Medicinal herbs have numerous healing properties and a wide range of actions.

They can have many actions or properties benefiting the body as a whole or they can have a single property with a very targeted action on a specific system of the body.

Since medicinal herbs can have a direct impact on various physiological processes in the body, it is important to carefully match the herbal properties with the symptoms or deceases being treated and learn about each plant’s main attributes in order to identify which herb is the most appropriate to use as a treatment or remedy.

herbs properties and actions

Below is an overview of the various properties and actions medicinal herbs can have. The list is by no means exhaustive but should include the most common terms. It also includes examples of medicinal herbs or plants that have the listed properties.

The list is arranged alphabetically and can also act as a glossary.

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Abortifacient: Herbs (substances) that induce abortion, usually herbs with a powerful astringent or strong stimulating properties that cause the muscles in the uterus to contract.

Examples of herbs with possible abortifacient actions: Common rue (Ruta graveolens), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), bog myrtle (Myrica gale), juniper (Juniperus communis ), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).

Adaptogenic: Herbs that enhance the body’s ability to adapt to stress of any sort, including infections, physical and / or mental stress, environmental or fatigue.

Examples of herbal adaptogens: Golden root (Rhodiola rosea), schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum).

Alterative: Plants that through gradual process restore function, stimulate healing processes and increase health and vitality.

Examples of alteratives: Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), red clover (Trifolium pratense), blue flag (Iris versicolor), burdock (Arctium lappa), sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), cleavers (Galium aparine), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), yellow dock (Rumex crispus) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

Analgesic: Herbs with pain relieving properties.

Examples of herbs for pain relief: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), kava kava (Piper methysticum), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), arnica (Arnica montana) – only external use, clove (Syzygium aromaticum), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora).

Anaphrodisiac: Plants that diminish sexual libido.

Examples: Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), hops (Humulus lupulus), common rue (Ruta graveolens).

Antacid: Herbs that have the ability to neutralize excessive acid in the stomach and intestines.

ExamplesComfrey (Symphytum officinale), flax seed (Linum usitatissimum), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), slippery elm (Ulmus americana), wood betony (Stachys officinalis), bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), Irish moss (Chondrus crispus).

Anthelmintic/Antiparasitic/Vermicide/Vermifuge: Medicinal herbs that kill and/or expel intestinal worms from the digestive system.

Examples of herbs with anthelmintic properties: Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), aloe (Aloe vera), garlic (Allium sativum), thuja (Thuja occidentalis), mountain flax (Linum catharticum).

Antiabortive: Herbs that could help to reduce abortive tendencies. Usually taken in small quantities during early stages of pregnancy. They will not prevent miscarriage when the fetus is damaged or improperly secured.

Examples of herbs with antiabortive actions: Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).

Antiallergic: Herbs that help reduce allergic reactions. They can function as a support therapy for allergy by promoting the body’s natural antihistamine production by stabilizing mast cells.

Examples: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).

Antiasthmatic: Plants that relief the symptoms of asthma. Some have strong antispasmodic properties that dilate the bronchioles, while others help to dissolve mucus. Some herbs can be smoked to provide quick relief.

Examples: Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), lobelia (Lobelia inflata), wild Cherry Bark (Prunus virginiana), yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), dwarf mallow (Malva neglecta).

Antibilious: Medicinal herbs that stimulate flow of bile from the liver.

Examples: Balmony (Chelone Glabra), fringetree (Chionanthus virginica), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis).

Antibacterial/Antibiotic/Bactericidal: Herbs that inhibit the growth of bacteria (bacteriostatic), destroys bacteria (bactericidal) or stimulate the immune system.

Examples of herbs with antibacterial actions: Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), garlic (Allium sativum), old man’s beard (Usnea spp.), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), common plantain (Plantago major), chaparral (Larrea tridentata).

Anticatarrhal: Herbs that prevent or help remove excessive mucus, generally from the upper respiratory tract (e.g sinuses).

Examples: Pepper (Piper nigrum), cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum/Capisicum frutescens), ginger (Zingiber officinale), garlic (Allium sativum), sage (Salvia officinalis), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), anise (Pimpinella anisum), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), bistort (Persicaria bistorta), horseradish (Cochlearia Armoracia), houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale).

Anticoagulant: Plants that may prevent or dissolve blood clots. These herbs should be used with caution by people on conventional anticoagulants.

Examples of herbal anticoagulants: Garlic (Allium sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), laminaria (Laminaria digitata), yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), white sweet clover (Melilotus albus).

Anticonvulsant/Antiepileptic: Medicinal herbs that may be helpful in reducing or preventing seizures.

Examples: Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), kava kava (Piper methysticum), valerian Valeriana officinalis.

Antidepressant: Herbs that relieve depression. They can be used as a support therapy for mild to moderate depression.  Antidepressant herbs are often also adaptogens.

Examples of herbal antidepressants: St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), golden root (Rhodiola rosea), schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Antidiarrheal: Herbs that alleviate loose stools (diarrhea). Primarily herbs with a high tannin content.

Examples of herbs with antidiarrheal properties: Tormentil (Potentilla erecta), silverweed (Potentilla anserina), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), psyllium seed (Plantago afra), dogwood (Cornus florida).

Antiemetic: Herbs that can be helpful in reducing nausea and preventing vomiting.

Examples of herbs with antiemetic actions: Ginger (Zingiber officinale), dill (Anethum graveolens), black horehound (Ballota nigra), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), spearmint (Mentha spicatalemon), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita).

Anti-inflammatory: Herbs that lessen or remove inflammation. They can work in different ways but will rarely work directly but rather indirectly by supporting and enhancing the body’s own natural processes.

Examples of medicinal herbs with anti-inflammatory properties: Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), marigold flowers (Calendula officinalis), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), turmeric (Curcuma longa), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

Antilithic/Lithotriptic: Plants used for removal or prevention of kidney stones and gallstones (gravel).

Examples: Maize (Zea mays), hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi), common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris).

Antioxidant: Herbs that reduce the amount of free radicals in the body.

Examples of herbs with antioxidant actionsAshwagandha (Withania somnifera), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), bacopa (Bacopa monniera), green tea (Camellia sinensis), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Antiprostatic: Plants that reduce symptoms related to an enlarged prostate.

Examples: Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), small flowered willow herb (Epilobium parviflorum), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

Antipruritic: Medicinal herbs that can be useful in preventing or relieving itching.

Examples: Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus), chickweed (Stellaria media), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), vervain (Verbena officinalis).

Antipyretic/Febrifuge: Herbs that are used to reduce or prevent fever.

Examples of medicinal herbs that have antipyretic properties: White willow bark (Salix alba), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), elderberry (Sambucus nigra), dulse (Palmaria palmata), Peruvian bark (Cinchona succirubra), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Antiretroviral: Herbs that have been used against retroviruses (RNA viruses such as HIV).

Examples: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), frost grape (Vitis vulpina), shitake (Lentinula edodes), licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota.

Antirheumatic: Medicinal plants that protect against or relieve rheumatism (arthritis).

Examples of herbal antirheumatics: Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), American pokeweed (Phytolaca americana), celery seed (Apium graveolens), sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), cayenne (Capsicum annuum), curly dock (Rumex crispus), European mistletoe (Viscum album).

Antiseptic: Herbs that inhibit growth of bacteria, and prevent infection.

Examples of herbal antiseptics: Golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), black walnut (Juglans nigra), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica), white pond lily (Nymphaea odorata), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium/Berberis aquifolium), bethroot (Trillium erectum).

Antispasmodic/Spasmolytic: Medicinal plants that prevent, or ease spasms (cramps, tension) in muscles, nerves or organs. Some antispasmodic herbs act on the entire body, others on specific organs or systems. The herbs can either be applied topically or taken internally.

Examples of herbal antispasmodics: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Virginia springbeauty (Claytonia virginica), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), hops (Humulus lupulus), prickly ash (Xanthoxylum americanum), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

Antitussiv: Medicinal plants that reduce or prevent cough.

Examples of herbs with antitussiv actions: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhinaanise), anise (Pimpinella anisum), houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).

Antiviral: Herbs that kill or inhibit the growth of viruses. Often also with immune boosting qualities.

Examples of herbal antivirals: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), thuja (Thuja occidentalis), neem (Azadiracta indica), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Anxiolytic/anti-anxiety/anti-panic: Herbs used for anxiety relief and related psychological and physical symptoms.

Herbal examples: Oat (Avena sativa), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), kava-kava (Piper methysticum), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Aphrodisiac: Medicinal plants that stimulate sexual desire or potency.

Examples of herbal aphrodisiacs: Golden root (Rhodiola rosea), Asian ginseng  (Panax ginseng), damiana (Turnera diffusa), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), yerba mate (Ilex paraguayensis), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), water eryngo (Eryngium aquaticum).

Aromatic: Plants with strong aroma. Often used in cooking, to enhance appetite, and to give a good taste to herbal mixtures.

Examples of aromatic herbs: Anise (Pimpinella anisum), caraway (Carum carvi), allspice (Pimenta dioica), dill (Anethum graveolens), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), cubeb (Piper cubeba), true cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), true cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum), clove (Syzygium aromaticum), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), orris root (Iris germanica).

Astringent: Medicinal plants that have a constricting or binding action on mucous membranes, skin and other tissues. They are typically used to limit mucus discharge and stop bleeding, often used to treat diarrhea and hemorrhoids. Astringent herbs are usually rich in tannins, substances that are especially found in abundance in the bark of certain trees.

Examples: Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), common oak (Quercus spp.), shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), tormentil (Potentilla erecta), silverweed (Potentilla anserina), knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), rhatany (Krameria lappacea), common plantain (Plantago major), greater periwinkle (Vinca major).


Bitter/Bitter tonic/Stomachic: Herbs containing bitter tasting substances that stimulate the production of digestive hormones and thereby increasing appetite.

Examples of herbal bitters: Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), gentian (Gentiana lutea/Gentiana acaulis/Gentiana scabra), centaury (Centaurium erythraea), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), hops (Humulus lupulus), artichoke (Cynara scolymus).

Bronchospasmolytic: Herbs that suppress spasms in the lower airways.

Examples: Coleus (Coleus forskohlii), elecampane (Inula helenium), grindelia (Grindelia camporum / Grindelia robusta).


Cardioprotective: Plants that protect cardiac muscle tissue from lack of oxygen and thus reduce the risk of heart damage.

Examples of medicinal herbs with cardioprotective properties: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna/Crataegus laevigata), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).

Carminative: Plants (usually with high content of essential oils) that help the stomach and intestinal wall to relax and release intestinal gas and reduce pain.

Examples of medicinal herbs with carminative actions: Anise (Pimpinella anisum), caraway (Carum carvi), dill (Anethum graveolens), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), ginger (Zingiber officinale), turmeric (Curcuma longa), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), chickweed (Stellaria media).

Choleretic/Cholagogue: Herbs that increase bile production in the liver.

Examples: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), greater bindweed (Convolvulus sepium), artischoke (Cynara scolymus), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), soapwort (Saponaria officinalis).

Circulataory stimulant: Medicinal plants that increase blood flow to and from tissues and organs.

Examples of herbal circulataory stimulants: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna / Crataegus laevigata), ginger (Zingiber officinale), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

Contraceptive: Medicinal herbs used as a contraceptive.

Examples of herbal contraceptive: Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica).


Demulcent/Mucilaginous: Sedatives, usually mucilage rich plants, used internally to protect injured or inflamed mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal, respiratory or urinary tract.

Examples of herbs with demulcent properties: Aloe (Aloe vera), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), common liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), spiderwort (tradescantia virginiana), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), chickweed (Stellaria media), psyllium (Plantago psyllium), flax seed (Linum usitatissimum), ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).

Depurative: Plants that promote detoxification and eliminate waste. Formerly known as alteratives or blood cleansing herbs. Mainly used to treat chronic skin disorders and musculoskeletal disorders.

Examples: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), red clover (Trifolium pratense), yellow dock (Rumex crispus), cleavers (Galium aparine).

Diaphoretic/Sudorfic: Medicinal herbs that promote sweating and help the body to eliminate waste through the skin.

Examples of plants with diaphoretic actions: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), spearmint (Mentha spicata), catnip (Nepeta cataria), cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), elder (Sambucus nigra), safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), yarrow  (Achillea millefolium), hyssop (Hyssopus officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

Digestive: Herbs that stimulate the function of the digestive system and promote digestion.

Examples of herbal digestives: Ginger (Zingiber officinale), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Discutient: Plants that may be useful in dissolving abnormal growths and tumors.

Examples: Black walnut (Juglans nigra), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), cabbage leaf (Brassica oleracea), chaparral (Larrea tridentata), devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), garlic (Allium sativum), Turkey tail mushroom (Triamedes versicolor).

Diuretic: Medicinal herbs that increase the urine flow, the term is often used about herbs that in general have beneficial effect on the urinary tract. Herbal diuretics can be used for water retention, obesity, swollen lymph glands, infections of the urinary tract, skin rash and kidney stones.

Examples: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), birch (Betula spp.), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), cleavers (Galium aparine), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), couch grass (Agropyron repens).


Emetic: Herbs that cause vomiting and empty the stomach. Mostly used in cases of poisoning.

Examples of plants with emetic properties: Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria), twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), black root (Leptandra Virginica), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), vervain (Verbena officinalis).

Emmenagogue: Herbal emmenagogues stimulate or normalize blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus and stimulate menstruation.

Examples: Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), turmeric (Curcuma longa), gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), false unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum), hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), squaw vine (Mitchella repens), juniper (Juniperus communis).

Emollient: Herbs that are used on the skin and have a soothing, protective and healing effect. They are used externally and have similar properties as demulcents that are used internally.

Examples of medicinal plants with emollient actions: Chickweed (Stellaria media), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), common plantain (Plantago major), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).

Estrogenic: Plants that normalize estrogen levels in the body. These herbs frequently contain substances that can be converted into estrogen if needed and are generally used to treat symptoms of menopause.

Examples: Angelica (Angelica archangelica), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa).

Expectorant: Medicinal plants that promote the secretion of excess mucus from the lungs and airways. They work either by changing the viscosity of the mucus, or by stimulating the cough reflexes.

Examples of medicinal herbs with exectorant properties: Elecampane (Inula helenium), houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globosus), common mallow (Malva sylvestris), white horehound (Marrubium vulgare), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), wild cherry bark (Prunus virginiana), yucca root (Yucca schidigera).


Fungicidal/Antifungal/Antimicrobial/Antiparasitic: Herbs that inhibit the growth of or kill fungi (pathogenic organisms). Either by direct or indirect actions (enhance the immune system).

Examples of herbal antifungals: Marigold (Calendula officinale), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), tea-Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), common plantain (Plantago major), cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).


Galactogogue: Herbs that increase the secretion of breast milk.

Examples: Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), anise (Pimpinella anisum), cleavers (Galium aparine), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), goat’s-rue (Galega officinalis), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), milkworth (Polygala vulgaris).


Haemostatic/Stypic: Plants that stop or prevent bleeding. Often herbs with astringent properties.

Examples of herbal haemostatics: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), tormentil (Potentilla erecta), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), common oak (Quercus robur), knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), bistort (Persicaria bistorta).

Hepatic/Hepatoprotective/Antihepatotoxic: Plants that can be helpful in strengthening and protecting the liver and increasing the secretion of bile.

Examples: Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), artichoke (Cynara scolymus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), yellow dock (Rumex crispus).

Hypertensive: Herbs that can help increase low blood pressure.

Examples: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).

Hypoglycemic/Anti-diabetic: Herbs that reduce and regulate blood glucose levels.

Examples: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), neem (Azadirachta indica), goat’s rue (Galega officinalis), burdock (Arctium lappa).

Hypotensive: Medicinal herbs that can be helpful in lowering high blood pressure.

Examples of herbal hypotensives: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna / Crataegus laevigata), mistletoe (Viscum album), linden (Tilia cordata), motherworth (Leonurus cardiaca).


Immune depressant: Herbs that reduce immune system activity. Used especially for over active immune system or autoimmune diseases.

Examples of herbal immune depressants: Indian sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus indicus), asmatica (Tylophora asmatica).

Immune enhancing/Immune stimulant/Immunostimulant: Plants that strengthen and stimulate the immune system.

Examples of herbs with immune enhancing properties: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), chaga (Inonotus obliquus), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), neem (Azadirachta indica), cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa).


Laxative/Purgative/Cathartic: Herbs that promote bowel movements and stimulate removal of feces. The terms purgative and cathartic are used for plants with very strong laxative actions.

Examples: Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana), senna (Cassia senna), Chinese rhubarb (Rheum officinale), yellow dock (Rumex crispus), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), plum (Prunus domestica, Prunus americana).

Lymphatic: Medicinal plants that stimulate and cleanse the lymphatic system.

Examples: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), poke root (Phytolacca decandra), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium/Berberis aquifolium).


Narcotic: Plants that can be addictive and affect mood or behavior. Also herbs with psychoactive properties and sleep-inducing and pain relieving actions.

Examples of herbal narcotics: Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).

Nervine/Nervine tonic/Relaxant: Herbs that reduce anxiety and nervous tension, and strengthen the nervous system.

Examples of herbal nervines: Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaulelemon), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), oat (Avena sativa), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora).


Oxytocic: Medicinal herbs that stimulate uterine contractions and promote and assist in childbirth.

Examples: Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), broom (Cytisus scoparius), shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).


Paraciticide: Medicinal plants that destroy parasites in the digestive system or on the skin.

Examples of herbal paraciticides: Garlic (Allium sativum), false unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum), black walnut (Juglans nigra), chaparral (Larrea tridentata), wood betony (Stachys officinalis).

Pectoral: Herbs that enhance and are beneficial for the respiratory system.

Examples of plants with pectoral actions: Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), elecampane (Inula helenium), great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), marshmallow  (Althaea officinalis), bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).

Pediculicide: Plants that kill lice (head lice).

Examples: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globosus).


Refrigerant: Herbs that have a cooling effect, particularly when applied to the skin.

Examples: Chickweed (Stellaria media).

Rubefacient: Medicinal plants that increase blood flow to the surface of the skin and cause irritation in order to draw out inflammation and congestion from deeper areas. Often used as remedies for arthritis and rheumatism.

Examples of herbal rubefacients: Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), horseradish (Amoraica rusticana), ginger (Zingiber officinale), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), white mustard (Sinapis alba), black mustard (Brassica nigra), mezereon (Daphne mezereum).


Sedative: Medicinal plants that calm the nervous system and reduce nerve tension. Includes antispasmodics and nervines. These herbs can also relieve pain, cramps and promote sleep.

Examples of herbal sedatives: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), hops (Humulus lupulus), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), periwinkle (Vinca minor), catnip (Nepeta cataria).

Sialagogue: Plants that stimulate the secretion of saliva, and thus promote the digestion of starch.

Examples: Pepper (Piper nigrum), cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia), yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea), ginger (Zingiber officinale), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), blue flag (Iris versicolor).

Soporific: Plants that induce sleep.

Examples of herbal soporifics: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), hops (Humulus lupulus), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).

Stimulant: Herbs that enhance the function of an organ or organ system.

Examples of herbal stimulants: Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea), cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), ginger (Zingiber officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), sage (Salvia officinalis), lemon bee balm (Monarda citriodora).


Tonic: Herbs that strengthen, nourish and support the function of an organ or the whole body.

Examples of herbal tonics: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), roseroot (Rhodiola rosea), American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), sarsaparilla (Smilax aristolochiifolia), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), squaw vine (Mitchella repens).


Vasoconstrictor: Medicinal plants that act constricting on the blood vessels (reduce blood flow).

Examples: Ma huang (Ephedra sinica), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus).

Vasodilator: Medicinal herbs that expand and relax the blood vessels (increase blood flow).

Examples of herbal vasodilators: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), horseradish (Amoracia rusticana), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus laevigata), American hellebore (Veratrum viride), linden (Tilia cordata), yarrow (Achillea millefolium, coleus (Coleus forskholii).

Vulnerary: Herbs used to promote wound healing by stimulating cell growth (topically). Often they also have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Examples of medicinal plants with vulnerary actions: Common plantain (Plantago major), aloe (Aloe vera), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), calendula (Calendula officinalis), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), burdock (Arctium lappa), chickweed (Stellaria media).