All About Oils Herbal Terms

Herbal Reference Dictionary

Listed here are common terms used in herbalism to describe the affects of plants and in this instance, the oils that come from them. Not sure which oil will help you? You can use this key word in your search and it will take you to the oils that are helpful to these conditions.

Alteratives:  Blood purifiers that aid in treating toxicity of the blood, infections, arthritis, or skin eruptions.

Analgesics:  Reduce pain by relieving muscle spasms, reduces inflammation or affecting nerves that carry pain impulses.

Antacids:  Neutralize stomach acid or counter the effects of excess acid in the gastrointestinal tract.

Anti-asthmatics:  Benefit the conditions of asthma.

Antibiotics:  Inhibit the growth and replication of bacteria, viruses or amoebas. Plants are stationary and cannot avoid exposure to infectious agents. They have defense mechanisms – often essential oils – that ward off pathogens.

Anticatarrhal:  Catarrh means mucous or phlegm. Anti-catarrhals remove or decrease the production of excess mucous or phlegm.

Antipyretics:  “Pyresis” (meaning “fire”) refers to the fever that accompanies most infectious processes (colds, bacterial infections, etc.) and many inflammatory disorders (e.g., lupus or rheumatoid arthritis). Anti-pyretics prevent or reduce fevers or are generally cooling in character.

Antiseptics:  Much like antibiotics, antiseptics prevent the replication of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The term antiseptic is usually applied to an agent that is applied externally to prevent bacterial growth.

Antispasmodics:  Herbs that reduce or prevent muscle spasms, whether they’re in skeletal muscle or in the smooth muscles of the body such as the GI tract, airways, urogenital tract, etc.

Astringents:  Any agent that tends to shrink or constrict living tissue. This is a particularly important herbal property, as it has so many applications in human illness. Astringents slow bleeding, reduce swelling and decrease secretions. For the most part, herbs’ astringent properties stem from tannins, which are found in most plants but are particularly concentrated in barks, roots and nuts.

Carminatives:  Reduce intestinal gas, bloating and cramping.

Cholagogue:  “chole” is a Greek root for bile or gall. Cholagogues are substances that promote the movement of bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine.

Demulcents:  Plants that soothe or protect inflamed mucous membranes, usually by coating them with mucilage. It is helpful to use a demulcent herb with a diuretic to protect the kidney and urinary tract, especially when kidney stones or gravel are thought to be present.

Diaphoretics:  Sweat-inducing plants that can be invaluable during illnesses that include fever. When using a sweating tea it should be hot. When cold, they act as a diuretic.

Diuretics:  Herbs that are used to promote the flow of urine. This is beneficial for people with fluid retention and edema, obesity, bladder infections (which should also be treated with antibiotics) and other conditions where excess fluid is problematic or where increased urinary flow would be useful.

Emetics:  Agents that induce vomiting and empty the stomach. Ipecac is the herbal emetic that is familiar to most people.

Emmenagogues:  Herbs that promote menstrual flow and help regulate irregular cycles. Emmenagogues should not be used during pregnancy or when a woman is trying to conceive.

Emollients:  Compounds that smooth, moisten and soothe the skin. Herbal oils (almond, sesame, apricot, wheat germ, etc.) or plants with high mucilage content make good emollients.

Expectorants:  Herbs that liquefy mucous or promote its expulsion from the respiratory passages. Some of these herbs loosen mucous by virtue of their high mucilage content, while others stimulate the cilia that propel mucous along the airways.

Galactogogues:  Herbs that stimulate milk secretion.

Hemostatics:  Any agent that slows or arrests active bleeding. Most hemostatics are potent astringents that shrink blood vessel walls, but they might also directly affect the coagulation process by acting on platelets or clotting proteins.

Laxatives:  Stimulate bowel movements.

Lithotriptics:  Herbs that help dissolve urinary and gallbladder stones or “gravel.”

Nervines:  Agents that reduce tension and anxiety and promote healthy nervous system function.

Parasiticides:  Herbs that help eliminate parasites from the gastrointestinal tract or skin.

Purgative:  Is a strong laxative that cuases increased intestinal peristalsis.

Rubefacients:  Increase blood flow to the skin wherever they’re applied, thereby inducing redness and warmth. The purpose of a rubefacient is to draw inflammation from deeper areas to the surface and remove “congestion” from underlying tissues. These are frequently applied as poultices, are most commonly used for treating arthritis, sprains, strains and other joint problems.

Sedatives:  Like nervines, sedatives calm the nerves; however, sedatives are more likely to promote drowsiness – although larger doses of nervines can be quite sedating, too.

Sialagogues:  Promote salivation. This is useful for people who suffer from dry mouth or who have problems digesting starches.

Stimulants:  Contrast to nerviness and sedatives, as they stimulate or increase your energy levels, improve circulation, break up obstructions and promote warmth.

Tonics:  Promote the function of a particular body part or organ system. Most tonics, by nature, affect your entire body, even though they’re “targeted” to a particular system.

Vermifuge:  Is an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms. (also called anthelmintic).

Vulneraries:  Improve wound healing by encouraging cell growth and tissue repair.