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Um, wha?? Action Words

So you're learning herbs....

Herbal terminology will be an important part of learning herbs. Understanding common words and terms will provide a deeper understanding of the plants actions and uses. Among the different categories of herbal terminology, action words allow you to quickly identify the uses and conditions under which a specific herb could be used or should not be used.

Action words can sum up the uses of a plant very nicely and be used as a quick reference to what a plant is capable of. However, it's important to note that if you are just learning herbs, it's important to look at all the plants qualities and to always work with an experienced herbalist or practitioner to ensure safety of use.

Although these words look a little intimidating at first, keep practicing! In no time you'll be using these action words.

The list below provides you with a to-the-point definition of each action word. At some point, an in-depth post describing each action with examples of plants and herbs that fall under them would be beneficial so a point of reference can be established.

This list does not include all action words used but will provide you with a good quantity to review.


Abortifacient: Induce abortion

Adaptogen: Modulating action for entire body

Alterative: Restore health and vitality to help assimilate nutrients and eliminate waste properly through lymphatic system

Anodyne/Analgesic: Relieve pain

Antacid: Neutralize acid in stomach and intestinal

Anti-carcinogenic: Prevent or delay cancer

Anti-catarrhal: Counteracts excessive mucous and inflammation in sinus or respiratory

Anti-depressant: Depressed states of mind

Anti-emetic: Relieve nausea and vomiting

Anti-inflammatory: Combats extensive/excessive states of inflammation

Anti-microbial: Stimulate immune system to combat micro-organisms

Antioxidant: Protects body from free radicals

Antiseptic: Prevents or eliminates sepsis

Antispasmodic: Prevents or eases spasms

Aperient: Gentle stimulation to digestion, mild laxative

Aphrodisiac: Increase sexual desire/excitation (libido)

Astringent: Tone muscle tissues

Bitter: Stimulates digestion

Cardio-protective: Protects the heart

Carminative: Initiate peristalsis

Choleretic: Increase secretion bile from the liver

Cholagogue: Flow of bile from gallbladder

Counter-irritant/ Derivative: Induce local irritation, draw blood in

Demulcent: Mucilaginous herbs, relax and sooth tissues

Depurative: Purifying & detoxifying

Diaphoretic: Increase sweating

Diuretic: Increase urine flow

Emmenagogue: Increase menstrual flow

Emollient: Skin to soften, smooth and protect

Expectorant: Remove excess mucous

Amphoteric: Stimulate OR relaxing expectorant IE: Allium sativum

Stimulating: Vagus nerve affecting upper gastric and bronchial reflex IE: Lobelia inflate & Inula helenium

Relaxing: Mucilage. Anti-spasmodic. Thin mucous and relieve irritation IE: Althaea off.

Febrifuge: Reduce fever

Galactagogue: Flow of mother’s milk

Hemostatic: Arrests bleeding

Hepatic: Strengthen and tones liver

Hepato-protective: Protects liver

Hypnotic: Relaxant/sedative action, sleep aid

Hypotensive: Reduce blood pressure

Immune stimulant: Stimulate immune response to deal with infection

Lymphatic: Support lymphatic system

Nervine: CNS. Relaxing, stimulating and/or tonic depending on herb

Refrigerant: Colling herbs lower body temperature and relieve thirst

Rubefacient: Localized increase of blood

Sedative: Calm CNS by reducing stress and nervous irritation

Sialagogue: Increase flow of saliva

Stimulant: Warms body, increase circulation, breaks up congestion and obstruction

Styptic: Stop external bleeding by astringing

Stomachic: Tonic to the stomach

Tonic: Improve assimilation of nutrients

Vasodilator: Dilates veins = increase circulation

Vulnerary: Healing wounds externally


Ninetta (Nina) Savino


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