Wild Herbal Glossary

Wild Herbal Glossary



Abortifacient An herb that causes an abortion.

Active Constituent A chemical molecule that can alter some biochemical process in the body. Most plants or herbs contain dozens, sometimes hundreds, of active chemicals that work together to alter functioning processes of the body, usually in a subtle way.

Adaptogen A relatively safe and mild herb that helps the body adapt to stress or change. An adaptogen works to balance the activity of the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems.

Aerial Plant Parts The above ground parts of a plant – notably the leaves, stems, and flowers.

Alchemy (from Arabic: al-kīmiyā) is an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition.

Alkaloid Highly active plant constituent containing nitrogen atoms, usually in a ring shaped molecule.

Allopathy A medical practice that aims to combat disease through “conventional” means like drugs or surgery.

Alterative An herb that slowly alters the activity of tissues or organs by enhancing nutrition, energy, and vitality.

Amendment An addition of nutrients to soil, in which the soil is deficient, such as rock phosphate, kelp, compost, and manure.

Amino Acid Any class of 20 molecules that are combined to form proteins in living organisms.

Analgesic Relieves pain.

Annual A plant that goes through a complete life cycle in one year, dying at the end.

Anodyne A pain relieving herb.

Anti-amoebic Destroys or inhibits the growth of amoeba.

Anti-inflammatory The property of a substance or treatment that reduces inflammation or swelling.

Antibacterial Destructive to or inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

Antibiotic Destroys or inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Antidiarrheal A substance used to prevent or treat diarrhea.

Antiemetic Counteracts or relieves nausea or vomiting.

Antifungal Inhibiting the growth of fungi.

Antihydrotic Slows the production of excessive sweat.

Antimicrobial Aids the body in destroying or resisting pathogens. A general term encompassing antibiotics, anti-fungals, and antivirals.

Antioxidant A substance that inhibits oxidation and subsequent damage of important chemicals, enzymes, membranes, cells, and tissues in the body.

Antiparasitic An herb that helps eliminate parasites.

Antiperiodic An herb that helps relieve cyclic and intermittent diseases like malaria.

Antispasmodic Reduces muscle spasm and tension.

Antitussive An herb that reduces the urge to cough.

Aperient A gentle stimulant to the digestion and a mild laxative.

Aphrodisiac An herb that increases sexual desire.

Aquaretic A mild herbal diuretic that doesn’t deplete potassium.

Aromatherapy The use of fragrant plants or plant essence based on the theory that each different scent operates at a unique frequency. Specific aromas affect the body in different ways. These aromas, (essential oils in most cases) are inhaled or applied to the skin in small amounts using a carrier oil such as olive oil or sweet almond.

Aromatic An herb high in volatile oils, often with a fragrant aroma. Medicinally, aromatics are used to as antimicrobials, to relieve flatulence, open nasal passages, and eliminate phlegm.

Arteriosclerosis The thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries.

Assimilation The process of absorbing or incorporating substances into the body, usually nutrients or active constituents from plants.

Astringent A substance that shrinks or constricts body tissues.

Atherosclerosis The gradual build up of plaque on artery and blood vessel walls that leads to blockage.

Ayurveda A 5,000-year-old east Indian system of healing.

Analgesic Relieves pain.


Base A substance that helps carry herbal extracts into the body, such as an oil or cream.

Biennial A plant that grows for two years before dying.

Bile A bitter secretion of the liver that aids digestion, chiefly by saponifying fats.

Bioflavonoids A class of botanical secondary metabolites shown to have a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities in humans and animals.

Bionomial The two-part scientific Latin name used to identify plants.

BitterTonic An herb or blend of herbs that has a bitter taste and is used to stimulate and improve the digestive system

Botany Plant sciences or plant biology.


Calmative An herb that reduces nervous system hyperactivity and has a gentle calming effect on the mind, body, and emotions.

Cancer A broad group of diseases in which cells undergo uncontrolled mitoses, sometimes with invasiveness and metastasis (migrating from the point of origin to other sites, usually by way of the lymphatic and/or blood vascular systems).

Carminative Relieves flatulence, digestive colic, and gastric discomfort.

Carrier An herb, herbal blend, or plant essence that helps carry active chemicals (active constituents) into the blood-stream, where they can act on the body’s tissues and organs.

Cataplasm A warm poultice or plaster placed on various parts of the body to help draw out infection and speed the healing process of boils, sores, cysts, and other lesions.

Catarrh An inflammation of any mucous membrane, often resulting in swelling or thick mucous.

Chakra Center point of spiritual power and energy in the body.

Cholagogue An herb that increases the flow of bile.

Choleretic An herb that stimulates production of bile.

CNS Central nervous system.

Cold Conditions Concept in TCM associated with chills, poor circulation, thirst for hot drinks, feeling cold, fatigue, sharp pain, frequent urination (yang deficiency).

Compress A cloth soaked in herbal tea and applied to wounds, rashes, sore muscles, or sprains.

Contraindication A certain condition for which a particular herb is not recommended.


DampHeat An accumulation of dampness and heat in your tissues and organs. These substances can block the proper flow of nutrients and increase risk of infections.

Dampness An accumulation of excess water in the tissues of your body that can interfere with healthy cellular function. Dampness is often caused by a weak digestive system that cannot properly manage the water from food and drinks.

Decoction A tea preparation for hardier plant material such as roots and bark, involving simmering the herb in water from 20 – 45 minutes or longer.  Plant material is first mashed to allow for maximum dissolution, and then boiling in water to extract oils, volatile organic compounds and other various chemical substances.

Demulcent A mucilaginous herb that soothes irritated or inflamed tissue or mucous membranes.

Diaphoretic An herb that promotes perspiration.

Dioscorides A Greek physician of the first century A.D. His De Materia Medica was the leading text on pharmacology for sixteen centuries. The treatise details the properties of more than six hundred medicinally valuable plants and animal products.

Digestant An herb that benefits the process of digestion.

Digestive An herb that strengthens or supports good digestive function.

Diuretic A diuretic is any substance that promotes diuresis, the increased production of urine.

Doctrine of Signatures A theory that the appearance and/or habitat of a plant indicates its inherent medicinal properties.

Dosha Ayurvedic term to describe three bioenergies (vata, pitta, kapha) that circulate in the body and contribute to physical and emotional constitutional tendencies. Imbalance of the doshas contributes to disease.


Eclectic System of herbal medicine developed in the U.S. in the 19th century. The eclectics chose from Native American traditions as well as Europeans, choosing whatever they could find to benefit patients.

Electuary An herbal treatment made from adding powdered herbs to honey until a thick paste is formed.

Elixir A liquid herbal extract that contains alcohol and a sweet base to render it more pleasant to drink.

Emollient An herb applied externally to soften and soothe skin.

Emmenagogue A plant that stimulates menstruation.

Empirical Science A source of knowledge acquired by observation or experimentation.

Enzymes Any of various organic proteins secreted by the body that act as catalysts in inducing chemical changes in other substances, particularly in digestion. enzymes are the communication particles of the body. They carry and sometimes are the nutrients traveling from one gland or organ to another.  They are catalysts and not only allow inter communications but also facilitate absorption.

Essential Oil An extremely light and volatile concentrated oil extracted from aromatic plants. These oils are used in aromatherapy and produced by distillation or chemical extraction.

Expectorant An agent that promotes the discharge or expulsion of mucus from the respiratory tract.


Febrifuge Serving to dispel or reduce fever as a medicine.

Flower Essence Therapy Flower essences are specially prepared liquids used to improve psychological well-being through vibrational resonance. The treatment is not a biochemical one because flower essences contain little to no chemicals; instead treatment uses the flower’s energetic or vibrational pattern.

Free Radicals Unpaired oxygen molecules that cause cellular damage by stealing molecules from healthy cells. Many scientists believe that free radicals are a major cause of tissue degeneration and hardening of arteries as aging occurs.


Galactogogue An herb that increases the flow of breast milk.

Galenical A traditional system of Western medicine using natural instead of synthetic compounds.

Glycerite Liquid extract that contains glycerin rather than alcohol.

Glycoside A glycoside is a compound that is created when a sugar binds to a non-sugar molecule.


Hepatic An herb that affects the liver.

Herbaceous A type of plant with little or no woody tissue, usually living a single season.

Homeopathy Using highly diluted solutions of herbs, minerals, and some animal products to stimulate the healing process of the body.

Homeostasis The tendency of the internal environment of the body to remain constant in spite of varying external conditions.

Hot Conditions A concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) associated with fevers, increased metabolic rate, thirst for cold drinks, increased heat sensitivity, irritability, burning pains, thick phlegm (yin deficiency).

Humors Fluids in the system of humorism: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood.

Hypotensive An herb that helps lower blood pressure.


Infusion A preparation of plant parts steeped into a carrier such as water or oil.

Immunostimulant A substance that increases the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease.

Inhalant A remedy or drug that is breathed in through the nose or mouth.


Jing The essence of all life in the body, the life force that governs all creativity and reproduction.


Kapha Ayurvedic constitution or dosha associated with dampness and phlegm. kapha qualities are heavy, cold, oily, slow, slimy, dense, soft, static and sweet. kapha is the heaviest of the doshas and is portrayed by yellow.


Laxative Substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements. They are used to treat and prevent constipation.

Light Decoction Simmering herbs in water for 5 minutes, then steeping the brew in a covered pan for 15-30 minutes. This process extracts the active constituents from thicker leaves and other moderately dense herb parts, like seeds.

Liniment A medicinal liquid rubbed into the skin as a local anesthetic or counter-irritant. liniments typically have a lesser viscosity than balms and lotions.

Lymphagogue Something that promotes production of lymph.

Lymphatic Pertaining to the lymph system or lymph tissue, the 'back alley' of blood circulation. 


Macerating Soaking or steeping herbs in alcohol, oil or water. The actual preparation of the herbs soaking in liquid is called a maceration.

Marc The herbal material remaining after the tincture making process.  This Marc is processed further when making a Spagyric.

Materia Medica A body of collected knowledge and description of remedies suggested in herbal therapy.

Menstruum A solvent, especially one used in extracting compounds from the tissues of organisms.  When making herbal medicines this is usually alcohol and/or water, but could also be vinegar or honey.

Meridian In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a conduit that can be compared to an imaginary line (or channel) linking points on the body’s surface with internal organs in which qi (pronounced chi) flows. TCM defines 14 main meridians and eight extra meridians. These designated surface points are used in acupuncture.

Microbe A minute living organism, especially pathogenic bacteria.

Mother Tincture In homeopathy or flower remedies, the source remedy is diluted to make the therapeutic dosages.

Moxibustion Burning a compacted stick of Mugwort herb over areas of the skin to stimulate energy flow and facilitate healing. Moxibustion, also called moxa, is used by practitioners of TCM to treat arthritis, pain, and diseases involving hormone and immune weakness.


Nervine An herb that affects the nervous system: may be stimulating, sedating, or relaxing.

Nutritive Having the property of nourishing; nutritious.

Naturalized: A plant that is originally from a foreign continent and escapes from cultivation, often wandering far and wide. Plantain, for example is originally from europe, but is now a common “weed” in North America and on other continents.


Ointment A semi-solid herbal preparation for external use that is often made up of olive oil, beeswax, and herbs.

Oleo Gum Resin A natural exudation from trees and plants that consists mainly of essential oil, gum, and resin.


Pathogenic Heat A disease-causing condition in the body that may occur after extended periods of stress and the consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Pathogenic, or disease promoting, heat often underlies infections like vaginal yeast infections, bladder infections, and acne. This condition is treated by herbalists with cooling herbs.

Percolation The process of removing the active constituents from herb powders that are packed into a large funnel by allowing a menstruum (often alcohol or water) to slowly flow through the herbs. The menstruum flow is controlled at the bottom of the funnel stem with a valve so that only a few drops fall each minute.

Perennial A plant that lives for more than two years. The aerial parts of perennial plants may die back at the end of the growing season but the roots often endure for many years.

Phenols aka Phenolics Chemical compounds found naturally in plants that consist of a hydroxyl group bonded directly to an aromatic hydrocarbon group.

Physiomedicalism A system of herbal medicine developed in the u. S. in the 19th century.

Phytochemical A biologically active substance in plants (phyto) responsible for giving them their characteristics, such as color, flavor, and natural disease resistance. Our everyday food contains millions of phytochemicals including bioflavonoids, carotenoids, indoles, isoflavones, phytoestrogens, phytosterols, phenols, etc.

Phytoestrogen Natural estrogens that occur in plants.

Pitta An Ayuvedic dosha associated with fire or bile. Pitta qualities are light, hot, oily, sharp, liquid, sour, and pungent. Portrayed by the color red.

Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) Author of the Natural History, a work comprised of thirty seven volumes; books XX to XXXll deal with medicines derived from plants and from the humans and other animals.

Placebo A pill or compound that is similar in appearance to an agent being tested in a clinical trial but has no direct physiological effect. A placebo is harmless and has no treatment value.

Placebo Response When a person experiences either perceived healing, improvement of symptoms, or actual healing from a substance or experience that is a placebo. The improvement is generated from the psychological effect of taking the treatment or undergoing the experience, rather than any inherent healing ability of the treatment itself.

Poultice A mass of fresh, ground-up herbs applied wet to an area of the body in order to encourage healing. A fresh plantain poultice is used to help reduce the inflammation and pain of cuts, stings, bites, and burns.

Prana The vital energy that runs through our bodies according to Ayurvedic medicine. It is the vital life force. Propagation: The process of creating a new plant from a part of a mother plant. New plants can be rooted from stems or shoots, or by dividing root masses.


Qi This is the body’s vital force in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qi is the essential energy of the universe which is fundamental to all elements of life.

Qi Ni Rebellious qi, which moves in the wrong direction.

Qi Xian Sinking qi, which is too deficient to perform its holding function.'

Qi Zhi Stagnant qi that is sluggish and not moving efficiently.


Refrigerant A medical term referring to plants that cool the blood and reduce fever.

Resin A semi-solid plant substance with antibacterial properties that is soluble in alcohol, but not in water. Amber and pine pitch are examples.

Restorative An herb that restores balance and strength to the body and its systems.
Rhizome: An underground stem from which roots and shoots grow. The rhizomes of ginger, turmeric, and valerian are all collected for medicine.

Rubifacient Stimulates blood flow to the skin, causing local redness.


Salve A medicinal preparation made from an herb, such as calendula, or St. John’s wort, soaked in vegetable oil and combined with beeswax for application to your skin.

SaponinsActive plant constituents that produce a soap-like lather in water.

Sedative A sedative or tranquilizer is a substance that induces sedation by reducing irritability or excitement. They are CNS depressants and interact with brain activity causing its deceleration.

Sialogogue An herb that increase the secretion of saliva. Simple: A single herb used on its own.

Stimulant An overarching term that covers many herbs or drugs including those that increase activity of the central nervous system and the body, drugs that are pleasurable and invigorating, or drugs that have sympathomimetic effects.

Stomachic An agent that promotes digestion and improves appetite.

Solvent A liquid capable of dissolving and removing chemicals from plants and carrying them in a liquid solution, like dissolving salt in water to form a salty solution.

Spagyric A herbal medicine produced by alchemical procedures. These procedures involve fermentation, distillation, and extraction of mineral components from the ash of the plant.

Spp. A botanical term that is short for species, signifying any one of a number of species in a plant group called a genus. For instance, instead of writing out all the species of the genus Valeriana, the short hand is written as Valeriana spp.

Systemic Affecting the entire body.


Taproot A somewhat straight tapering root that grows vertically downward. It forms a center from which other roots sprout laterally.

An active plant constituent that combines with proteins; originally derived from plants used for tanning leather; astringent.

Taxonomy Is the science of classifying living organisms by assigning each organism to a category depending on the degree of similarities or relatedness to another. These similarities may be present in structure, biochemical, or physiological functions, evolutionary history, and development. Many characteristics are used to make the classification determination such as anatomy, biochemistry, embryology, molecular biology, and behavior. The taxonomic system still used today was introduced by Carolus Linneaus, a Swedish botanist, in 1753. He conceived of the living world as sets and subsets of organisms which could be classified in a seven-tier tree style hierarchy according to their degree of physical similarity.

Complex active plant constituents with a carbon ring structure, generally highly aromatic and included in essential oils.

Tincture An alcoholic or hydroalcoholic mixture prepared from plant parts.

Tonic A medication used to fortify and provide increased vigor.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) An ancient system of holistic medicine and healing that developed over five thousand years in China.

Tuber A swollen part of an underground plant stem of one year’s duration, capable of new growth.



Variety A level of classification in the plant kingdom below species and subspecies noting minor differences within a species, such as variations in flower color; designated following the species and the subspecies name by the abbreviation var.

Vata An Ayurvedic dosha associated with wind or air. Vata qualities are light, cold, dry, rough, subtle, mobile, clear, dispersing, erratic, and astringent. Portrayed by the color blue.

Vibrational Medicine Any medicine which treats the body on a vibrational or “energetic” level such as homeopathy or flower essence therapy, based on the theory that we are all dense bodies of energy, and by taking substances that adjust that energy, or the rate at which our energy fields vibrate, we can effect a cure.

Vulnerary A preparation applied externally to heals wounds.


Wei Qi Concept in Chinese Medicine of defense energy, comparable to the immune system.

Whorled The leaves of this type of plant form the spokes of a wheel around one point on a stem. Cleavers is a good example.

Wild-harvesting Harvesting uncultivated herbs from the wild.  Most herbalists feel that wild-harvesting also implies collecting the herbs with reverence and ecological awareness.



Yang Aspect of being equated with masculine energy: dry, hot, ascending, exterior.

Yin Aspect of being equated with feminine energy: damp, cold, descending, interior.