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Herbal Dictionary: R, S & T

Updated on February 14, 2016
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DiDi is a healthy food writer who focuses on functional foods. You can read her blog at RXcipes



An herb that acts to lower body temperature

Refrigerant Herbs:

  • Aloe (Aloe Vera)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Hibiscus (Rosa Sinensis)
  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum paniculatum)


A rubefacient herb increases circulation in the skin by dilating the blood capillaries when applied topically. This usually causes a reddening of the skin.

When it is applied to the skin in some form, a rubefacient herb causes a localized increase in surface blood flow at the area, drawing it from deeper parts of the body. This has the benefit of aiding in the cleansing and nourishment of the affected part, as well as alleviating visceral pain. In effect, it mimics the body’s own process of inflammation but is less painful because the biochemical basis is different.

Many rubefacient herbs are also common spices used in the kitchen.

Rubefacient Herbs:

  • Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
  • Black Mustard (Brassica nigra)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica)



A sedative is an herb or compound that calms the nervous system and helps reduce stress throughout the body. It can also induce sleep and alleviate pain.

See Also: Calmative, Hypnotics, Nervine


A sitz bath is a warm, shallow bath that is used to cleanse the perineum (the space between the rectum and the vulva or scrotum). It can be used to administer herbal remedies or simply for everyday personal hygiene. It can also be used to provide relief from pain or itching in the genital area.

In this video, Rosemary Gladstar explains the use of the sitz bath to administer herbal remedies. For example, a sitz bath can be used to administer infection-fighting herbs like golden seal or oregon grape fruit.


An herb that can relieve or prevent cramps and spasms in the muscles of the body. Many spasmolytic herbs are also nervines, and will help reduce both physical and psychological tension as well.

Spasmolytic Herbs

  • Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
  • Ginger (Zingiber off.)
  • Hops (Humulus lupulu)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)


An herbal preparation that is used to stimulate expectoration and relieve congestion of the mucus membranes in the upper respiratory tract. Steam inhalation is highly effective for relieving cold and flu symptoms.

It involves breathing deeply from a kettle or pot with a steaming infusion of aromatic herbs such as peppermint, wintergreen, eucalyptus or lavender.

Herbs having sedative or tranquilizing properties work to soothe the nervous system as well as lessen the strain and anxiety all over the body. Therefore, these herbs may possibly have an influence on the body tissues that have been aggravated due to problems related to the nervous system.

In this video, John Gallagher shows you step-by-step how to prepare an herbal steam inhalation from chamomile to relieve a stuffy nose.


A stimulant herb acts to quicken and enliven the physiological activity of the body in some way.

The term “stimulant” has a very broad meaning. A rubefacient herb such as cayenne, for example, has a stimulant action when it is applied topically. These are some of the stimulant activities that can occur in the body.

Nervine Stimulants

  • Coffee (Coffea arabica)
  • Green/Black tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Yerba mate

Cerebral Circulatory Stimulants

  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
  • Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.)

Immune Stimulants

  • Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)
  • Echinacea (Echinacea angustilfolia/purpurea)
  • Pokeroot (Phytolacca americanum)
  • Elderberry & flower (Sambucus nigra)


Surfactants are a group of compounds that lower the surface tension between a liquid and a solid or between two liquids. Surfactant herbs, also referred to as detergent herbs, are most commonly used externally to remove dirt from skin and hair.

The term “surfactant” reflects the fact that every surfactant acts at the surface of a liquid. In fact, the word is an abbreviation of the word’s meaning: a surface acting agent:


Surfactants have the capability of lowering the surface tension of a liquid. With the lower surface tension, the surfactant can then loosen and encapsulate dirt or grease molecules, and facilitate their removal from a particular surface. As a result, they have a great number of cleaning and de-greasing applications.

Surfactants are referred to by differing terms, depending on their role in a particular recipe. They may act as detergents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, wetting agents or dispersants.

  • A Foaming Agent: when used in a recipe where foam is the finished product
  • An Emulsifier: when used in an oil-and-water suspension
  • A Detergent: when it is used in a cleaning recipe
  • A Lubricant: when it is used in a shaving cream recipe

Surfactant molecules are made up of two components: a water soluble (hydrophilic) component and a water insoluble (hydrophobic) component. This video shows how the two components work to clean fabric.

Over 5000 years ago, Babylonians mastered the use of surfactants in the form of soap. This video by MIT shows how that soap making tradition has survived through the present day.


An herbal syrup is a sticky, sweet medicinal preparation that is formulated to make strong or unpleasantly flavored herbs more palatable for kids or fussy adults. It is usually prepared by simmering honey or glycerin in an herbal infusion or decoction.

This video by Learn to Grow shows you how to prepare your own herbal syrup:



A tincture is a highly concentrated liquid herbal extract. Tinctures are prepared by soaking the leaves, roots or other parts of the herb in alcohol to extract the active principle.

Below, Ryan from RAW Forest Foods discusses the benefits of preparing tinctures for your herbal remedies. He discusses the use of pine pollen as well.


An herbal infusion that is brewed by steeping herbs in hot water, typically for therapeutic purposes

In this video, “Dr. Tea” explains the difference between a tea and tisane.


A thrombolytic herb is one with antiplatelet properties, and it acts to inhibit the formation of blood clots and scar tissue. Thrombolytics work by breaking down fibrin, an insoluble protein that is the main constituent of blood clots. This acts to prevent excessive fibrin from forming blood clots (thrombi). Excessive fibrin is also responsible for scar tissue and painful inflammation. Thrombolytic herbs are often used to treat cardiovascular and homeostatic disorders such as atherosclerosis.

Studies show that Gingko, a thrombolytic herb, owes its antiplatelet properties to two of its active compound: ginkgolides and bilobalides.

There are different types of thrombolytic herbs with anti-blood clot (anti-thrombotic) properties

  • Anti-platelet: most effective for preventing blood clots in the arteries
  • Anticoagulant: most effective for preventing blood clots in the veins

Synonym: Antiplatelet, Antithrombotic, Clot Buster, Fibrinolytic

Thrombolytic Herbs

  • Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Onion (Allium cepa)

This video gives a quick overview of thrombolytic herbs, including ginger, garlic, turmeric, onion and cayenne


An herb that nourishes, tones and restores the body. While the effects of a tonic herb can be felt immediately, the best results are gained from talking it over a long period of time.

“Tonics nurture and enliven. Truly gifts of nature to a suffering humanity, these are whole plants that enliven whole human bodies. To ask how they work is to ask how life works!”

— David Hoffman, Medical herbalist

Types of Herbal Tonics

Nutritive Tonic

Acts to permanently increase the tone of a specific part of the body, or of the entire system, by nourishing it

  • Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
  • Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Rejuvenative Tonic

Acts to regenerate cells and tissues, and promoting longevity

  • Aloe (Aloe vera)
  • Amla (Phyllanthus emblica)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
  • Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Guggul (Commiphora Mukul)
  • Saffron (Crocus sativus)

Specific Tonics

Blood Tonics
Chaparral, Chokecherry, Echinacea, Garlic, Stinging Nettle
Cardiac Tonics
Black Cohosh, Foxglove, Hawthorn, Ginseng, Mistletoe, Motherwort, Raspberry, Wild Bergamot
Gall Bladder Tonics
Goldenseal, Oregon Grape Root, Parsley, Wild Yam
Intestinal Tonics
Barberry, Blackberry Leaf, Cascara Sagrada, Goldenseal
Kidney Tonics
Mistletoe, Buchu, Burdock Root, Cleavers, Horsetail, Kava Kava, Parsley, Saw Palmetto, Uva Ursi
Liver Tonics
Barberry, Buckthorn Bark, Cascara, Dandelion, Eyebright, Goldenseal, Mandrake, Stoneroot
Lung Tonic
Comfrey, Elecampane, Fenugreek, Garlic, Lungwort, Pluerisy Root
Nerve Tonic
Mistletoe, Celery, Chamomile, Hops, Lady’s Slipper, Lobelia, St. John's Wort, Valerian


An herb or compound that reduces swelling and edema or reduces the growth of tumors, moles, boils etc

Syn: Discutient, Resolvent, Maturating


A trophorestorative is an herb whose use not only results in restored structure (as in an astringent), but also in restored functioning as well. Furthermore, a trophorestorative also creates lasting improvement in structure and in function that persists even after the use of herb itself is discontinued.

Herbalist Jim McDonald distinguishes between different types of trophorestorative herbs in the table below:

Trophorestorative to:
Nettle Seed
Kidneys, Adrenals
Mucous Membranes
Milk Thistle
The Liver
The Heart
Stone Root


An herb or compound that can be used to cleanse and stimulate your uterus

  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
  • Damiana (Turnera diffusa)
  • Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiac)
  • Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus)


  1. Effects of steam inhalation on nasal patency and nasal symptoms in patients with the common cold
  2. Environmental assessment of laundry detergents: Surfactants
  3. Jim McDonald: Herbal Properties and Actions
  4. Nancy Arrowsmith, 2009. Essential Herbal Wisdom
  5. David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.


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