Actions of Herbs

Basic Actions of Herbs and Pharmaceuticals

Actions reflect the ways in which remedies affect human physiology.  The following is a list of basic actions, describing properties of the substance, with some herbal examples

Action Description Uses Herbal Examples
Astringents Substances that are drying, drawing and constricting Pulling out infections from a wound, stop bleeding, tone mucous membranes White Oak, Willow, Witch Hazel, Plantain, Blackberry
Aromatics Contain volatile essential oils with strong odors Stimulate the digestive system, reproductive system Peppermint, Cardamom, Fennel
Aphrodisiacs Stimulate sexual arousal Damiana, Maca
Alteratives Restore proper function of the body Supports the body’s natural defenses Echinacea, Oregon Grape, Yellow Dock, Red Clover
Adaptogens Helps the body face and cope with stress Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Schisandra
Anodyne Substances that relieve pain Meadowsweet, Willow bark, Skullcap, Cayenne
Antibiotic Substances that destroy or inhibit the growth of bacteria Echinacea, Goldenseal, Honey, Lemon Balm, Garlic
Antidepressant Substances that raise the mood Depression St. John’s Wort, Passionflower
Anti-Inflammatory Substances that help the body fight inflammation Turmeric, Mallow, Willow Bark, Goldenseal, Evening Primrose, Boswellia
Antioxidant Substances that reduce damage from free radicals bioflavonoids Turmeric, Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Olive Leaf
Antispasmotic Substances that induce muscle relaxation Ease muscle spasms Astragalus, Hawthorne,
Antiviral Substances that kill viruses Astragalus, Garlic, St. John’s Wort, Yarrow
Astringent Binds mucous membranes, shrinks tissue and reduces secretions Useful in wound healing and digestive issues.  Not for long term use. Witch Hazel, Plantain, Carnesbill, Eyebright, Raspberry, Wild Cherry
Bitters Substances that stimulate appetite and digestion Constipation, gas, and related cramping Gentian, Yellow Dock, Skullcap, Hops
Calming Substances that support the nervous system Relieve muscle tension and spasm, insomnia Skullcap, Chamomile, Hops, Valerian, Passionflower
Carminatives Substances that expel gas from the body Ease bloating and gas related cramping Fennel, Caraway, Peppermint
Demulcent Substances that produce slime that coats, sooths and protects mucus membranes and soothe dry conditions Supports normal respiratory health and coating dry internal conditions Mullein, Marshmallow Root, Chia Seed, Fenugreek, Flax
Diaphoretics Substances that raise the body temperature to induce sweating and increase circulation Useful for breaking dry fevers, promoting blood flow to extremities, detoxification Ginger, Garlic, Cayenne, Elder, Yarrow
Diuretics Substances that induce urination Water retention, urinary tract flushing Dandelion, Juniper, Uva-Ursi, Cleavers
Emollients Mucilaginous substances for topical use Soothe, condition and protect the skin Aloe Vera, Comfrey, Marshmallow, Plantain
Expectorants Substances that break up mucus in lungs Elecampane, Mullein, Lobelia
Hypotensives Lower Blood Pressure Hibiscus, Yarrow
Tonics Substances that are nutritive, and support the overall processes of growth, healing and renewal. Can be taken regularly to strengthen a system Skullcap (nervous system); Nettle leaf (skin, hair, nails); Dandelion (digestive); Milk Thistle (liver); Hawthorne (cardio)
Vulnerary Promotes wound healing Comfrey, Horsetail