Definitions of Herbal
and Medical Terminology

Many words are used to describe herbs and their actions on the body. The following is a guide to Many words are used to describe herbs and their actions on the body. The following is a guide to understanding these terms. Arranged in alphabetical order.

 

  • Adaptogen: invigorates or strengthens the system.
  • Alerative: produces a gradual, beneficial change in the body.
  • Alkaloid: heterogeneous group of alkaline, organic, compounds containing nitrogen and usually oxygen; usually colorless and bitter-tasting; especially found in seed plants.
  • Analgesic: reduces or relieves pain.
  • Anodyne: a pain relieving agent, less potent than an anesthetic or narcotic.
  • Antifungal: clears and counters fungal infections.
  • Antihelmintic, anthelmintic: expels or destroys intestinal worms.
  • Antihydrotic: reduces or suppresses perspiration.
  • Anti-inflammatory: reduces swelling
  • Antimicrobial: destroys or inhibits growth of microorganisms.
  • Antioxidant: inhibits binding of oxygen.
  • Antipyretic: reduces or prevents fever.
  • Antiseptic: cleans, counters germs and other microorganisms.
  • Antispasmodic: relieves spasms or cramps.
  • Aperient: a mild and gentle acting laxative.
  • Aperitif: stimulates the appetite.
  • Aphrodisiac: increases sexual desire or potency.
  • Aromatic: a strong, volatile, fragrant aroma; often with stimulant properties.
  • Astringent: contracts or shrinks tissues used to decrease secretions or control bleeding.
  • Basalmic: heals or soothes.
  • Bitter tonic: an acrid, astringent, or disagreeable taste that stimulates flow of saliva and gastric juice.
  • Calmative: mild sedative or hypnotic properties
  • Carminative: stops the formation of intestinal gas and helps expel gas that has already formed.
  • Catarrh: inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract.
  • Cathartic: a powerful agent used to relieve severe constipation.
  • Cholegogue: stimulates secretion and release of bile.
  • Choleretic: stimulates secretion and release of bile.
  • Concentration: the amount of material in a solution in relationship to the amount of solvent; expressed as the ratio.
  • Counterirritant: causes a distracting irritation intended to relieve another irritation.
  • Decoction: extract of an herb made by boiling or simmering in water; stronger than a tea or infusion.
  • Demulcent: an oily or mucilaginous substance that soothes irritated tissue, especially mucous membranes.
  • Deobstruent: clears obstruction from ducts of the body.
  • Diaphoretic: taken internally to promote sweating.
  • Diuretic: promotes urine production and flow.
  • Drachm: a rough measurement, basically it is what fits in the palm of your hand.
  • Emetic: induces vomiting.
  • Emmenogogue: taken internally to promote menstrual flow.
  • Emollient: an externally applied agent that softens or soothes skin.
  • Essential oil: any of a class of volatile oils that impart the characteristic odors to plants; used especially in perfumes, food flavorings and aromatherapy; also called volatile oil.
  • Exfoliant: removes dead skin on the surface of skin.
  • Expectorant: increases bronchial secretions and facilitates their expulsion through coughing, spitting, or sneezing.
  • Extract: a concentrate, made by steeping raw plant material(s) in solvent (alcohol and/or water), after which the solvent is allowed to evaporate.
  • Febrifuge: reduces fever.
  • Flatulence: gas in the stomach or intestines.
  • Fluid extract: a liquid extract of raw plant material
  • Fomentation: application of a warm and moist cloth, soaked in an infusion or decoction, as treatment.
  • Galactogogue: increases secretion of milk.
  • Glycoside: esters containing a sugar component (glycol) and a nonsugar (aglycone) component attached via oxygen or nitrogen bond; hydrolysis of a glycoside yields one or more sugars.
  • Hemostatic: to stop internal bleeding.
  • Hepatic: any substance that affects the liver.
  • Herb: plant or part of a plant used for medicinal, taste, or aromatic purposes.
  • Humectant: a substance used to obtain a moistening effect.
  • Hygroscopic: a substance that readily attracts and retains water.
  • Infusion: tea made by steeping herb(s) in hot water.
  • Lactagogue: increases secretion of milk.
  • Laxative: gently promotes bowel movements.
  • Maceration: a process of softening tissues by soaking in liquid.
  • Mucilage: a gelatinous substance, containing proteins and polysaccharides, that soothes inflammation.
  • Mucilaginous: an agent characterized by a gummy or gelatinous consistency.
  • Nervine: calms nervousness, tension, or excitement.
  • Oleoresin: homogenous mixture of resin(s) and volatile oil(s).
  • Pectoral: relieves ailments of the chest and lungs.
  • Pharmacognosy: study of the biochemistry and pharmacology of plant drugs, herbs, and spices.
  • Phlogistic: referring to inflammation or fever.
  • Poultice: soft, moist mass applied to the skin to provide heat and moisture.
  • Polypharmacy: combinations of medicinal plants, formulated to gain synergistic effects.
  • Purgative: a powerful agent used to relieve severe constipation.
  • Regenerative: restores or revives tissue growth
  • Resin: any of several solid or semisolid, flammable, natural organic substances soluble in organic solvents and not water; commonly formed in plant secretions; complex chemical mixtures of acrid resins, resin alcohols, resinol, tannols, esters, and resenes.
  • Rubefacient: applied to the skin, causes a local irritation and redness; for relief of internal pain.
  • Salve: an herbal preparation mixed in oil and thickened with bees wax applied to the skin.
  • Saponin: any of several surfactant glycosides that produce a soapy lather; found in plants.
  • Sedative: reduces nervous tension; usually stronger than a calmative.
  • Sialogogue: stimulates secretion of saliva.
  • Soporific: induces sleep.
  • Spasmolytic: relieves spasm of smooth muscle
  • Stimulant: excites or quickens a process or activity of the body.
  • Stomachic: gives strength and tone to the stomach or stimulates the appetite by promoting digestive secretions.
  • Styptic: stops external bleeding (usually an astringent).
  • Sudorific: taken internally, to promote sweating (also called diaphoretic).
  • Tannin: complex mixture of polyphenols; give a color reaction to iron-containing substances.
  • Terpene: any of several isomeric hydrocarbons; most volatile oils consist primarily of terpenes.
  • Thoratic: remedy for a respiratory ailment.
  • Tincture: a solution prepared by steeping or soaking (maceration) plant materials in alcohol.
  • Tonic: invigorates or strengthens the system; tonics often act as stimulants or aleratives.
  • Tisane: an herbal infusion drunk as a beverage or for its mildly medicinal effect.
  • Vermifuge: expels or destroys intestinal worms
  • Vesicant: causes blisters or sores
  • Volatile oil: odorous plant oil that evaporates readily; also called essential oil.
  • Vulnerary: the treatment or healing of wounds.