Often times, we heard about laxative, analgesic, and purgative as well as a myriad of terms explaining the actions of herbal medicines. Those mind bogging jargon actually do more harm than help, especially when you are dealing with suspicious looking salesman who is up to no good. (Do I look like one?). So in the spirit of educating the masses and doing good (as well as making myself popular, hehe), I would like to include re-edit this post to make sure all of you aware what this is this post all about.
Here are the terms so used so often in the herbal world:
Alterative – herbs that hasten renewal of tissues thus reducing the tear and wear effect of most tissues. This enables them to work more efficiently.
Anodyne – analgesic, painkiller. It eases pain while the patient is still awake.
Anthelmintic – connected to platyhelminthes, a phylum of mostly parasitic worms with few free living ones and when referred, it usually means internal bodily parasites in medical terms. Anthelmintic is the substances used to expel parasitic worms from the body, which is mostly intestinal. Tapeworm is an example of platyhelminthes.
Antiperiodic – a term used to describe substances used to prevent recurring diseases, usually Malaria.
Antiscorbutic – connected to scurvy, which is a disease of the gum suffered by the sailors of the medieval era because of the lack of Vitamin C. You can guess what Antiscorbutic plants contain…
Antiseptic – substances that can kill germs or micro organisms without affecting living tissues. Its application can be either internal or external.
Antispasmodic – you can guess this one. It reduces ‘kekejangan’, a Malay word for sudden muscle spasm. Dun work on fits though except for superb muscle relaxing drugs like curare, which can kill the patient… don’t worry, antispasmodic herbs has nothing to do with that curare thingy.
Aperients – substances that promotes natural bowel movement, a mild purgative.
Aphrodisiac – this does not need any introduction, well known sex enhancer.
Aromatic – substances that have pleasant aroma (unlike chemistry, aromatics means chemical compound with benzene rings… Yucky)
Astringent – substances that induce localised tissue contraction. This is done by losing proteins on the surface of cells. Used for smothering enlarged pores but too much of everything is not good though… also known to smother wrinkle-infested skin but it will give a ‘tight’ feeling.
Balsamic – substance that contains resin and benzoate that is used to alleviate cold. It has a well known smell and likeness that everyone recognised. Some balsamic have heating effect.
Bitter – bitter tasting herbs, as the name implied, and it is used to stimulate appetites.
Cardiac – substances that affect the heart.
Carminative – substances that are used to alleviate flatulence (mainly) and any resultant gripping.
Cathartic – substance used to evacuate the bowels. Extreme purging!
Cholagogue – substances that are used to induce flow of bile from the gall bladder. The name is related to a salt in the liver, sodium taurocholate.
Cooling – substances that are used to reduce temperature of the skin. In Chinese term, cooling herbs are also used to cool the body of heat.
Demulcent – I believe that mulching have a connection with this word. However, the two words don’t agree head to toe. It is a name given to compounds that protect the alimentary canals. Alimentary canals are the tracts that connect all your digestive organs together. Starting with the oesophagus to your rectum, it is called your alimentary canal.
Deobstruent – its name explains it all, it will decongest and open up natural passages of the body. Decongestant falls under this categories.
Detergent – substance that cleanses. It may clean externally or internally.
Diaphoretic – substance that promote sweating or perspiration. (Hint: The Chinese believes that, when someone is down with fever, it’s good to cause the person to perspire. This herb might help in this sense…)
Diuretics – substance that promote expulsion of liquid from the body, a useful tools against oedema, a water-retention disease. Another useful application of this kind of substance is for dieting, as water retention is some kind of a problem for some fat people. However, before you use this substance for dieting, it’s wise to consult your general practitioner…
Emetic – substance that induces vomiting, useful when poison are administered accidentally, however, when acid are swallowed, it is not advisable to induce vomiting, and alkaline drinks are to be administered, such as Magnesia Milk.
Emmenagogue – a compound that promotes menstruation. One of the Chinese favourites is pineapple and other extremely acidic stuff. It did work however…
Emollient – a compound that soften or soothes the skin. It is useful for moisturising and smothering rough skin.
Expectorant – a substance that relieve coughs. It removes the secretion (mostly mucus) from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea.
Febrifuge – a substance useful in relieving fever. However, I learnt from the principle of homeostasis, that fever should not be suppress (unless under a very chronic condition) as fever is a way of response to infections. The raising of the body temperature helps the white blood cells to combat the invaders effectively. This writer suggests that plenty of rest is the only necessary tool to relieve fever, and if it helps, antiseptics should be prescribed to stop the infection.
Galactogogue – a compound that stimulates milk production for lactating mothers. It can also be used to increase milk flow.
Haemostatic – a substance used for checking bleeding.
Hepatic – a general term for substances that acts upon the liver in various ways.
Hydrogogue – a substance that have the properties of removing accumulated liquid (water) or serum from the body.
Hypnotic – a drug that induces sleep.
Insecticide – a substance that kills insects. (A well known Chinese insecticide is made from the powdered root of the Chrysanthemum Tree).
Irritant – substance that cause irritation of a tissue.
Laxative – You will know what this is if you have watched ‘Mr. Bean, the movie’. It is used to evacuate the bowel immediately upon consumption. Bwahahaha
Mydriatic – a compound that causes dilation of the pupil. This term has a special connection of the herb Belladonna. This herb is so termed for their eye-enlargement property. The French women use the juice of the said berries to enlarge their pupil, so as to look more attractive, hence the name, Belladonna ‘Beautiful Lady’.
Nervine – a substance that restores nerve to its natural states. In my opinion, it calms a person too…
Narcotic – the name means plain crazy, a narcotic person is a person who has lost touch with reality. So, you can guess what it is for. It is used mainly in religious ceremonies whereby a trance state is needed.
Nephritic – a drug that does something to the kidneys. Nephron, in particular is the basic working unit in the kidney. This is where the word nephritic originated.
Nutritive – a substance that provides day-to-day necessary nutrition to the body. This usually includes vegetables and staples.
Parasiticide – anything that ends with –cide means suicide to certain organisms if they came near these. This is a kind of substance that destroys internal and external parasites.
Pectoral – a family of substances that includes all drugs that can treat lung and chest complaints.
Purgative – a violent substance used to evacuate your bowel immediately, this is the deadliest of all bowel evacuators. Although sounds disgusting, people in the medieval era like to be purged. If you live in that era, you will hear violent shouting from the back of an apothecary. Usually, all this racking is caused by purging as apothecaries encourages purging to cleanse the body. It may seem to be true, as sometimes, we do need to clean our colon. Another tips: almost 90% of diseases comes from the colon itself.
Refrigerant – a substance that quench thirst and promotes a feeling of ‘coolness’ (Not literary though, no one becomes ‘cool’ when this kind herbs are used). I have a feeling that this relates to the Chinese concept of hot and cold in the body. Chinese classified diseases into cold and hot (the all-so popular concept of yin-yang) and further divided them into a few more categories. When you are experiencing hot symptoms, you will have to use cold herbs to balance back your body; however, this is not always the case.
Resolvent – an agent used to relieve swellings when applied externally.
Rubefacient – if these babies are applied to your face, you will experience ultimate face reddening and no, it’s not blushing, it’s blistering and later on inflammation will develop.
Sedative – a compound that lessens tension, eases stress, and helps in emotional disturbances. It soothes the nervous system and aid in treating depression.
Sternutatory – this substance will irritate the mucus membrane of the nose and promotes sneezing.
Stimulant – a kind of substance that stimulates specific organs, systems or tissues.
Stomachic – drugs that treat any stomach complaints.
Styptic – a substance that stops bleeding rapidly by blood vessel contraction or blood clotting.
Sudorific – a drug that is used to promote abundant sweating.
Taeniacide – Taenia is a kind of tapeworm that lives in your large intestine. This baby is used to expel these menaces from your body. Nobody wants a living ‘fettuccine’ in their body, or nobody wants a living ‘ban mian’ in their body either…
Tonic – substance that purported to revitalise your body and keeps you going. Reasons has it, once you’re tired, there’s some organs in your body that has lost its vigour. Consumption of tonics, which is usually steeped in wine, will keep you vigorous and full of energy.
Vermifuge – a substance that expels worms from the intestine.
Vesicant – agent that causes blistering once applied to skin.
Vulnerary – substance that heals wounds.
***Most of the Information comes from the book ’Herbal Remedies & Homeopathy’ publish by Geddes & Grosset; ISBN 1 84205 028 1… A round of applause to these dedicated writers…***