Definition of Herbal Actions and Properties

An alphabetical listing.  Do me a favor and if you don’t see herbal actions and properties you’d like to know about, let me know and I’ll add them.  As with everything on the website, this is a growing list.  A work in progress.


Abortifacient – induces abortion, miscarriage, or premature removal of a fetus

Adaptogen – there are several definitions of adaptogens.  The first is the one I often use, that is that adaptogens help the whole system, mind, body, spirit and emotions to deal with uncompensated stress.  The plants in this category usually have an affinity to one or more (usually more) systems of the body, working to restore balance, health and harmony to that system.  Much of the time this is accomplished through the endocrine system.  Where they work to modulate the physical, mental, and emotional effects of stress and increase resistance to physiological imbalances and disease by strengthening the immune system

Adjuvant – aids the action of a medicinal agent

Alterative – strengthens and nourishes the body, gently encourages the removal of metabolic wastes

Amphoteric – normalizes function of an organ or body system

Analeptic – has a restorative or stimulating effect on central nervous system

definition of herbal actions

Analgesic – relieves pain

Anaphrodisiac – reduces sexual arousal

Anesthetic – depresses nerve function inducing a temporary loss of sensation or consciousness.

Anodyne – alleviates pain, an analgesic

Anthelmintic – Removes parasitic worms from the digestive system.

Anti-anemic – Prevents or helps with anemia.  Increases the number of red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin (an oxygen-carrying protein) in the blood.

Anti- androgenic – reduces the levels of “free” testosterone in the blood. 

Antibacterial – destroys or stops the growth of bacteria

Antibiotic– a type of antimicrobial agent active against bacteria.

Anti-bilious – herbs that work with the liver and gall bladder to remove excess bile.

Anti-catarrh – reduces inflamed mucous membranes of head and throat

Antidepressant – acts to prevent or alleviate mental depression

Anti-diarrhetic –prevents or treats diarrhea

Antiemetic – reduces nausea and can help to relieve or prevent vomiting.

Antifungal – an anti-microbial agent that destroys or inhibits the growth of fungus

Antihemorrhagic – reduces or controls hemorrhage or bleeding

Anti-infectious – counteracts or prevents infection

Anti-inflammatory – controls or reduces inflammation, a reaction to injury or infection

Antilithic – Herbs that prevent the formation of or help remove stones or gravel in the urinary system

Antimicrobial – helps destroy or resist pathogenic micro-organisms, destroys microbes.  These kinds of herbs are often specific to one or more types of pathogens including fungus or mold, bacteria, virus, parasites and protozoa

Antineoplastic– inhibiting and combating tumor development.

Antioxidant – prevents or inhibits oxidation of cells.  In other words, these substances can eliminate hydroxyl free radicals.  Meaning that they keep cells healthier.

Antipruritic – prevents or relieves itching

Antirheumatic – protects against and relieves the symptoms of rheumatism.  Eases pain and helps reduce inflammation of joints and muscles.

Antipyretic – reduces fever (febrifuge)

Antiseptic – prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.

Antispasmodic – calms nervous and muscular spasms, cramps and convulsions

Antitussive – controls or prevents cough

Antiviral – opposes the action of a virus

Anxiolytic – reduces anxiety

Aperient – relieves constipation, mild laxative

Aphrodisiac – increases sexual desire

Aromatic – an herb containing a high amount of volatile oils.  Aromatic plants have a fragrant odor and slightly stimulating properties.

Astringent – Astringents contract tissue and can reduce secretions and discharges.


Bitter – bitter herbs are cooling.  They act to stimulate the appetite and digestion.

Bronchial –improves respiration by relaxing spasms or constriction of the bronchi (the upper part of the lungs)


Cariostatic –halts or inhibits the development or continued growth of cancer, carcinomas, or malignant tumors.

Cardiac – act beneficially on the heart

Cardiotonic – increases strength and tone of the heart

Carminative — relieves stomach or intestinal gas and bloating

Catarrhal – Pertains to the inflammation of mucous membranes of the head and throat

Cathartic – produces bowel movements.  Used to purge the bowels and stimulate glandular secretions.

Cholagogue – increases flow of bile from gallbladder, thus aiding in digestion and constipation.  They can also have a laxative effect.

Counterirritant – produces an inflammatory response for healing purpose


Demulcent – soothes and protects inflamed and irritated mucous membranes both internally and externally.   Usually high in mucilage and have a slimy or slippery consistency.

Diaphoretic – increases perspiration by increasing circulation to the skin

Digestive – promotes or aids the digestion

Diuretic – increases urine flow. 


Ecbolic – tends to increase contractions of uterus, facilitating childbirth

Emetic – produces vomiting

Emmenagogue – stimulates, regulates and induces menstruation

Emollient – softens and soothes the skin

Estrogenic – stimulates the production of estrogen

Expectorant – Helps the body remove mucus from the respiratory system

F, G, H

Febrifuge – reduces fever

Galactagogue – promotes milk production

Hemostatic – controls or stops the flow of blood

Hepatic– strengthens and tones the liver and stimulate the flow of bile

Hypertensive – raises blood pressure

Hypoglycemia – lowers blood sugar

Hypnotic– helps induce healthy sleep

Hypotensive– reduces elevated blood pressure.

L, M, N

Lactifuge – reduces milk production

Laxative – loosens bowels encouraging bowl movement

Lithotrophic – a substance that causes kidney or bladder stones to dissolve

Lymphagogue – promotes or increases lymph production or lymph flow

Mucilaginous – contain gelatinous constituents made up of polysaccharide-rich compounds.  These herbs will often be demulcent and act to cool, soot and coat inflamed mucous membranes

Narcotic – an herb or other substance that in moderate doses dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces profound sleep but in excessive doses causes stupor, coma, or convulsions

Nervine – strengthens and tones the nervous system, easing anxiety and stress

Nootropic – Primarily effects the brain and nervous system improving cognitive function and mood.  Nootropic substances help enhance emotional and mental wellbeing, promote cerebral circulation, stabilize mental state, improve memory and more.

Nutritive – an herb containing a high amount of nutrients.  Especially nourishing for the body and mind.

P, R, S

Parasiticide – kills and expels parasites in the digestive tract and on the skin.

Pectoral – Herbs with a general strengthening and healing effect on the respiratory system

Purgative – another word for laxative.  Causes the evacuation of the bowels.

Rasayana – A term used in Ayurvedic medicine to describe an herb that increases longevity by nourishing and rejuvenating the system.

Refrigerant – cooling for the system, relieves thirst

Relaxant – tends to relax and relieve tension, especially muscular tension

Rubefacient – simulates circulation locally when applied to the skin.

Sedative – Strongly quieting for the nervous system, exerts a soothing, tranquilizing effect on the body

Sialagogue – increases the production and flow of saliva

Stimulant – temporarily quickens or enliven the physiological function, increases organ function

Stomachic – promotes digestion and strengthen the stomach

Sudorific – increase perspiration

T, U, V

Tonic – stimulates energy, increases strength and tone

Trophorestorative – nourishes and restores balance to the body. Trophorestorative herbs typically have a strong affinity for an organ or organ system and correct deficiency and weakness not only through temporary stimulation but by deeply nourishing that organ or organ system.

Vermifuge – expels worms from the intestines

Vulnerary – aids in healing wounds.