Herbal Glossary-Categories

Welcome to Lulu’s Thyme and Essentials Herbal Glossary.  This week we want to start  with categories of herbs.  Pretty confusing isn’t it.  I am a nurse.  Thankfully the anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory were in my vocabulary.  Carminative, Alterative, Demulcent, and Bitters. I am grateful my parents made me take six years of Latin!


Let’s start with the groupings.  I like to look at herbal products as medicine when I try to sort out all the concepts.  In medicine you have a category of drugs.  They typically will work on one, or more systems.  They tend to have a specific action, use, and side effect.  Herbs are not so different. Certain herbs will typically be in a category of herbs like Carminative herbs.  They tend to work on your Gastrointestinal system (GI).   Each herb has a specific action(s), and is used for different parts of your GI system.  They may have side effects.  What I like about herbs are they are the most natural form of medicine if you are using herbs medicinally. With that being said, I am an advocate for working with a physician or health care professional.  Especially if you have any medical conditions.

When do you take herbs?

If you are looking to try to prevent illness, if you have a medical problem that is not emergent, and some will use them to support and illness as an adjunct. What do you need to know?  More is not always better. Moderation is almost always good, in my opinion. Many of these herbs have been used medicinally for thousands of years and science is showing proof through studies.

Assessing Our Systems

The systems in your body work together to make us survive the day right down to the cell level. You can look at herbs by their classification or their grouping. general groupings of herbs.  They are really sorted by your systems.  As a nurse I am used to a “head to toe” assessment.  I used to walk into a patient’s room and just looking at them told me a lot. The first think I would look at is their skin.  What does the color look like, are they pale, cyanotic (bluish tinged), gray (cardiac), yellow (liver)? Are there any rashes, open area, bruising? I might look to see if there was any swelling in their extremities, face, abdomen.  That information told me a lot about their heart, lymph system, and liver.  I would listen to a patient’s lung sounds, check their pulses, look at their vital signs, ask about pain, changes, and their mental status.  I think we all do a version of a self-assessment to see if we are doing ok every day.  

How to Start?

If you are reading this you are probably interested in herbs but don’t know where to start.  Most of us have been in your shoes at one time.  I have used herbs most of my life.  Most often to season my food.  I got into the mold of buying expensive vitamins and taking half of them…  I eat healthy.  Lulu reminded me I can get a lot of vitamins and minerals that I don’t eat by using herbs to supplement what I am not getting in food.  I use herbs to try to stay healthy.  In medical terms it is called homeostasis, which means simply a state of wellbeing.  I also use herbs to try to live longer.  A health full of energy longer life.  You can use herbs for minor symptoms.  I will use them for sinus problems, to help me sleep, for an upset stomach.  Things I know I don’t need to go to a doctor for. In healthcare we call it symptom management.  I do believe just like in health care we should find the cause.  Some times like with my sinuses there is not much I can do about it.  So, I manage the symptoms.

You will find a lot of different groupings.  The basic ones are Adaptogens, Alteratives, Aromatics, Astringents, Bitters, Nervines, Carminatives, Demulcents, Diaphoretics, Diuretics, Emollients, Expectorants, and Tonics.

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.

We recommend speaking with a physician especially if pregnant or on medications.

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