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Herbal Dictionary: B

Updated on January 15, 2016
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DiDi is a healthy food writer who focuses on functional foods. You can read her blog at RXcipes



The term balsamic means “that which relates to or contains balsam.” Balsam is an aromatic, resinous substance that is secreted from particular herbs and trees and used as a base for various medicinal preparations. Balsamic herbs help soothe and heal inflammation and have mild stimulant and expectorant properties. Some of the more aromatic varieties of balsam are used in perfumery.

Syn: Balm

Balsamic Herbs:

  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Pine Pitch (Pinus rigida)
  • Balsam of Peru (Myroxylon pereirae)
  • Yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium)


A binder is an ingredient, such as starch, salt, or sugar, which is used for hand-pressing pills. the binder helps to compress and hold together ground herbs into tablet form. Honey or malt syrup can be used as a binder to roll powdered herbs into sticky pills.

A binder is typically an inactive ingredient that has no medicinal effect on the body.

This video gives a hands-on demo on hand-pressing your own herbal supplements into tablet form.


Bio-availability is the rate and extent to which an active compound is absorbed into your body’s circulatory system and reaches the targeted site of action.

In other words, it refers to how much and how fast a substance that you swallow is actually absorbed into your body. By definition, when a drug is administered intravenously it has 100% bioavailability, and undergoes immediate and complete absorption

A compound that has poor bio-availability isn’t effective for healing purposes on its own. Curcumin, for example, has very low bio-availability. Curcumin is the active compound found in turmeric root, and it has potent curative properties. However, research shows that most of the curcumin that you ingest is metabolized before it reaches your bloodstream. What’s more, increasing the dosage doesn’t result in increased absorption.

Luckily, curcumin’s bioavailablity can be enhanced by taking it with small amounts of black pepper. The black pepper contains a compound called piperine, which acts as an adjuvant – a compound that boosts the the bioavailability and effectiveness of a medicinal compound in your body.

In this video, Dr. Greger discusses how to boost the bio-availabilty of curcumin.

Research studies show that the bioavailalbility of micro-nutrients can be significantly increased through the use of specific combinations of food ingredients. Fruits like mango and papaya, for example, when eaten in combination with milk, provide a significantly higher amount of bioavailable β-carotene.

Three antioxidant spices: onion, garlic and turmeric are culinary ingredients that have also been found to enhance bioavailability.

A 2008 study found that food acidulants such as lime, tamarind, and amchur significantly increase the bioavailability of beta-carotene from green, leafy vegetables. Lime juice, turmeric and onion also minimized the loss of beta-carotene from heat processing of these vegetables.

Food preparation methods have also been shown to increase bioavailability: sprouting, fermenting and malting, for example, enhance the bioavailability of iron from plant foods.


An herbal compound that has the capacity to promote the bioavailability (absorption) of medicinal compounds and nutrients into the body, without any pharmacological activity of its own

Piperine, the active compound found in black pepper (Piper nigrum) and long pepper (Piper longum), has also been shown to increase the absorption of vitamins A, B6 and C, beta-carotene, selenium and coenzyme Q.


A bitter herb has a characteristic bitter taste, and acts on the gastric mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach, stimulating and toning the digestive system.

Bitters stimulate the flow of digestive secretions including saliva and gastric acid, which are essential for proper digestion. They also stimulate the secretion of bile from the liver, which helps support the liver’s role in detoxifying the blood. In the mouth, they act on the mucous membranes to increase salivation and promote appetite.

Bitter herbs commonly prescribed for poor appetite, gastritis, a sluggish digestion as well as gall bladder and liver problems.

Synonym: Bitter Tonic

Bitter Herbs

  • Aloe (Aloe vera)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
  • Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

In this video, Susan Desjardins, a registered herbalist, discusses the benefits of bitters, particularly for the digestive system.

“Bitters stimulate all digestive secretions: salive, acids, enzymes, hormones, bile, and so forth. Each of these acts as a solvent to break down food for absorption, and the quantity and quality of these foods ensure proper nutrition. Inadequate production of these secretions is common in modern cultures (i.e. cultures lacking bitters in their diet), and the implications of such deficiencies are myriad.”

Jim McDonald, Blessed Bitters


An herb that cleans and removes impurities from the blood. Herbal blood purifiers detoxify the blood and lymphatic systems, while supporting and stimulating liver and gall bladder function. They neutralize the harmful effects of toxins that are formed by the natural wastes of the body

See Also: Depurative

Blood Purifiers:

  • Birch (Betula pendula)
  • Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidium)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

This video shows you how to purify or detoxify your blood by adding blood cleansing foods and herbs to your diet. It includes some foods that can act as natural blood purifiers and are beneficial to cleanse your body of toxins and impurities.

Diet Tips: How To Purify Blood


An herb that helps to relax the airways of the lungs (bronchial tubes), which causes them to open wider and makes it easier to breathe. Bronchodilating herbs are particularly beneficial in remedies for obstructive lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Bronchodilators are either short-acting, providing quick relief from symptoms or long-acting, helping to control and prevent symptoms.


  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
  • Honey
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Ephedra (Ephedra sinica)
  • Onion (Allium sepa)

This video provides an overview of asthma, as well as herbs and other home remedies for this respiratory condition, including ginger, garlic, onion and honey.


  1. Absorption and tissue distribution of curcumin in rats
  2. Ann McIntyre (1995), The Complete Women's Herbal
  3. David Hoffman (2013), Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies
  4. Food Science and Nutrition, 2012. Bioavailability of Micronutrients from Plant Foods: An Update
  5. Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, 2008. Influence of food acidulants and antioxidant spices on the bioaccessibility of beta-carotene from selected vegetables
  6. Pharmacokinetics: Bioavailability; University of Lausanne.
  7. Rosemary Gladstar (2014), Herbs for Common Ailments: How to Make and Use Herbal Remedies for Home Health Care
  8. Varro E. Tyler, Herbs Affecting the Central Nervous System


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