats. They should not be used if there is a known gallbladder obstruction. Turmeric, dandelion, and artichoke are examples.
Choleretic Choleretic herbs support liver health by increasing bile production. Many bitter herbs are choleretics.
Compound A substance formed by the chemical union of two or more elements.
Constitution Your personal constitution is your unique blend of energetic qualities as they relate to hot and cold and dry and damp.
Decoction This is an herbal preparation that involves simmering herbs (or sometimes boiling them) for an extended period of time.
Demulcent Demulcent herbs are moistening and often slimy in nature. These herbs coat and protect mucous membranes. Cinnamon, oatmeal, and aloe gel are examples of demulcents.
Diaphoretic Diaphoretics induce perspiration are are often used to support the fever process. In herbalism we break these into two categories: relaxing diaphoretics and stimulating diaphoretics.
Diffusive Diffusive herbs break up stagnant energy and move it throughout the body. Diffusive herbs are often used for stagnant digestion and are often added in small quantities to herbal formulas. Ginger is an example of a diffusive herb.
Diuretic Diuretic herbs stimulate urination. Dandelion leaf is an example.
Dysbiosis Dysbiosis is an imbalance of the beneficial bacteria (gut flora) in the digestive tract that is causing general digestive problems.
Edema This condition is characterized by excess fluid trapped in your body's tissues, causing swelling.
Emmenagogue This is a substance that stimulates blood flow in the uterus, some herbs in the category can induce menstruation.
Endotheilial Function Your endothelium is a single layer of cells that lines various organs and blood and lymph vessels. Endothelium dysfunction occurs when the endothelium has an impaired ability to vasodilate when stimulated, this is associated with cardiovascular disease.
Enzymes Specialized living proteins fundamental to all living processes in the body. They are necessary for every chemical reaction and the normal activity of the organs, tissues, and cells, and are also essential for the production of energy required to run cellular functions. Certain enzymes also enable the body to digest and assimilate food, while others assist in ridding the body of toxins and cellular debris.
Essential Oil Essential Oils are concentrated and naturally occurring volatile liquids that are usually obtained by distilling aromatic plants.
Expectorant Expectorant herbs help to expell excess mucus from the body. Herbalists break these into two categories: relaxing expectorants and stimulating expectorants.
Extract A concentrated active constituent that is obtained from a plant using a solvent, such as ethanol or water.
Family A level of classification in the plant kingdom above genus and species, with technical family names usually ending in the suffix "-aceae."
Fomentation An herbal preparation that involves soaking a cloth in an herbal tea and then applying it to a specific area. These are used for pain, rashes, and headaches.
Galactagogue Galactagogue herbs stimulate the production of breast milk. Fennel is an example.
Ghee This is a type of clarified butter.
Gut Flora This refers to the variety of bacteria living within each person's intestines. The human body has an important relationship with its gut flora. Having a disrupted gut flora has been linked to many health problems, so it's important to be cautious with antibiotics that indiscriminately kill all bacteria, even the beneficial bacteria. Eating fermented foods, living in a non-overly sanitized environment, avoiding frequent and unnecessary antibiotics, and eating a nutritious diet that includes prebiotics help support healthy gut flora.
Hemostatic Hemostatic herbs stop bleeding. Turmeric and yarrow are examples of hemostatic herbs.
Hepatoprotective Hepatoprotective herbs protect the liver. Dandelion, astragalus, and milk thistle are examples of hepatoprotective herbs.
Homocysteine Homocysteine is an amino acid. Elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with cardiovascular disease.
Hydrosol A hydrosol is an aqueous solution that comes from steam-distilling aromatic plants, often a by-product of essential oils. These are also called floral waters. Rose, lavender, and neroli are commonly used as hydrosols.
Immunomodulator Herbs in this category broadly support the immune system. These herbs are generally used for people who frequently get sick or who have seasonal allergies or autoimmunity concerns. Astragalus, ashwagandha, and holy basil are examples.
Insulin Resistance This is a state of metabolic dysfunction in the body in which cells do not respond properly to the hormone insulin. It can be a precursor to diabetes.
In Vitro Studies These are studies done in a controlled environment outside the living organism, such as the testing of cells in a petri dish.
In Vivo Studies These are studies done on a living organism, whether animal, human, or plant.
Liniment This herbal preparation is a topical, alcohol-based product.
Metabolic Syndrome This is a state of metabolic dysfunction in which a person has three or more symptoms out of a group of certain risk factors that raises the risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes.
Nervine A "nervine" can refer to a medicine that calms the nerves but in herbalism, this broad term refers to any herbs that affect the nervous system. Herbalists break them down into two categories: relaxing and stimulating.
NSAID NSAID stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Oxymel An oxymel is an herbal preparation made with honey and vinegar.
Parasympathetic Nervous System This is the rest-and-relax branch of the nervous system.
Pastille This from the French word for "pill" and is often used to describe handmade pills made with powdered herbs and honey.
Peristalsis Peristalsis is the normal contracting action of the digestive tract, which moves food from the mouth to the anus.
Poultice This is a soft moist mass of herbs applied externally to the body for a therapeutic effect. It helps you get herbs directly to the area that needs it most.
Prebiotic Prebiotics are substances high in carbohydrates that feed the beneficial bacteria of your digestive tract (gut flora). Dandelion is an herb that is high in prebiotics.
Rasayana This is an Ayurvedic term for herbs that support overall health and increase longevity.
Relaxing Diaphoretic Relaxing diaphoretics are often used during a fever when a person feels hot and tense but is not sweating. They open up the periphery of the body and allow heat to escape. Elderflower is an example of a relaxing diaphoretic.
Relaxing Expectorant Relaxing or moistening expectorants are herbs that increase healthy mucosal flow to address congestion that has become dried and stuck in the lungs. Marshmallow root and plantain are examples of relaxing expectorants.
Relaxing Nervine Relaxing nervines are herbs that calm the nervous system and are commonly used for people with high stress, anxiety, or difficulties with sleep. Chamomile, lavender, and hawthorn are examples of relaxing nervines.
Rubefacient Rubefacient herbs are applied topically to increase blood circulation to an area. They cause the capillaries to dilate and increase blood circulation. Cayenne, ginger, mustard, and arnica are examples of rubefacient herbs.
Stagnant Digestion People with cold and stagnant digestion have a difficult time transforming food into the nutrients needed for good health. Symptoms of this condition include a sensation of food sitting heavy in your stomach, bloating, nausea, decreased appetite, belching, flatulence, painful stuck gas, and constipation.
Stimulating Diaphoretic Stimulating diaphoretics are often used during a fever when a person feels cold and is shivering. These herbs spread heat from the core of the body to the periphery, helping the body to warm up. Ginger, cayenne, and garlic are stimulating diaphoretics.
Stimulating Expectorant Stimulating expectorants are herbs that are often spicy in nature; they thin mucus to help expel it from the body. Ginger, mustard, and thyme are examples of stimulating expectorants.
Stimulating Nervine Stimulating nervines are herbs that rev up the nervous system. Some do this through constituents like caffeine (coffee, tea), and others, like rosemary, have specific aromatic qualities that are stimulating in nature.
Syptic A syptic is a substance that stops bleeding.
Sympathetic Nervous System This is the fight-or-flight branch of the nervous system.
Synergist This is something that increases the potency of herbs and pharmaceuticals.
Tea A tea is a simple water extraction of an herb or spice. Generally it is made with a small amount of herbs (1 teaspoon) and a short steeping time (5 to 10 minutes).
Tincture A plant medicine prepared by soaking an herb in water and ethanol (never isopropyl alcohol); traditional herbal preparations are dispensed as alcohol-based liquid medicines.
Trophorestorative Trophorestorative herbs support the health of a particular organ by restoring normal function, often because of nutritive qualities. For example, hawthorn is a cardiac trophorestorative herb because it supports the heart in a myriad of ways.
Triterpinoid A terpene-based compound.
Variety A level of classification in the plant kingdom below species and subspecies noting minor differences within a species, such as variations in flower color; designated, following the species and subspecies name, by the abbreviation var.
Vasoconstriction This is a narrowing of the blood vessels.
Vermifuge Vermifuge herbs help to heal wounds. Turmeric, chamomile, and rose are examples.
Wildcrafting This is the identifying and harvesting of medicinal herbs in nature.