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Herbal Dictionary: A

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



An adaptogen is an herb or compound that helps you adapt to stress or a changing environment. An adaptogenic herb works by helping the body adapt to environmental and internal stress, usually by strengthening the immune system, glandular system and/or nervous system. It serves as a general tonic for all systems

Adaptogens help the body cope with internal stresses such as anxiety and external stresses such as toxins in the environment.

Adaptogenic Herbs:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • Oats (Avena sativa)
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
  • Sarsaparilla (Smilax Ornata)

In this video, herbalist David Hoffmann discusses adaptogenic herbs, including ginseng, rhodiola, oats, reishi and shiitake.

“An adaptogen is a botanical that greatly improves your body's ability to adapt to stress, whether it's a hectic schedule, heat or cold, noise, high altitudes or any number of other stressors. This elite class of herbs impart strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and improve mental clarity.”

— Chris Kilham (Oprah & Friends)


An herb or compound that acts to increase the effectiveness of other medicinal herbs. The term is derived from derived from the Latin word adjuvare, which means to help.

An adjuvant herb is added to a formula of other herbs so as to aid in the distribution of the healing benefits to the targeted location in the body. It also acts to enhance the effect of the other principle herbal ingredients in the remedy.

Adjuvant Herbs

  • Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Polygala (Polygala tenuifolia)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Herbs may also be used as adjuvant to conventional medicine. Several clinical studies report the beneficial effects of using medicinal herbs as adjuvants for conventional cancer therapy. When these herbs are used in combination with chemo- or radio-therapy, they help enhance survival, immune modulation, and the quality of life (QOL) of cancer patients.

In the video below, Dr. K. F. Cheng discusses how medicinal herbs can be used as adjuvants to conventional cancer therapy, to improve the efficacy of the therapy and reduce side effects and complications.


An alterative is an herb or compound that gradually acts to restore the proper functioning of the body, helping to increase health and vitality. It works by changing (“altering”) your body’s processes of metabolism, improving its ability to eliminate waste through the kidneys, lungs, liver, kidneys and skin. Alterative herbs have traditionally been referred to as a “blood cleansers.”

Each system in your body has herbs that that are particularly well-suited to it. Alterative herbs have a particular affinity toward the respiratory, circulatory, urinary, digestive, reproductive, nervous system, and musculoskeletal systems.

Alterative Herbs:

  • Aloe (Aloe vera)
  • Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
  • Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.)

Herbalist Hoffman on Alterative Herbs


An anabolic herb helps build muscle mass and strengthens muscle tone. It also increases energy and stamina

Anabolic Herbs:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Sarsaparilla (Smilax Ornata)
  • Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)


An herb or compound that alleviates or eliminates pain without causing loss of consciousness.

Some analgesic herbs are most effective against specific types of pain.

Analgesic Herbs:

  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
  • Echinacea(Echinacea purpurea)
  • Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

The video playlist below has several analgesic herbal remedies from the traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine.


An antacid herb neutralizes acids in the stomach and intestinal tract. It also helps the stomach lining recuperate and to better tolerate the gastric acid. Gastric acid is necessary for good digestion.

Antacid Herbs:

  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
  • Hops (Humulus lupulu)
  • Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

The video below shows you four herbal teas that you can brew and take as natural antacid remedies.


An herb or compound that expels parasitic worms (helminths) such as tapeworms from the body. They act by stunning or killing the worms without causing significant harm to the body. The term “anthelmintic” is derived from the Greek anti, meaning “against,” and helmins, a term that denotes a worm, usually of the parasitic persuasion.

There are two types of anthelmintic herbs: a vermifuge, which stuns and a vermicide, which kills.

Anthelmintic Herbs

  • Ajwan (Trachyspermum ammi)
  • Black Walnut Hulls (Juglans nigra)
  • Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Papaya (Carica papaya)
  • Pau d’arco (Tabebuia spp.)
  • Pumpkin seed (Cucurbita maxima)
  • Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

This video gives a brief overview of anthelmintic herbs, including cayenne, garlic goldenseal, papaya and pineapple.

Parasites have killed more humans than all the wars in history.

— National Geographic


Anticatarrhal herbs helps to eliminate mucus from the body, prevent it from forming and alleviate inflammation of the mucus membrane. The term "catarrh" comes from the Greek word: "katarrhein,” which translates to "to flow down."

Anti-catarrhal Herbs

  • Coltsfoot (Tussilago Farfara)
  • Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)
  • Elecampane (Inula Helenium)
  • Eyebright (Euphrasia officinale L.)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea)
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

In this video, Herbalist David Hoffmann discusses the herbal action of anti-cattarhal herbs


An antioxidant herb or compound acts to fight oxidation, thereby protecting the body from damage it can cause. Oxidation is the process that causes rust on metal. When it occurs, unchecked, in the human body, it contributes to harmful health conditions such as cancer and heart disease, inflammation and diabetes, neural disorders and the symptoms of aging. Antioxidants stop the “rusting” inside your body that results from oxidation.

The process of oxidation creates free radicals, which are unstable are molecules that disrupt normal body activity and causes cell tissue damage. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing their harmful effects in the body.

Antioxidant Herbs

  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Video: How Free Radicals Work

This video provides an excellent explanation of how antioxidants work, and their incredible capacity to prevent chronic diseases by neutralizing free radicals in the human body.


An herb that prevents or relieves involuntary muscle spasms or cramps by strengthening the nervous system

See also: Nervines

Antispasmodic Herbs

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Guggul (Commiphora Mukul)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Mustard (Brassica nigra)
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum paniculatum)

In this video, Pharmacologist Joe Graedon of The People's Pharmacy, discusses a few antispasmodic remedies for legs cramps.


An herb or compound that alleviates stress

Anxiolytic Herbs

  • Hops (Humulus lupulu)
  • Kava (Piper methysticum)
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

In this video, Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar discusses herbs the alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.


An herb or compound that contracts skin tissue, blood vessels, and other tissues, preventing the secretion of body fluids such as blood or mucus.

Astringents are typically used locally, as a topical application, to treat external wounds or to prevent bleeding from the throat or nose.

Astringent Herbs:

  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum sambac)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum paniculatum)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

This video shows you how to make your own herbal astringent.


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