Herbs that improve the body's ability to adapt to stress of any sort,
including infection, mental stress, or fatigue. Seem to change the
threshold of resistance to damage by supporting the adrenal glands and
possibly the pituitary glands.
Herbs that restore the proper function of the body, usually through altering
metabolism by improving the tissues' ability to metabolise nutrients and
eliminate wastes. Many of these herbs act through the kidneys, liver, lungs,
bowels, or skin to eliminate wastes. Some stimulate digestion, some are
antimicrobial, and some work through actions not as yet understood.
Generally used as first line medicines in conditions of chronic inflammation
or degeneration, for example, any sort of chronic skin condition, many
types of arthritis, and auto-immune illnesses.
Most herbs that have a primary action on the liver or kidneys can be
Examples: Burdock, Cleavers, Nettles
Herbs that decrease sweating.
Herbs that reduce pain by reducing the sensitivity of the nerves. Synonymous with ANALGESICS.
Examples: Lady's Slipper, Opium
Destroy or expel worms from the digestive system.
Examples: Garlic, Tansy, Wormwood
Relieve gout or other arthritic conditions. Generally, ALTERATIVES
Help remove excessive mucus, generally from the upper respiratory tract.
Mucus is generally produced in the body's effort to remove infective
organisms or to remove excessive carbohydrates. Some of these herbs make
the mucus more watery so it is easier to expel, others decrease production.
Examples:Goldenseal, Elder, Peppermint
Herbs that help reduce or prevent seizures. Also called ANTI-EPILEPTICS.
Examples: Valerian, Black Cohosh
Herbs that help regulate and reduce blood sugar.
Also called HYPOGLYCEMICS.
Herbs that reduce nausea and vomiting.
Examples: Black Horehound, Lemonbalm
Herbs that act against fungal infection. See ANTI-MICROBIALS.
Relieves "dropsy" or fluid retention. see DIURETICS and CARDIAC TONICS
Herbs that reduce blood pressure.
Examples: Garlic, Barberry
Helps the body combat inflammation. Herbs classed as emollients, demulcents,
and vulneraries often do this. Some anti-inflammatory herbs contain
salicylates, the chemicals on which aspirin is based; examples include
Willow Bark, Wintergreen, Birch, and Black Haw. Some herbs contain
precursors of steroidal compounds, and can balance the levels of steroids
in the body; these include Liquorice, Wild Yam, and Ginseng. Others have
a useful anti-inflammatory effect without a mechanism of action yet
identified; these include Bogbean, Devil's Claw, Marigold flowers, and
Helps prevent the formation of stones or gravel in the urine, and can help the removal of those already formed. May work by a combination of dissolving stones, washing out the components that could form them, or increasing urine flow so as to flush out the system.
Help the body destroy or resist pathogenic organisms. Some of these are
actually antiseptic, killing the organisms (generally, "cidal" means
organisms are killed, "static" means replication of organisms are stopped,
and "fuge" means organisms, as in intestinal worms, are expelled.) Others
support the function of the immune system to neutralise many pathogens,
including bacteria, viruses, fungi and paracytes. These herbs can support
the body in fighting off many infections, but there are certainly times
when anti-biotics can be life-saving.
Examples: Echinacea, Myrrh, Garlic, Thyme, Eucalyptus, Wild Indigo, Sage
Herbs that reduce spontaneous mutations within cells. This may help reduce
incidence of cancer.
Herbs rich in Vitamin C which prevent or cure scurvy, a disease caused by
deficiency of this vitamin.
Generally classed as ALTERATIVES.
Examples: Rose hips
Inhibit growth of bacteria, and prevent infection, putrefaction, cell decay,
and pus formation. See ANTI-MICROBIALS.
Helps prevent or ease muscle spasms in both skeletal muscles (the muscles
that move bones) and smooth muscles (the muscles related to many of the
body's involuntary functions, such as digestion). Many sedative, nervine,
or hypnotic herbs also have anti-spasmodic effects. Those anti-spasmodic
herbs with an affinity for the respiratory system are useful for asthma.
Examples: Cramp Bark, Black Haw
Herbs that prevent formation of blood clots.
Herbs that act against the effects of specific toxins.
Examples: Black Cohosh, Angelica
Herbs that reduce or prevent cough.
Examples: Wild Cherry
Herbs that kill viruses or render them unable to replicate. See
A mild and gentle laxative. Promote only the natural bowel movement and
function. Bulk forming herbs soak up water in the gut, creating a larger
volume of softer stool; examples are Psyllium, Flax seed, and guar gum.
Other herbs stimulate normal muscle movements in the bowels, such as Rhubarb
root, and Yellow Dock.
Herbs that increase sexual potency or excitement.
These herbs are characterised by a strong, usually pleasant odour that
stimulates the digestive system. Often used in cooking to add flavour,
they also aid digestion.
Examples: Caraway, Cardamon, Dill, Peppermint, Ginger
Have a binding action on skin or mucous membranes that helps dry up mucous
discharge, tone local blood vessels and varicosities, and stop bleeding.
Most of these herbs are rich in tannins, compounds used to "tan" leather,
which precipitate protein molecules; they produce a leathery, smooth coat
over the tissue in question, thus reduce irritation on the surface by a mild
numbing, reduce local inflammation by toning the vessels supplying the
area, and create a barrier to infection in wounds and burns. Depending on
the tissue they act upon, they are used to treat diarrhea, bleeding, mucous
discharges, and the discomfort of varicosities and haemorrhoids.
Examples: Agrimony, Eyebright, Oak bark, Cranesbill, Raspberry leaves,
Witch Hazel, Yarrow
Herbs that kill bacteria. See ANTI-MICROBIALS.
The bitter taste of these herbs seems to stimulate the release of digestive
hormones in the gut. This stimulates appetite, and is of value in
convalescence. It helps normalise the secretory functions of pancreas,
duodenum, and liver. It increases the secretion of bile, and aids the liver
in detoxification. There is also evidence that these herbs help the gut wall
repair local damage. Note that these herbs should not generally be used in
pregnancy (anything that increases gut contractions can also increase uterine
contractility) Also called BITTER TONICS.
Examples: Wormwood, Rue, Gentian
This term is used for most herbs that have an effect on the heart. In general the treatment of heart problems should be supervised by qualified professionals. Many of these herbs are extremely beneficial in the correct dosage, but some can be fatal if this fine line is crossed.
Examples: Lily of the Valley, Foxglove, and Broom should be used only under
qualified supervision; Motherwort, Hawthorne, and Lime blossom are milder.
These herbs are generally rich in aromatic oils. Their main action is to
soothe and settle the gut wall, easing gripping and allowing the removal
of gas. Many of the aromatic herbs have a carminative effect.
Examples: Fennel, Ginger, Caraway
Herbs that clean waste material from the whole digestive system, including
bowels, liver, and gall bladder. Can have a very strong effect. Due to
the considerable griping they produce, are often used with ginger. Strong
cathartics are often listed as poisonous, and should be used with caution.
Contrast with APERIENTS and
These herbs stimulate the flow of bile from the liver. Most of the remedies
classified as BITTERS or HEPATICS also have cholagogue function. Bile aids
in the digestion and assimilation of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. It
also acts as a mild laxative to keep the bowels moving smoothly and prevent
accumulation of material that could become toxic.
Examples: Balmony, Fringetree, Barberry, Goldenseal
Herbs that aid wound healing. See VULNERARIES.
Herbs that render strong remedies more pleasant. Particularly herbs that
lessen the griping common with purgatives and cathartics.
Examples: Ginger, Fennel
Herbs rich in mucilage which soothe and protect inflamed or irritated
tissue. When they are used on the skin, demulcent herbs are called
EMOLLIENTS. Depending on where they work, they can reduce irritation in
the bowel and help heal ulcers, ease cough, or relax painful spasm in the
bladder, ureters, and sometimes even the uterus.
Examples: Marshmallow, Slippery Elm
Herbs that support the liver in removing toxic substances from the body.
See HEPATICS. Contrast with
ANTI-TOXINS, which work against specific toxins.
A term synonymous with ALTERATIVES.
Herbs that promote sweating. This can help the vital function of removing
waste products through the skin. Or it can help cool the body during a
fever. They are thought to work by dilating the capillaries in the skin,
which stimulates the sweat glands. Many of these herbs work as diaphoretics
if taken hot, but as DIURETICS if taken cold.
Examples: Yarrow, Cayenne, Boneset
Strictly speaking, herbs that increase the formation and elimination of
urine, but commonly used to refer to all herbs that have a beneficial effect
on the urinary tract, so includes urinary demulcents, etc. The true
diuretics can work by increasing blood flow to the kidneys, others
actually effect the water reabsorption in the tubules of the kidneys.
Contribute to overall health by helping the kidneys clear toxins from the
Examples: Bearberry, Couch Grass, Buchu, Corn Silk, Dandelion
Herbs that cause vomiting. Have been used in the past in conditions
characterised by a great deal of mucus, to clear the mucus from the body.
In modern herbalism, used to cause forceful emptying in cases of poisoning.
Herbs that stimulate menstrual flow, often used to refer to all herbs that
normalise and tone the female reproductive system, although these remedies
would better be called uterine tonics.
Examples: Blue Cohosh, False Unicorn Root, Pennyroyal, Rue, Squaw Vine,
See DEMULCENTS...emollients have a soothing and
healing effect like demulcents, but specifically on the skin.
Examples: Plantain, Flax seed, Chickweed
Herbs that normalise the balance of estrogens in the body. Often supply
compounds the body can make into estrogens if more are needed. These herbs
are often used to ease the symptoms of menopause.
Examples: Angelica, Wild Yam
Herbs that help the body to remove excess mucous from the lungs.
Stimulating expectorants work by irritating the lining of the bronchioles
to stimulate expulsion of mucous; examples include Balm of Gilead,
Elecampagne, Violet, and White Horehound. Many of these herbs can act as
EMETICS in large doses. The relaxing expectorants soothe bronchial spasm
and promote the production of a more watery mucous that is easier to cough
up; examples are Coltsfoot, Hyssop, Marshmallow, Mullein, and Plantain.
Herbs that reduce fever. In general, herbalists don't use something to
reduce fever unless it also has some beneficial effect on the infection or
inflammation causing the fever. They see fever as one of the body's ways
of fighting infection, and try to use herbs that support the immune system
and the other cleansing processes of the body. Thus, the DIAPHORETICS can lower body
temperature by promoting perspiration, but they also help the body cleanse.
Similarly, circulatory STIMULANTS increase blood flow to the skin and so
promote a cleansing sweat. ALTERATIVES can act through an ANTI-MICROBIAL
action, or through stimulation of the immune system, and can also help the
body clear out the toxic waste products of an infective process.
Herbs that kill fungus. See ANTI-MICROBIALS.
Herbs that increase the flow of milk in a lactating woman. Generally need
to be used in the context of a very good diet and general health to be effective.
Examples: Milk Thistle, Fennel, Fenugreek, Nettles, Vervain, and Cleavers.
Herbs which stop or prevent bleeding. ASTRINGENTS are often haemostatic.
Examples: Yarrow, Cranesbill
Herbs that support the function of the liver. They tone, strengthen, and
in some cases increase bile flow (see CHOLAGOGUES
). BITTERS often exert their function through stimulation of the liver.
Important for general health as the liver is the primary organ responsible
for removing toxins from the body.
Examples: Dandelion, Boldo, Milk Thistle, Aloe, Barberry, Yellow Dock
Herbs that help induce sleep. This effect can result from muscle-relaxing
properties, volatile oils that reduce psychological tension, or remedies
that act on the nervous system itself. Almost any hypnotic remedy can
become addictive if used consistantly for any long period. Should be used
as part of a holistic approach to sleeplessness, including exercise, diet, relaxation
exercises, and counselling regarding sources of stress.
Examples: Passion Flower, Hops, Skullcap, Valerian
Herbs that promote contractions of the bowels to stimulate removal of
faeces. Generally differentiated from the gentler APERIENTS which promote
normal bowel activity, in that these stronger herbs act by irritating the
bowels so they evacuate more forcefully.
Examples: Senna, Cascara, Aloe
Herbs that normalise lipids in the body. These herbs are gaining attention
as we learn more about the effects of the ratios of different types of lipids
in the causation of heart disease.
Examples: Dong Quai, Garlic
Powerful ANODYNES which often also have
Example: Opium Poppy
Herbs that exert an effect on the nervous system. See the categories below.
Herbs that promote relaxation of the nervous system. Often act to
sedate or produce sleep, or to relax muscles.
Examples: Black Cohosh, Chamomile, Linden blossom, Passion flower,
Black Haw, Cramp Bark, Lady's slipper, Hops, California Poppy, Lavender,
St John's Wort, Valerian, Hyssop
Herbs that stimulate the nervous system
Examples: Coffee, Tea, Mate, Kola Nut
Herbs that support and strengthen the nervous system.
Examples: Oats, St John's Wort, Vervain, Skullcap
Herbs that nourish the body. Useful in convalescence or anorexia.
Examples: Marshmallow, Hemp seeds
Herbs that support and facilitate the birthing process. These are often
uterine tonics or stimulants.
Herbs that strengthen the lungs. All expectorants are pectorals, but this
class includes herbs that aid the lungs through other actions as well.
Examples: Elecampagne, Lobelia, Blood Root, Pleurisy Root
Herbs that lower body temperature. See DIAPHORETICS
Herbs that, when applied to the surface of the skin, promote vasodilatation
and localised increase in blood flow; this causes a reddening of the skin,
hence the name. Increased blood flow allows the agents in the blood that
fight infection to come to the area in force. It also allows for increased
cleansing and nourishment of the affected part. Hence, plasters of these
agents are often used in arthritis, or in localised infections. VESICANTS
actually produce blistering, but are seldom used in modern herbalism.
Examples: Mustard, Cayenne, Ginger, Nettle, Horseradish
See NERVINE RELAXANTS.
Generally, herbs that cause an increase in body functions. In older herbals,
this term refers specifically to stimulants of the circulatory system; examples would be Bayberry, Prickly
Ash, Yarrow, and Cayenne. See CARDIACS.
Herbs that tone and stimulate action of the stomach. See
Herbs with ASTRINGENT action on the skin.
Herbs that raise the mood and counteract depression. With the advent of modern
pharmacology, it has been found that these herbs have an action on the chemicals
that transmit nerve impulses in the brain; these "neurotransmitters" have been
found to be in imbalance in most cases of severe depression.
Examples: St John's Wort, Passion Flower.
Herbs that strengthen and support the function of a specific
organ or, in some herbals, the whole body.
See BITTER TONICS, CARDIAC TONICS,
NERVINE TONICS, and UTERINE TONICS.
Examples: generally given in specific body systems, as above.
Tone and normalise the function of the female reproductive system.
Examples: Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Chaste Berry, False Unicorn Root,
Motherwort, Raspberry, Squaw Vine
Herbs that kill intestinal worms. See
Herbs that promote expulsion of intestinal worms. See
Herbs that help wounds or inflammations to heal. Can refer to lesions of
the skin or mucus membranes. Many ASTRINGENTS, DEMULCENTS, and EMOLLIENTS have
vulnerary actions. Sometimes the vulnerary function is due to tannins
producing an impervious layer that protects the wound as it heals.
Sometimes mucilage soothes and keeps the tissue moist. Comfrey contains a
compound called allantoin, which stimulates cell growth, and helps heal
broken bones as well as skin. Herbs with ANTI-MICROBIAL action can also
assist wound healing by guarding against infection.
Examples: Comfrey, Chickweed, Goldenseal, Marigold, Marshmallow, Plantain, Yarrow, Burdock, Willow Bark.