Herbal Actions

Herbal & Essential Oil Actions
(Please note that this is still a work in progress)

Here is a helpful list of the actions or properties that herbs can possess. It's not very exciting but helpful when looking for an herb that does a specific job. This is an alphabetical list of herbal actions, what the word means and a short list of examples of herbs that possess these attributes.

Some of these terms are used more in aromatherapy or herbalism and others are used in both. You will also see that sometimes there is more than 1 word for, essentially the same thing. I try to put them all in and cross reference when necessary. I also aim to give separate lists of essential oils and of herbs. These lists are by no means the definitive lists and don't contain all herbs and/or essential oils in that category.

Please remember that energetically, the same herb will work differently for different people. To find the herb or blend of herbs that would be the best fit for you, more research is needed. Sometimes it's a trial and error and just because an herb didn't work for you or exacerbated or aggravated you or your condition or situation, does not mean that it is a bad herb, just that it wasn't the right herb for you.

I hope you find this list helpful:

Alterative: Also known as blood purifiers. They help the body assimilate nutrients and eliminate waste. They can also help neutralize acidic body conditions. These are typically high in vitamins and minerals. They tend to have an affinity for the liver. Examples: Burdock Root, Dandelion leaf, Dandelion Root, Echinacea, Red Clover, Golden Seal, Oregon Grape root, Stinging Nettle, Yellow Dock. 
AnalgesicAnodyne: Relieves or reduces pain. Can be used internally o externally (depending on the plant). These can either work by directly reducing the pain signals to the brain, but may also be antispasmodics and work by reducing muscle cramping.
Examples: Catnip, Chamomile, Cloves, Cramp Bark, Lobelia, Passionflower, Skullcap, Valerian.
Anesthetic: Causes loss of feeling or sensation.

Antacids: Neutralizes excess stomach and intestinal acids. Many also contain demulcent properties which help sooth and heal the stomach and intestinal lining. Examples: Dandelion Leaf, Dandelion Root, Fennel Seed, Irish Moss, Psyllium Seeds, Slippery Elm. Also, Most Seaweeds are Demulcent, Antacids. 
Anti-Allergenic: Reduces the symptoms of allergies.

Anti-Asthmatic: Herbs that dilate the bronchioles of the lungs and break up mucus, thus relieving asthmatic symptoms. Examples: Coltsfoot, Comfrey Leaf, Comfrey Root, Elecampane, Lobelia, Mullein, Pleurisy Root, Yerba Santa.

Antibacterial: Kills or prevents the growth of bacteria. 
Examples: Chapparal, Echinacea, Garlic, Golden Seal, Thyme, Oregano

Anit-Catarrhal: Helps eliminate and prevent excessive mucus buildup in the system. 
Anti-Coagulant: Prevents blood from clotting.
Anti-convulsive: Prevents or reduces seizures.
Antidepressant: Relieves depression,
Antidiuretic: Reduces the amount of water the body eliminates.
Antiemetic: Prevents vomiting.
Anti-fungal: Kills or inhibits the growth of fungus. 
Antihelminthic (Also see Vermifuge): Destroy and/or expels worms and other parasites from the system. Examples: Aloe, Chapparal, Garlic, Pomegranate (Specifically the white rind), Rue, Tansy, Thuja, Thyme (oil), Wormwood. 
Anti-Inflammatory: Reduces inflammation. 

Anti-Lithic (Also called Lithotropic): Helps to prevent and eliminate urinary and biliary stones and gravel. Think kidney & gallbladder stones. 
Examples: Urinary stones: Buchu, Cleavers, Cornsilk, Dandelion root, Gravel root, Marshmallow root, Parsley root, Stone root. Gallbladder (biliary): Oregon Grape root. 

Antimicrobial/Antiseptic: Kills or resists and prevents the growth of bacteria and pathogenic microorganisms. Examples: Calendula, Chapparal, Garlic, Golden Seal, Myrrh, Sage. Essential Oils: Clove, Eucalyptus, Juniper berry, Pine, Thyme. 
Antioxidant: Prevents cell damage caused by the destructive elements of free radicals. 
Antiperspirant: Reduces excessive sweating. 
Anti-rheumatic: Helps relieve the symptoms of rheumatism. 
Antiseptic/Antimicrobial: Kills or resists and prevents the growth of bacteria and pathogenic microorganisms. 

Antispasmodic: Relieves cramps and/or spasms in smooth/skeletal muscles. Examples: Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Cramp Bark, Lady's Slipper, Lobelia, Skullcap, Valerian, Wild Lettuce, Wild Yam. 
Anti-sudorific: Prevents sweating.
Antitussive: Helps to relieve coughing.
Antiviral: Inhibits the growth of viruses. 
Anxiolytic: Relieves anxiety.
Aperitive: Stimulates the appetite
Aphrodisiac: Increases sexual stimulation & excitement.

Astringent: Causes cells to shrink. It contracts, tightens and binds tissues together. Most contain Tannins. Examples: Bayberry Bark, Cranesbill, Oak Gall, Princess Pine, Uva Ursi, Wild Oak Bark, Witch Hazel Bark. 
Balsamic: Soothes the lungs.
Bitter: A stimulating tonic for for the digestive system with a bitter taste that acts on the taste buds and stimulates the salivary glands to begin secreting. 
Examples: Centaury, Gentian, Golden Seal, Horehound, Wormwood. 

Bronchodilator: Causes widening of the air passages by means of relaxing bronchial muscles.
Carminative: Relaxes the stomach while, at the same time, stimulating peristalsis and aiding in digestion and relieving excess gas or flatulence in the digestive tract. These plants are rich in Volatile (essential) Oils. Examples: Angelica, Anise, Calamus, Caraway, Cardamon, Cayenne, Chamomile, Dill, Fennel, Ginger, Peppermint.

Cephalic: Relaxing to the head and helps to clear the mind. 
Decongestant: Relieves nasal congestion. 
Deodorant: Reduces or removes unpleasant odors.Demulcent: Soothing to dry, irritated and inflamed tissues.  These herbs are rich in Mucilage. Examples: Aloe Vera, Chia, Chickweed, Comfrey, Fenugreek, Flax, Irish Moss, Licorice, Mullein, Oatmeal, Psyllium, Slippery Elm.
Depurative: Purifies the blood. 
Detoxifier: Enhances the removal of toxic substances from the body. 

Diaphoretic: Stimulates the kidneys and causes increased release of sweat from the body. These must be taken Hot to act as a diaphoretic, when taken cold they still act on the kidneys but will have a diuretic action. Examples: Catnip, Elder, Ginger, Peppermint, Yarrow. 
Digestive: Aids digestion. A tonic for the digestive system. 
Disinfectant: Kills or removes bacteria and other organisms from the body or a surface. 

Diuretic: Increases the flow of urine. This can be useful in treating water retention, cystitis, to aid in weight loss, edema and certain skin conditions. Examples: Buchu, Cornsilk, Cleavers, Dandelion, Horsetail, Nettles, Parsley, Uva Ursi, Yarrow. 
Emmenagogue: Encourages menstrual flow and helps to encourage and regulate the menstrual cycle. This term is also often used to describe general tonics for the female reproductive system. Below I will give examples of both. 
Examples of herbs that encourage & stimulate the menstrual cycle: Angelica, Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Pennyroyal, Rue. Examples of Female Reproductive Tonics: Blessed Thistle, False Unicorn Root, Motherwort, Mugwort, Yarrow. 
Emollient: Softens and soothes the skin. These are typically oils and fats as opposed to water based. The term emollient is used when used externally as opposed to demulcent which is the same action when used internally. Examples: Chickweed, Comfrey, Flaxseed, Marshmallow, Slippery Elm. 
Estrogenic: A substance that acts similar to estrogen. 
Euphoric: Induces and/or encourages a feeling of happiness or well-being. 
Expectorant: Helps the body remove phlegm or mucus from the lungs. 
Febrifuge: Cools the body temperature; Reduces or prevents fever.

Galactogogue: Stimulates or increases milk flow.Examples: Anise Seed, Blessed Thistle, Fennel, Fenugreek, Raspberry. 
Hypertensive: Raises blood pressure. 
Hypotensive: Decreases blood pressure. 
Immune Enhancer: Boosts the immune system by either stimulating the immune system or destroying microbes. 
Insecticide: Kills or repels insects. 

Lithotropic: Helps to prevent and eliminate urinary and biliary stones and gravel. Think kidney & gallbladder stones. 

Examples: Urinary stones: Buchu, Cleavers, Cornsilk, Dandelion root, Gravel root, Marshmallow root, Parsley root, Stone root. Gallbladder (biliary): Oregon Grape root. 

Mucolytic: Dissolves or breaks down mucus. Helpful in the treatment of excessive or thickened mucus secretions in the chest. 
Muscle Relaxant: Relaxes the muscles. 
Nervine: Relaxes the nervous system. Can help reduce or relieve disorders of the nervous system. 
Parturient: Helps ease delivery in child birth. 
Photosensitizer: Can cause burning or changes in skin pigmentation when exposed to Ultra-Violet light/rays.
Restorative: Strengthens and revives the body systems. 
Rubefacient: Increases cutaneous blood flow to a specific area resulting a reddening and warming of the skin.
Sedative: Relieves anxiety & tension & has a calming effect on the body, typically also causes a sleepy feeling.
Stimulant: Increases body or organ function & activity. 
Stomachic: Improves appetite and acts as a digestive aid and tonic for the digestive system.
Styptic: Helps to stop bleeding. 
Sudorific: Causes sweating.
Tonic: Nourishes the body to help improve bodily functions. 
Uterine Relaxant: Relaxing to the muscles of the uterus. 
Vasoconstrictor: Decreases blood flow by tightening and constricting the blood vessels. 
Vasodilator: Increases blood flow by relaxing and widening the blood vessels, allowing blood the flow more freely. 
Vermifuge: Expels worms from the intestines. 
Vulnerary: Promotes the healing of wounds, particularly external skin wounds.