This weekend I taught the botanical home health introductory course I offer here at our farm. Writing the syllabus I had to think back to everything I wanted to know most when I first started out. One of the most important things I could think of to cover was terminology. That idea may seem boring, but when you first begin to research different aspects of medicinal herbs you notice a lot of new terminology everywhere.
When you sit down to read an herbal you encounter descriptions of a given plant that read like Greek. Until you know how to decipher the language you are often in the dark about why there is such a long list of seemingly unrelated benefits. How in the world can raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) increase contractions of the uterus at some times and relax it at others? When you understand the term “amphoteric,” you understand that raspberry is in a class of herbs that has the ability to create equally opposite effects in the body – this is based on the tonic nature of the plant that allows it to operate as the situation in the body dictates.
In this spirit, I thought this week I would devote my post to some of the more common terms you might read in an herbal or in online research.
10 Terms Related to Medicinal Herbs
This class of herbs has the ability to favorably improve the condition of the blood. They might do this by direct action in the circulatory system, but more often than not they support the liver in its job to filter toxicity out of the blood stream. A common alterative is red clover (Trifolium pratense).
Herbs identified in this way have the ability to relieve pain. A great example is rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
Plants in this group have the ability to ease or prevent cramps or muscle spasms. My favorite here is skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora).
These plants are typically full of volatile oils. They support the digestion by calming tension in the stomach and bowels and stimulating appropriate peristalsis. Dill (Anethum graveolens) is one of the best.
These are plants that are high in mucilage. This makes them soothing to internal mucous membranes. The beautiful marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is a great example of a demulcent.
Herbs in this group induce sweating when used in a hot tea. They stimulate the kidneys and cool a fever. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is one of these plants that can heat up the body.
Herbs that are bitter are often hepatics. They tend to tone, strengthen, and decongest the liver. A common example is dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale).
These herbs tone and feed the nervous system. Everyone knows chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and this is a classic example of this group of herbs.
These herbs stop bleeding. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is fabulous first aid for cuts.
This class of herbs encourages cell growth and skin healing. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a very healing example of this type of herb.
What have we missed? Are there terms you’ve come across when learning about herbs that you’d like to know about?