Blog

Herbal Classifications

Herbal Classifications

Herbal Classifications or “Actions”

This is a brief explanation of the actions of the different herbal classifications and how they work.
Keep in mind that herbs are not limited by the category systems! Herbs generally fall into many different herbal classifications, not only one! As a result, when using herbs it’s important to know and understand all the herbs’ actions and how it blends with other herbs and this helps us as herbalists to match an herb with a person.

For example, herbs can be both a relaxing nervine and a stimulating nervine. They could be both astringent and demulcent. They could be an immunomodulatory and an immunostimulant.

Here are some just some of the considerations an herbalist will use when mixing herbs for a person’s individual remedy:
• energetics of the person (cool/hot/moist/dry, constitution)
• actions of the herb
• specific areas effected in the body
• the different herbal actions of the different herbs combined
• availability of herbs
• root causes vs. the symptoms

Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogen herbs are building herbs that strengthen the HPO axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, gonadal). Taken over time they build up your overall health and wellness and help you have more resiliencies to the negative effects of stress. Not all adaptogens are created equal. Each herb has its own specific indications and herbal energetics that are better suited for one person or another. Especially when these herbs are matched to you from an energetic perspective these are safe plants that can be taken in larger quantities for an extended period of time.
• Panax Ginseng
• Siberian Ginseng
• Astragalus
• Ashwagandah
• Schizandra
• Reishi mushroom
• Licorice

Alterative Herbs
Alterative herbs support specific elimination pathways of the body. Depending on their specific action they may clear a congested liver, encourage urination, support the lungs for increased breath (and release of CO2), open the pores in the skin, move the lymph, clean the blood and move the bowels. By creating a clear running river of elimination in our bodies we avoid becoming a stagnant mucky pond. Alterative herbs are often used for damp heat problems such as constipation, eczema, acne, boils, etc. Herbs in this category are generally safe but if used too aggressively or for a prolonged period of time they could possibly imbalance someone energetically
• Echinacea
• Goldenseal
• Burdock
• Cleavers
• Nettle
• Dandelion root
• Red clover
• Yellow dock
• Oregon grape root

Anodyne Herbs
Anodyne herbs dull the sense of pain. Herbs in this category range from completely safe to being low-dose botanicals that should never be used beyond one or two drops. Herbs may also have a special affinity for different types of pain as some herbs are better suited to nervous system pain while others to muscle pain.
• Yarrow
• Essential oils (Clove and cinnamon are examples)
• Cow Parsnip
• Arnica
• Cottonwood
• St. John’s Wort
• Ginger
• Meadowsweet
• Feverfew

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
Anti-inflammatory herbs work in a variety of ways to lessen the inflammatory response in the body. Note that anytime a glossary term contains the word “anti” it lets us know what it does but rarely does this classification break herbs down into HOW they do it.
• Turmeric
• Ginger
• Chickweed
• Marshmallow
• Celery seed
• Hawthorn
• Meadowsweet
• Licorice
• Lavender
• Plantain
• Linden
• Gotu Kola

Antimicrobial Herbs
Antimicrobial herbs negatively affect pathogens in the body through various mechanisms. These herbs can be useful against viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections.
• Elderberry
• Yarrow
• Garlic
• Goldenseal
• St. John’s Wort
• Bee balm
• Juniper Berries
• Rosemary
• Oregon Grape Root

Antispasmodic herbs
Antispasmodic herbs affect the nervous system to relieve muscle tension and cramping. Each of these herbs has an affinity to specific uses (e.g. menstrual cramping, ureter cramping, leg cramps, tense muscle shoulders, etc.)
• Black cohosh
• Wild yam
• Wild lettuce
• Lobelia
• Motherwort
• Chamomile
• Lemon balm
• Passionflower
• Jamaica dogwood
• Skullcap
• Valerian
• Cramp bark
• Ginger

Anti-thelmintic Herbs
Anti-thelmintic herbs are used to combat parasitical worms in the body. Optimal treatment will be designed for the particular parasite and will also include dietary arrangements as well.
• Wormwood
• Black Walnut
• Garlic
• Ginger
• Bee balm
• Pau D’Arco

Astringent Herbs
Astringent herbs tighten and tone tissues. Herbalists use these herbs whenever there are lax tissues. Tightening and toning tissues can also help to prevent infection. Think of these for spongy gums, infections of the mucosal membranes such as a sore throat, vaginal infection, and ulcers in the digestive tract, urinary tract infections, varicose veins and diarrhoea.
• Uva ursi
• Shepherd’s purse
• Red Raspberry
• Oak bark
• Horse chestnut
• Agrimony
• Black berry
• Goldenrod
• Many rose family plants

Bitters
Bitters refer to the taste of a plant. The bitter taste creates a cascade of digestive events, from increased salivation, to increased HCL in the stomach, to the release of bile and pancreatic enzymes. The bitter taste is beneficial to everyone at mealtimes and many digestive problems can be corrected by simply adding the bitter taste into meals.
• Dandelion leaf
• Artichoke leaf
• Gentian root
• Oregon Grape Root
• Yarrow
• Boneset
• Goldenseal
• Horehound
• Chamomile

Cardio Tonic Herbs
Cardio tonic herbs are used to support cardiac function. They have observable beneficial actions on the heart but do not contain cardiac glycosides found in our more dramatic acting plants. Although generally safe they can interact with some pharmaceutical drugs.
• Hawthorn
• Linden
• Motherwort
• Cayenne
• Ginger

Carminative Herbs
Carminative herbs are used for stagnant digestion such as bloating and gas. Have you ever eaten a meal that just feels like it is stuck in your stomach? Or had aches in your belly due to gas? That’s when carminatives come in handy. These herbs are often aromatic (meaning they have a strong scent) and contain volatile oils.
• Fennel
• Ginger
• Chamomile
• Angelica
• Parsley
• Cardamom
• Bee balm
• Thyme
• Mints

Cholagogue Herbs
Cholagogue herbs increase the production and release of bile. Most bitters are cholagogues. Because these herbs stimulate bile secretion they also stimulate peristalsis and are therefore somewhat laxative in nature. They help to improve hepatic function and can increase a person’s ability to digest fats.
• Dandelion root
• Artichoke leaf
• Oregon Grape Root
• Gentian
• Yellow dock

Circulatory Stimulant Herbs
These herbs are used for stagnant circulation. They are often added in small amounts to formulas to diffuse the herbs throughout the body.
• Cayenne
• Rosemary
• Ginger
• Prickly Ash

Demulcent Herbs
Demulcent herbs are slimy and mucilaginous in quality. Have you ever left oatmeal on the counter for too long and it becomes sort of gloppy? That is demulcent. These herbs are used to soothe hot and irritated tissues. Think of aloe Vera gel on hot sunburn. Demulcent herbs are also used for a sore throat, digestive ulcers, dry and unproductive coughs, irritated intestines and an irritated urinary tract.
• Aloe Vera gel
• Marshmallow root
• Slippery Elm
• Rose hips
• Irish moss
• Licorice
• Cornsilk

Diaphoretic Herbs
The term diaphoretic broadly means an herb that is used for fevers. Fevers are a beneficial immune system response and most of the time does not need to be treated by artificially lowering a person’s temperature.
Herbs can be used to support a person going through a fever. More advanced herbalists seek to understand the type of fever and then use herbs to match the particular circumstance. Diaphoretics are thus divided into two general categories: relaxing diaphoretics and stimulating diaphoretics.

Relaxing Diaphoretics
Relaxing diaphoretics are used when a person has a fever and they feel hot and look hot but they are not sweating. They may have a red face and be tense or restless. Relaxing diaphoretic herbs may increase peripheral circulation to release the exterior and open the pores. In this way they are releasing the heat in the body akin to opening a window of a hot house. Some relaxing diaphoretic herbs also specifically relieve the aches and pains associated with fevers.
• Chamomile
• Elder flower
• Meadowsweet
• Boneset
• Yarrow
• Linden

Stimulating Diaphoretics
Stimulating diaphoretics are used when a person has a fever but they feel chilled and are shivering. These spicy herbs support the body’s desire to increase our internal temperature.
• Ginger
• Bee balm
• Yarrow
• Horseradish

Diffusive Herbs
Diffusive herbs break up stagnant energy and move it throughout the body. Have you ever eaten a hot pepper and felt the heat in your toes and fingers? That’s diffusive. Diffusive herbs are often used for stagnant digestion (like if you feel you have a bowling ball in your stomach after eating) and are often added in small quantities to formulas.
• Prickly ash
• Cayenne
• Ginger

Diuretic Herbs
Diuretic herbs increase urine output. They can be used to lower blood pressure, resolve damp conditions in the body (oedema) or for infections of the urinary system. These generally work best as a lukewarm tea.
• Dandelion leaf
• Yarrow
• Nettle leaf
• Celery seed
• Horsetail
• Cleavers
• Juniper
• Parsley
• Elderflowers

Emmenagogue Herbs
Emmenagogue herbs promote menstruation and are used for irregular or stagnant menstruation. These herbs should be avoided in pregnancy.
• Motherwort
• Ginger
• Yarrow
• Mugwort
• Black cohosh
• Chasteberry
• False Unicorn
• Dong Qua
• Partridge Berry

Expectorant Herbs
Expectorants are used to expel congested mucus. The quality and condition of the mucus helps to determine if relaxing expectorants or stimulating expectorants would be more appropriate. Yellow mucus indicates heat and cooling herbs may be of benefit. Clear or white mucus indicates coldness and warming herbs may be of benefit.

Relaxing Expectorants
Relaxing expectorants are often demulcent, anti-tussive and anti-inflammatory. They soothe bronchial tissues (via a reflexive action) and can move dry stuck mucus. Often times these herbs are cooling.
• Marshmallow
• Mullein
• Lungwort
• Licorice
• Linden

Stimulating Expectorants
Stimulating expectorants stimulate mucus expectoration, especially for stuffy conditions. Have you even eaten spicy mustard or wasabi (horseradish) and then felt your sinuses drain? That’s a stimulating expectorant. Oftentimes these are warming in nature and can work by irritating the bronchial tissues. These herbs often have volatile oils and alkaloids.
• Ginger
• Garlic
• Horseradish
• Bee balm
• Horehound

Hypotensive herbs
These herbs lower blood pressure. Best results are seen when combined with a more holistic approach (diet, sleep, exercise, etc.).
• Hawthorn
• Yarrow
• Motherwort
• Linden
• Garlic

  • Cayenne
  • Immunomodulating Herbs
    Immunomodulating herbs build and strengthen the immune system. They are generally used for people who get sick all the time with colds and flus or have other symptoms of immune system dysfunction such as seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, food intolerances, cancer and autoimmunity problems. Think of these as deeply nourishing food and herbs for the immune system.

    • Astragalus
    • Reishi
    • Shitake
    • Tulsi

    Immunostimulant Herbs
    Immunostimulant herbs boost the immune system in the short term. These may work by increasing phagocytosis (Echinacea) or disrupting viral replication (elderberry). Immunostimulant herbs are generally not taken in the long term and should not be used to compensate for a weakened and unhealthy immune system. Instead, Immunomodulating herbs should be considered.
    • Echinacea
    • Elderberry
    • Boneset

    Laxative herbs
    Laxative herbs increase bowel movements. They can range from supportive and gentle to more purgative in effect. Some laxative herbs increase peristalsis of the bowels, others may provide lubrication. In general it is always good to start with the most gentle and work up. It is imperative not to rely on stimulating or cathartic laxatives to move the bowels since they can easily create dependency.
    Gentle or Supportive Laxatives
    Dandelion root
    Yellow dock root
    Triphala
    Aloe vera gel (not the leaf)

    Cathartic Laxatives
    Use of these herbs may cause griping or pain and so they are usually used in a formula to offset those effects. Using these herbs for more than 10 consecutive days may cause dependency.
    • Rhubarb
    • Senna
    • Cascara Sagrada
    • Aloe lea

    Lymphatic Herbs
    Lymphatic herbs are a specialized type of alterative. Lymphatic herbs move congested lymph and can be used to shrink swollen lymph glands and dissolve benign cysts.
    • Calendula
    • Cleavers
    • Burdock
    • Chickweed

    Nervine Herbs
    Nervine herbs are herbs that affect the nervous system. Sometimes this general term is used to describe relaxing nervines, but I found it useful to distinguish this category more fully between relaxing and stimulating nervines.

    Relaxing Nervines
    Relaxing nervines relax the nervous system. Some herbs are merely calming; others can have a more overt sedative effect to promote sleep.
    • Cramp bark
    • Valerian
    • Oats
    • Skullcap
    • Chamomile
    • Passionflower
    • Lavender
    • St. John’s Wort
    • Lemon balm
    • Vervain

    Stimulating Nervines
    Stimulating nervine herbs stimulate the nervous system. This may be through direct stimulation, such as caffeine from tea or coffee, or stimulating nervine herbs may promote circulation or have a diffusive effect that wakes up the nervous system.
    • Coffee
    • Tea
    • Chocolate
    • Horseradish
    • Rosemary
    • Cayenne
    • Prickly ash
    • Peppermint

    Tonic Herbs
    Tonic is a troublesome word in the herbal arena as this term is used differently between western and eastern herbal systems.
    Some western herbalists use it to describe alterative or eliminating or draining herbs (see alteratives). They also might use it to describe herbs that strengthen a system. Raspberry leaf is considered to be toning to the uterus. Dandelion root tones the digestive system.
    Eastern herbal traditions use the term tonic to describe herbs that are building and nourishing (see adaptogens). These herbs tend to be sweet in taste and are taken over a long time by people who have signs of deficiency.

    Trophorestorative Herbs
    Trophorestorative herbs bring balance to a particular organ or system in a person whether that function is excess or deficient.

  • Milky Oats – nervous system
  • Goldenseal – mucus membranes
  • Nettle Seed – kidneys and adrenals
  • Milk Thistle – liver
  • Hawthorn – heart
  • St John’s Wort – nervous system
  • Vulnerary Herbs
    Vulnerary herbs are used to heal wounds. They can be used for external wounds on the skin, or internal wounds such as ulcers or haemorrhoids.

  • Calendula
  • Aloe
  • Plantain
  • Comfrey (External use only)
  • Chamomile
  • Turmeric
  • ** Herbs can have a powerful effect on the body or can interact with certain medications therefore it’s always important to seek the professional advise of a suitably qualified medical herbalist **

    facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusmail