Herbal Terms and Medicinal Preparations

This page is designed to help educate you on the various terms and preparations associated with herbal medicine. Click on any of the links to learn more!

Decoction: A tea made from boiling plant material, usually the bark, rhizomes, roots or other woody parts, in water. General guides are to boil your root or bark for at least 30-45 minutes.

Infusion: A tea made by pouring water over plant material (usually dried flowers, fruit, leaves, and other parts, though fresh plant material may also be used), then allowed to steep. The water is usually boiling, but cold infusions are also an option. For medicinal preparations, 15 minutes of infusing time is the general minimum, usually longer with cold infusions.

Tincture: An extract of a plant made by soaking herbs in a dark place with a desired amount of either glycerine, alcohol, or vinegar for two to six weeks. The liquid is strained from the plant material then bottled. There are several methods for tincturing, including maceration, percolation, and the folk method.

Liniment: Extract of a plant added to either alcohol or vinegar and applied topically to employ the therapeutic benefits.

Poultice: A topical application of a soft moist mass of plant material (such as bruised fresh herbs), usually wrapped in a fine cloth.

Essential Oils: Aromatic volatile oils extracted from the leaves, stems, flowers, and other parts of plants. Therapeutic use generally includes dilution of the highly concentrated oil.

Flower Essences: Flower essences are made by infusing flowers or other plant parts in spring water and then adding alcohol as a preservative. The essences are used internally or topically to balance emotional states. The underlying philosophy focuses on stabilizing emotions in order to dissipate illness and stimulate the internal healing processes.

Herbal Medicinal Terms

This list is mostly to help you understand the terms you might come across in herbal medicine or in field guides. There are numerous other terms out there, but here are a few to get you started:

abortifacient – induces abortion

adjuvant - aiding the action of a medicinal agent

analgesic - relieve pain

anesthetic - induces loss of sensation or consciousness due to the depression of nerve function

antibacterial - destroying or stopping the growth of bacteria

anticatarrh - reduces inflamed mucous membranes of head and throat

anti-diarrhetic- substances use to prevent or treat diarrhea

anti-emetic - stopping vomiting

antifungal - destroying or inhibiting the growth of fungus

antihemorrhagic - controlling hemorrhaging or bleeding

anti-inflammatory - controlling inflammation, a reaction to injury or infection

antimicrobial - destructive to microbes

antioxident - prevents or inhibits oxidation

antipruritic - preventing or relieving itching

antipyretic - agent that reduces fever (febrifuge)

anti-rheumatic - easing pain of rheumatism, inflammation of joints and muscles

antiseptic - agent used to produce asepsis and to remove pus, blood, etc.

antispasmodic - calming nervous and muscular spasms or convulsions

antitussive - controlling or preventing cough

antiviral - opposing the action of a virus

aperient - a very mild laxative

astringent - agent that constricts and binds by coagulation of proteins a cell surface

bitter - stimulates appetite or digestive function

carminative - causing the release of stomach or intestinal gas

cathartic - an active purgative, producing bowel movements

cicatrizant - aiding formation of scar-tissue and healing wounds

counter-irritant - agent producing an inflammatory response to affect an adjacent area

demulcent - soothing action on inflammation, especially of mucous membranes

dermatitis - inflammation of the skin evidenced my itchiness, redness, and various lesions

diaphoretic - increases perspiration (syn: sudorific)

diuretic - increases urine flow

dysmenorrhea - painful menstruation

dyspepsia - imperfect or painful digestion

emetic - produces vomiting

emmenagogue - agent that regulates and induces normal menstruation

emollient - softens and soothes the skin

expectorant - facilitates removal of secretions

febrifuge - an agent that reduces or relieves a fever

hemostatic - controls the flow or stops the flow of blood

hepatic - having to do with the liver

hypertensive - raises blood pressure

hypotensive - lowers blood pressure

laxative - substance that acts to loosen the bowels contents

narcotic - induces drowsiness, sleep, or stupor and lessons pain

nervine - a nerve tonic

purgative - laxative, causes the evacuation of intestinal contents

rubefacient – brings blood to the skins surface

sedative - exerts a soothing, tranquilizing effect on the body

soporific - inducing sleep

stimulant - temporarily increases body or organ function

stomachic - aids the stomach and digestion action

sudorific - acts to increase perspiration

tonic - a substance that increases strength and tone