Glossary of Terms


5-Lipoxygenase – An enzyme in the body which catalyzes the transformation of EFA’s, such as arachidonic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), to leukotrienes. Leukotrienes cause pathological symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory conditions.

Abortificient – Agent capable of inducing a miscarriage. This is a highly misused term.

Acetylcholine – Neurotransmitter that occurs at neuromuscular junctions and has an excitatory action on skeletal muscles which increases muscle contraction. Increases attentiveness, anger, aggression, sexuality and moderates REM sleep.

Adaptogen – Herbs that normalize and restore bodily functions and increase the body’s ability to handle stress. The mechanism seems to be one of usually by acting on the hypothalamus to restore endocrine function.

Alterative – Term used to define herbs that gradually restore health and vitality to the body by improving the metabolism (alteration) and elimination of toxins and humors from the lymph and blood. May also be referred to as “blood cleansers” in old literature.

Analgesic/Anodyne – Agents that relieve pain.

Antacid -Substances that neutralize excess acid in the stomach and intestinal tract.

Anthelmintic – Agent which kills worms and/or expels them from the GI tract.

Antibiotic- Pharmacological substance that destroy bacteria. Herbal medicines are often mislabeled as antibiotics when in fact they inhibit the growth or reproduction of pathogens by boosting immune system function.

Anticatarrhal – Substances that dissolves or counteracts the formation of excess catarrh (mucus, humors, etc.)

Anticholinergic – These substances block the liberation of acetylcholine resulting in sedation or deliria. Also referred deliriants when being considered as hallucinogens.

Anticoagulant- Agents which impede blood clots by interfering in the clotting cascade. Also referred to as platelet aggregation inhibitors.

Anti-diarrheal – Agents which may work to slow or control frequent, loose bowel movements.
Anti-fibrotic – These agents decrease the formation of a fibrous connective tissue in an organ. Frequently employed to support those with cirrhosis.

Antifungal – Agents which either kill (fungicide) or inhibit the growth of (fungastatic) fungi.

Antihistamine – Agents that inhibit the allergic response by blocking the body’s production of histamine or the degranulation of mast cells

Anti-inflammatory –Agents which reduce redness, heat and swelling of inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including inhibiting cyclooxygenase or 5-Lipoxygenase.

Anti-lithic – An agent that acts to dissolve and discharge urinary and biliary stones and gravel.

Anti-microbial – Agents which destroy various microbes. Anti-septics, anti-virals, anti-bacterials and anti-fungals are all anti-microbial agents.

Anti-neoplastic – An agent which works to dissolve or slow the growth of abnormal growths such as tumors or cysts.

Antiphlogistic – Agent which reduces localized inflammations, itching and swelling.

Antipruritic – Substances which inhibit itching.

Antipyretic –Agent which have the effect of reducing fever.

Antirheumatics – Agents which have shown to relieve aches and pains associated with the musculoskeletal system.

Antiseptic – Substances that can be applied to the skin to prevent the onset of bacterial infection.

Antiscorbutic – Substance that contains Vitamin C and prevents scurvy.

Antispasmodic – Substances which prevent or relax muscle spasms.

Antitussive— Substance which suppresses a dry cough.

Antivertiginous – Agents which work to decrease vertigo.

Anxiolytic – Agents which inhibit acute anxiety. Also referred to as antipanic.

Aperient – These agents mildly stimulates bowel movement by increasing digestive secretions.

Aphrodisiac – Substances said to stimulate or enhance sexual function.

Aromatic – Substance that generally contains high amounts of volatile oils. May be spicy or pungent and usually stimulate depressed function.


Astringent – Agents which cause constriction of tissues and closure of pores, usually due to tannins present which coagulates proteins on cell surfaces.

Bitter – This is a sensory characterization. The bitter taste stimulates gastric function by increasing the secretion of various fluids in the GI tract including saliva, bile, and stomach acid.

Bronchodilator – Substances which are capable of dilating and expanding the bronchi.

Carminative – Promotes digestion, expels gas, and relieves spasmodic pain in the bowels due to flatulence.

Cathartics – Substances containing anthroquinones which stimulate excessive purgation. Heavy- Duty laxatives.

Cholagogue – Substances which the flow and discharge of bile into the small intestine consequently promoting gall bladder function.

Cordial- A beverage syrup made from juice and sugar.

Corrigent – An herb added to a formula as a flavor enhancing agent- useful in balancing the energetic properties.

Cortisol – A glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) produced in the adrenal cortex. cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the physiological changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Excess cortisol is one of the primary underlying etiologies of the physical symptoms that present with anxiety as consistently high levels of cortisol in the body can impact healthy endocrine function resulting in many health challenges, including fatigued insomnia, abdominal weight gain, hypertension, hair loss, and muscle mass loss.

Cyclooxygenase Inhibitor – These agents inhibit the production of the enzyme necessary for the formation of prostanoids in the body, consequently inhibiting the inflammation process. Ideally we want to use agents with a high COX 2 specificity to avoid side-effects common with NSAIDS.

Cranial Nerves – Nerves that emerge directly from the brain or brainstem and include the olfactory nerve (I), the optic nerve (II), oculomotor nerve (III), trochlear nerve (IV), trigeminal nerve (V), abducens nerve (VI), facial nerve (VII), vestibulocochlear nerve (VIII), glossopharyngeal nerve (IX), vagus nerve (X), accessory nerve (XI), and hypoglossal nerve (XII), the terminal nerve (nerve O or N).

Crude drug: substances containing many chemical constituents which are extracted or exuded from plants or other natural sources.

Decoctions – Modernly decoctions are herbal preparations made by simmering hardy plant material such as roots, barks and berries in water or wine. Historically, decoctions were the aqueous extract of choice. Culpeper, for example, does not mention tisanes or infusions in his herbals, rather he instructed ingredients to be added to decoctions in the following order: barks, herbs, seeds, flowers, spices advising that those decoctions made with wine lasted longer than those made with water.

Decongestants – Agents which alleviate congestion of the sinuses. Often by reducing swelling of nasal passages.

Demulcent – Contain mucilage. Protect and coat in a manner similar to mucus. They also trigger reflex mechanisms that travel through the spinal nerves effectively reducing inflammation, irritation and dryness. According to herbalist Jim McDonald, “Though it makes sense that demulcents coat tissues, the physical mucilage is actually very poorly absorbed by the body, and certainly isn’t traveling through the blood to the kidneys. Rather, the ingestion of mucilage seems to promote a systemic moistening of tissues throughout the body, with some demulcents being more specific to particular organ systems.”

Deodorant – Neutralizes or prevents odors.

Depressants- Agents which reduce neurotransmission or electrical signalling and consequently arousal or stimulation. Generally thought of in terms of psychoactive actions but bromides and channel blockers are also considered to be depressants.

Psychoactive depressants are referred to as “downers” and are the opposite of stimulants. May also be referred to as sedative.

Depurative – A term for a purifying agent. Sometimes used synonymously with alterative.

Dermatome – An area of the skin supplied by nerves from a single spinal root.

Diaphoretic (stimulating) – Open the pores and promote perspiration. Per Jim McDonald ”promote circulation out from the core to the periphery”

Diaphoretic (relaxing) – Open the pores and promote perspiration. Per Jim McDonald ”ease tension inhibiting outward circulation”

Diuretic -Substances that increases the flow of urine.

Dissociatives – hallucinogenic agents which produce feelings of detachment from environment and self. They tend to be N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptor agonists or κ-opioid receptor agonists.

Dopamine – Neurotransmitters which regulate movement and posture. They also modulate mood, pleasure and positive reinforcement. If it feels good it is porbably mediated by dopamine.

Drug: a pure substance or compound of pure substances (can be natural or synthetic) intended to treat or cure human illnesses.

Electuaries – An herbal preparation made by mixing one part powdered herb with three parts honey.

Emetic – An agent which induces emesis (vomit).

Emmenagogue – Herbs that promote and regulate menstrual flow. Not to be confused with an abortificient.

Emollients – Substances that soften the skin by easing access of water to dehydrated tissue. Often contain mineral salts.

Endorphins – These neurotransmitters are actually an endogenous morphine similar to opioids. They elevate mood and reduce pain.

Endotoxin- A bacterial toxin confined within the body of the bacterium. Note: often bacteria secrete endotoxins as exotoxins when they die due to a compromised cellular membrane which is the way antibiotics destroy pathogens.

Escharotic- These are agents which are corrosive and have been employed in making salves which cause tissue to die and slough off.

Errhine – an agent that provokes sneezing consequently increasing nasal mucus.

Essential Oil – Aromatic constituents (sesquiterpine lactones) of a plant captured through the distillation process and marketed for use in aromatherapy.

Euphoriant – An agent which produces a temporary feeling of intense experience such as happiness or excitement.

Exotoxin – A toxin that is produced by a microorganism, such as a bacterium, and excreted into its surrounding medium.

Expectorant – Agents which aid the body in expelling mucus from the lower respiratory tract.
Stimulating expectorant -Stimulate the nerves and muscles of the respiratory system to manifest a cough.

Relaxing expectorants – Reduce tension in the lungs, often easing tightness, allowing natural coughing and flow of mucus to occur.

Amphoteric expectorant – May stimulate or relax depending on conditions present.

False Cold – “Cold exterior, hot core. often traces back to a sluggish liver which accumulates stagnant fluid, then develops inflammation this leads to constriction of the peripheral blood vessels, cold hands & feet.” ~ Ryn Midura

False Heat – “Hot exterior, cold core. Heat arising from friction due to primary dryness, rather than high metabolic activity.” ~ Ryn Midura

Febrifuge – Agents which act to reduce fever.

Fibrinolytic – Agents used to break up blood clots or prevent the clotting cascade.

Fixed Oils – Stable oils contained in plants which do not evaporate upon exposure to air, but may go rancid after a prolonged shelf-life. Often used as carrier oils, emollients, etc.

gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) – This amino acid is the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter in the CNS of mammals. It reduces the excitability of neurons and regulates muscle tone. GABA contributes to the cortical functions including motor control and vision and regulates biological rhythms of wakefulness and sleep.
GABAA receptors occur in ligand-gated ion channel complexes.

Galactogogue – Those agents which promote lactation.

Glutamate – The most commonly occurring neurotransmitter-modulates memory and learning. Improves synaptic messaging.

Hallucinogens- Those agents which when taken alter a person’s perception of reality. Commonly broken into the categories of psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants.

Hemostatic – Promotes hemostasis, stopping bleeding. May also be called antihemorrhagic.

Hepatic – Referring to the liver. Hepatics may be used to refer to agents that strengthen and tone the liver.

Hepatoprotective – Substances which act against chemical or biological damage to the liver.

Histamine – A chemical held in the mast cells which degranulate to initiate an inflammatory reaction in the presence of damaged tissue or allergens.

Homeostasis – Refers to a state of equilibrium of the internal environment of the body that is dynamically maintained by feedback and regulation.

Hydroethanolic Extract – An herbal preparation which utilizes water and ethanol to extract constituents from plant material. Also known as a tincture.

Hydrosol – An herbal preparation obtained through the distillation of plant material and water. Also referred to simply as distilled waters.

Hypotensive— Agents that reduce elevated blood pressure.

Immunomodulator – An agent which has a modifying effect on the immune system. Includes those substances which suppress immune function, as well as those which improve immune response.

Inotropic – Agents that modify the force of muscular contractions. Cardiac inotropics are frequently prescribed for CAD.

Lactifuge – An agent that slow or prevent lactation.

Laxative – Substances that mildly stimulate bowel movement through peristalsis. Contain smaller amounts of anthraquinones than a cathartic.

Liqueur-  This is a highly flavored alcohol that is not very high proof.  Often made by mixing liquor into a cordial and adding spices.

Lymphatic – Supports the health and activity of the lymphatic system by stimulating flow and elimination of lymph.

MAOI – Thymoleptic agents which act by blocking the action of an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase which increases the level of catecholamines in the CNS.

Mycobacteria- A family of bacteria known for causing leprosy and tuberculosis. However there are many atypical mycobacteria which do not cause these diseases. Studies into the relationship between chronic infection with these pathogens and autoimmune disease are ongoing.

Nervine- A nervine is any substance that has an effect on the nervous system.
Norepinephrine – Neurotransmitter involved in contracting blood vessels and raising blood pressure during flight-and-flight. It also modulates attentiveness and learning.

Organ Affinity – Agents which are said to have an organ (or tissue) affinity, frequently are eliminated from the body through that organ. For example, terpenes, as gaseous substances, are eliminated via the bronchial passageways and ultimately through the pulmonary alveoli.

Oxymel – A concentrated drink syrup made of honey and vinegar. Hippocrates mentions oxymel preparations in On Regimen in Acute Diseases and a period recipe appears in the Anglo- Saxon Leechbook as follows: “”Take of vinegar, one part; of honey, well cleansed, two parts; of water, the fourth part; then seethe down to the third or fourth part of the liquid, and skim the foam and the refuse off continually, until the mixture be fully sodden. If thou wish to work the drink stronger then put as much of the vinegar as of the honey…”

Oxytocic – Substances that stimulate uterine contractions to assist and induce labor. Many oxytocic substances also serve as nervines due to their capacity to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Nitric Oxide Synthase Activator – Agents which stimulate the production of this enzyme responsible for catalyzing the production of nitric oxide from L-arginine

Nootropic – Agents which are cognitive enhancers which means they may have a mild effect on improving memory or concentration.

Parasympathomimetic – An agent which produces an effect similar to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Also called a cholinergic because they generally work via a mechanism which releases acetylcholine as nerve impulses jump synaptic gaps.

Partus Preparator – Agents used in the last weeks of a pregnancy to tone and prepare the uterus for labor.

Pectoral – Old-fashioned term for agents which strengthen and heal the respiratory system.

Periphery- Anatomically speaking this term refers to outer regions of the body-more specifically the areas in which nerve endings can be found.

Pharmacognosy: The study of natural products (i.e., plant, animal, organism, or mineral in nature) used as drugs or for the preparation of drugs. Greek roots: pharmakon-drug and gnosis-knowledge.

Phytochemicals: Chemical constituents, sometimes referred to as “secondary metabolites, that form as a result of a plant’s normal metabolic processes but are not necessary to the growth of the plant.

Phytoestrogens: A plant constituent which has some effect on the estrogen activity or hormonal function. It is does NOT mimic estrogen.

Psychedelic – a psychoactive agent which general act as a serotonin agonist which alter cognition and perception.

Relaxant- Agents which reduce tension in tissue and may act as an anti-spasmodic.

Rubefacient – Substances that increase the flow of blood to the surface of the skin and produce redness. May be used to increase blood flow to an area to promote healing.

Salicylates – A term sometimes used to refer to those plants which contain salicylic acid-a precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (manufactured as aspirin)

Secretolytic – Agent which stimulated the production of serous mucus in the respiratory tract.

Serotonin – Neurotransmitter which regulates functions such as body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite, and pain. Also involved in repairing cell damage in liver and lungs and inhibiting bone formation.

Sialagogues – Substances which promote the secretion and flow of saliva.

Soporific- An agent which is sleep inducing.

Specific – Substance that has a powerful and singular action on an organ or imbalance.

Stimulants – Increase the energy of the body, quicken circulation and break up obstructions and congestion.

Psychostimulants are psychoactive agents which induce temporary mental function referred to as “uppers”.

Styptics- Hemostatic substances which arrest bleeding through the astringent actions. Usually used externally.

Sudorific – An agent which increases perspiration.

Sympatholytic Agent –Substance which effects the postganglionic functioning of the sympathetic nervous system by inhibiting the activity of catecholamines. This has the effect of vasodilation which then lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Those sympatholytic herbs which stimulate the brain are known as “centrally acting.”

Synergy – Individual substances working together to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

Thymoleptic Agents – These substances elevate depressive states through a variety of mechanisms.

Thyrostatic Agent – Substance which stabilizes (or reduces) the thyroid’s production of hormones. Also called goitrogens when they impede the growth of goiters.

Trophorestorative – Agents which act as a nutritional restorative for the body, usually with a strong organ-affinity. It corrects deficiency and weakness by tonifying and nourishing that organ or organ system.

Per Kiva Rose:” A trophorestorative is an herb, food or other substance that acts as a nutritive restorative for the body, usually with a strong affinity for an organ or organ system and corrects deficiency and weakness not simply through temporary stimulation but through the vital nourishment of that organ or organ system. It is a tonic in the deepest sense of the word, in that it provides substance for the building up of strength and function. It order to be a true trophorestorative it must not bring harm or have undue side effects and be able to be used over a long period of time safely. Also, while many herbs are nutritive, trophorestoratives are unique in that they can restore actual physical function to a debilitated organ or tissue, as is the case with Nettle Seed (kidneys), Avena (nervous system) and Ashwagandha (endocrine system).”

Per Todd Caldecott: “The “trophic state” is representative of the vital capacity of a system or tissue in the body. In chronic states of irritation or depression some degree of vital deficiency will manifest in the affected tissue, with a gradual loss of functional capability.… In any case where an organ or tissue can be determined to be suffering from a vital deficiency, trophorestoration should be undertaken as a long-term measure to restore normal function.”

Tocolytic- Agents which inhibit uterine contractions.

Tonic – Agents which support wellness by improving the assimilation of essential nutrients by the organs, they improve systemic tone giving increased vigor, energy and strength to the tissues of either specific organs or to the whole body. Most tonics have an organ-affinity.

Unguent – A soothing preparation spread on topical injuries. It is similar to an ointment but less thick, often using lanolin as an oil and less beeswax.

Vasodilators – Agents which expand result in the dilation of arterial blood vessels. Agents that relax vascular smooth muscle- expanding and relaxing venous blood vessels and allowing increased circulation.

Venotropic – Agents which have an effect on veins includes venodilators, vasoconstrictors and venoprotectors.

Viriditas – Term coined by the medieval seer, Hildegard von Bingen, describing the Power of Nature. According to Sean Donahue, she found it in all living things, in the seed ready to burst forth; in youth and sexuality; and in the healing power of the green world.

Vermifuges – Agents which are known to eliminate worms from body.

Vulnerary – Agents that help the body to heal wounds by promoting cell proliferation and tissue repair.
Botanical Terms
Fruit – the ripened ovary of flower-bearing seeds.

Old Pharmacognosy Terminology

Aetheroleum: Refers to the essential or volatile oil as a distinct aromatic product obtained from the plant.
Balsamum: Refers to a solution of resin and volatile oil usually produced by special cells in some plants.
Bulbus: Refers to the bulb or an underground bud (specialized stem structure) of a plant, from which both a shoot and roots may extend.
Cortex: Refers to the bark of the plant. Bark can be collected from the root, stem, or branches.
Flos: Refers to the flowers of plant usually consisting of a single flower or the entire inflorescences (i.e., head, umbel, panicle, spike, etc.).
Folium: Refers to the leaf of plant. Usually the middle leaves of plants are collected.
Fructus: Refers to the fruit or berry of the plant. In pharmacognosy, fructus is not always synonymous with the botanical definition.
Herba: Aerial parts of plants including the flower, leaf, and the stem of the plant, and occasionally fruits too.
Lignum: Wood or secondary thickening of the stem.
Oleum: Fixed oil preparation pressed or squeezed from the plant material.
Pericarpium: Refers to the peel or rind of fruit.
Pyroleum: The tar from dry distilled plant material.
Radix: The root of the plant.
Resina: Resin secreted by the plant or produced during distillation of the balsamum.
Rhizoma: The rhizome or runners which have hair like roots.
Semen: The seed of a plant, usually removed from the fruit, and may or may not contain the seed coat.

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