Definitions of Herb Classifications

Alterative Herbs

Herbs used to alter the existing nutritive and excretory processes and gradually restore normal body functions. Alteratives, or, as they are sometimes called, Antiscorbutics, are remedies which gradually alter and correct impure conditions of the blood. It is because of this that many of these agents are commonly called "Blood Purifiers" or "Blood Sweeteners".

These herbs include: Plantain, Red Clover, Poke Root, Burdock Root, Chaparral, Oregon Grape, Blue Flag, Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, Echinacea, Purple Loosestrife, Yellow Dock, Garlic.

Anthelmintic Herbs

Herbs used to expel or destroy intestinal worms. The anthelmintic agents are classed as to their action against the worm parasites:

Vermifuges are herbal agents that cause the expulsion of worms from the body.
Vermicides are herbal agents that destroy worms in the body.
Taeniafuges are herbal agents that cause the expulsion of the tapeworms from the body.
Taenicides are herbal agents that kill tapeworms in the body.

Almost all anthelmintics are potent agents and must be respected as such; and concentrated substance must always be used in wisdom.

These herbs include:Wormwood, Male Fern, Pomegranate, Jerusalem Oak, Kousso, Pink Root, Tansy, Pumpkin Seeds, Santonica, Hyssop.

Astringent Herbs

Astringents or constringents are herbal agents that promote greater density and firmness of tissue (as opposed, for instance, to cathartics or laxatives). These herbs act upon vital contractility and constringe, contract, and condense the cellular structures of organic tissues (muscles, arteries, nerves, etc.). Astringents are generally mucus cleansers and, externally, they are used to contract and strengthen a relaxed or weakened condition of muscular fiber.

Cathartic Herbs

Herbs that are active purgatives to the intestinal tract, exciting peristalsis and stimulating glandular secretions, producing semi-fluid bowel movements with some irritation and griping. The botanical cathartics not only speed up the physical evacuation processes, but they are also powerful healers in cleansing, strengthening and toning the malfunctioning tissues and organs. These agents are classed into several categories according to their degree and direction of action:

Aperients or laxatives are herbal agents which excite moderate peristalsis, and produce softened motions and normal stool formation without griping or irritation. This category of evacuative agents is the one generally used for infants, and very weak people. The action of aperients is mild and slow, and these generally should be administered at night before retiring to bed. (olive oil, ajar, cascaras sagrada, licorice)
Cathartics or simple purgatives are herbal agents which cause active peristalsis and stimulate the glandular secretions of the intestines, producing one or more semi-fluid bowel movements accompanied by some irritation and griping. These usually evacuate between 8-12 hours and should be administered in the morning or between meals on an empty stomach. (aloes, senna, Turkey rhubarb, mandrake root)
Drastics or drastic purgatives are herbal agents which act still more intensely, and produce violent peristalsis and watery stools with much griping pain. They irritate the mucous membrane, and weaken by causing exosmosis of serum from the intestinal vessels. In large doses these can cause inflammation, so the two foregoing categories of aperients and cathartics are preferred whenever possible. Whenever drastic are used, they should be taken only in combination with corrective and demulcent agents. (castor oil, colocynth apple, crouton oil, gamboge, hedge hyssop, jalap, red bryony, white bryony)
Hydragogues or hydragogue purgatives are herbal agents that are very active drastic and will remove large quantities of serum and water from the vessels causing large watery discharges. (dwarf elder root, gamboge, great celandine, red-berried elder bark, saltwort, stinking glad wine root)
Cholagogues or cholagogue purgatives are herbal agents that stimulate a flow and discharge of bile, while, at the same time, produce a free purgation of green-colored or "bilious" and liquid stools. These act mainly on the duodenum and contract the bile ducts, which pour bile into the small intestine, but they do not necessarily increase the secretion of bile as hepatic agents (influencing the liver and related functions)

Diaphoretic Herbs

The diaphoretic or sudorific agents induce perspiration in the following ways: They enter the circulation, and as they are eliminated by the sudoriferous glands, they stimulate the local nerve-fibers supplying these glands to increased action.

These herbs include: Yarrow, Camomile, Pleurisy Root, Boneset, Blessed Thistle, Thyme, Hyssop, Sage, Catnip, Spearmint.

Antispasmodic & Nervine Herbs

Antispasmodics are herbal agents that prevent or relieve excessive contractions (spasms) or the voluntary or involuntary muscles in any part of the body. Many function by stimulating the higher nervous, coordinating, and power centers (the nervines); others by depressing all of the vital functions (lobelia, American hellebore, etc.); and a number stimulate the muscular fibers of the intestines to expel gaseous accumulations (asafoetida, valerian, wild yam, cajuput, etc.). The majority of these herbs act upon the functions of deranged nerves, and relieve nervous tension and irritability caused by irregular and painful action of the muscles.

These herbs include: Lobelia, Scullcap, Valerian, Lady's Slipper, Mistletoe, Wood Betony, Cramp Bark, Hops, Black Cohosh, Wild Yam.

Expectorant & Demulcent Herbs

Expectorants are herbal agents that act upon the broncho-pulmonary membrane, altering the quality and increasing the quantity of its secretions and facilitating discharge, expulsion or ejection of the fluid or semi-fluid mucus matter from the trachea or morbid accumulations (tenacious phlegm) from the lungs or bronchi, through coughing and spitting. These agents maybe further classified as nauseating expectorants and stimulant expectorants. Nauseating expectorants act mechanically when given in large doses, expelling mucus in the act of vomiting. When given in small doses, they increase osmosis from the inflamed mucous membrane. Stimulant expectorants expectorants are largely eliminated through the bronchial mucous membrane, which they stimulate (diminishing the secretion and increasing the blood-pressure), while facilitating expectoration.

Demulcents are herbal agents that soothe, soften and allay irritation of mucous-membranes. These are agents having slippery, mucilaginous or oleaginous properties, which in a solution will coat, shield, lubricate and soothe the inflamed abraded mucous membrane surfaces (or other tissues) from irritating substances, modifying the action of acrid and stimulating matters on the mucous membranes, relieving the pain from inflammations, and allowing a healing process to take place. These agents are suitable carriers, that are used to suspend other insoluble agents as mucilaginous mixtures or emulsions so that they can be taken orally. The term "demulcent" is generally used in referring to agents employed internally for the mucous membranes, and the term "emollient" for similar agents used externally on the skin. Most demulcent agents are emollient when applied externally, and in poultices they retain warmth and moisture, while absorbing the pussy discharges through the skin from sores, boils, abscesses, etc.

These herbs include: Comfrey, Mullein, Chickweed, Marshmallow, Slippery Elm, Elecampane, Horehound, Wild cherry, Licorice, Hollyhock.

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