Herbal Properties Glossary

Updated: Mar 14


Just like your systems which work together and have specific jobs which

sometimes overlap, herbs have an action or property.  They are often used for a specific action but many have multiple actions and properties.  Here is a basic glossary of these actions and properties.  Understanding actions and properties can help you in choosing herbs.


Adaptogen:  helps your body adapt to stress. Through your endocrine system an adaptogen tones organs like your circulatory, digestive, nervous, reproductive, and respiratory systems.  Thought to increase energy, endurance, and improve your overall physical well being. 

Alterative:  Blood cleansers and purifiers whose action cleanses your blood of toxins by stimulating your liver. They may change your metabolism, changes how your tissues/cells function.  They are used for overall health, energy, and strength of all your systems. Most common actions of these herbs help your body get rid of waste by via your kidneys, liver, lungs, or skin.

Analgesic:  relieves pain.

Anesthetic:  decreases sensitivity to pain.

Anodyne: decrease the intensity of pain.  Same as analgesics.

Anorectic: reduce appetite.

Antacid:  reduce stomach acid.

Anthelmintic: kill and remove worms from the digestive system.  Other terms are anti-parasitic and vermifuge.

Anti-asthmatic:   reduce symptoms of asthma.

Antibacterial:  inhit or destroy bacteria.

Antibiotic: used as a natural antibiotic to help your immune system kill bacteria.

Anticatarrhal: stops or minimizes the formation of mucous and inflammation of mucous membranes.  Mucous membranes line your mother, nose, eyelids, trachea, lungs, stomach, intestines, ureters, urethra, and urinary bladder. 

Anticoagulant:  prevents blood clotting.

Antiemetic:  prevent emesis/vomiting and

Antihemorrhagic: stops bleeding. The terms astringent and styptic are synonyms.

Antifungal:  kill fungi.

Antihidrotic: reduce sweating/perspiration.

Antihistamine: counteracts the effects of histamine (allergy).

Anti-inflammatory:  reduce inflammation.  Demulcents, Emollients, and Vulnerary herbs used externally have this action. It does not address the cause.

Antilithic: prevent kidney and gallstones.

Antimicrobial: destroys microbes (microscopic living organisms) or pathogens which are microbes that can cause an infection or disease.  These herbs increase your resistance.  Antibiotics, antibacterial, ant-parasitic, antiviral, and antifungals are herbs in this group. Many of these herbs are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.

Antineoplastic: destroy, prevent, and inhibit growth of tumors.

Antioxidant:  stops the effect of oxidation on your cells. Oxidative stress, on the other hand, occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. When functioning properly, free radicals can help fight off pathogens.

Antiphlogistic: prevent infection.

Antirheumatic:  prevent or decrease symptoms of arthritis/rheumatism.

Antiseptic:  prevent or stop infection by inhibiting growth of the infectious organism.

Antispasmodic:  prevent or stop spasms in muscles through your body. They typically are nervine and carminative as well.

Antitussive:  cough suppressant.

Antiviral:  kill viruses in your body.

Aperient:  stimulate your appetite.  They are mild laxatives. Often are bitters.

Aromatic: herbs with a strong odor, often pleasant.  They can stimulate or relax your body often by the digestive or nervous system.  Many are carminatives.  They distract your body by the digestive or nervous system.

Astringent: shrinks and tightens tissue on or in your body. Used for wound healing and digestive problems by reducing irritation, numbing and making a barrier on the surface tissue. 

Bitter:   increase appetite and help with digestion by acting on the mucous membranes.

Blood Purifier:  purify by removing toxins and cleaning your blood. Often called detox.

Carminative:  move and pass gas.

Cholagogue:  increase bile flow, aid in digestion, and has a mild laxative effect.

Decongestant: decrease congestion in your upper respiratory tract.

Demulcent:  soothe and protect your mucous membranes.

Diaphoretic:  make you sweat.

Digestive:   help with digestion.

Diuretic:  increase urination and decrease fluid retention.

Emmenagogue:  help with menstrual flow.

Emollient:  protect, soften, and soothe your skin.

Estrogenic: help with estrus (female sex cycle).  Often used if you are menopausal or have menstrual problems.  

Expectorant:  remove mucous from your lungs, throat, and nose.

Febrifuge:  decrease fevers.

Galactagogue:  stimulate lactation.

Germicide:  destroy germs and microorganisms.

Hemostatic:  stop blood hemorrhage.

Hepatic:  tone and increase bile flow to help with normal liver function.

Hypotensive:  decrease your blood pressure.

Immune/immunostimulant: boost your body to naturally defend against disease and illnesses.

Insecticide:  kill insects.

Lithotripsic:  dissolve and get rid of urinary stones.  

Mucilant:  coat and sooth mucous membranes (a demulcent effect).

Nephritic:  used to heal and help with kidney problems.

Nutritive:  herbs with nutritional value.

Parasiticide:  kill parasites in your body.

Pectoral:  used for symptoms of pulmonary and respiratory diseases.

Nervine: help your nervous system by nourishing, soothing and calming.

Purgative:  help purge your bowels.

Rubefacient:  increase circulation/ blood flow to your skin.  Often used to help with muscle soreness or sprains.

Sedative:  help you feel calm, tranquil, and help with irritability.

Sialagogue:  help with secreting and flow of saliva.

Stimulant:  increase energy, circulation, and remove toxins.

Stomachic: tone and improve strength of your stomach.

Tonic: a liquid mixture of specific herbs for a specific purpose.  Many alterative herbs are taken as a tonic.

Vasoconstrictor:  constrict your blood vessels and raise your blood pressor.

Vasodilator: relax and open your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.

Vulnerary:  help with healing wounds, cuts, and scrapes.

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