Medicinal Glossary

The following terms are commonly found in standard reference works on herbal medicine. A few are not used in this encyclopedia, but they are included here for reference and information.


Abortifacient: Induces or causes premature expulsion of a fetus.
Acrid: Having a hot, biting taste or causing heat and irritation when applied to the skin.
Adjuvant: An herb added to a mixture to aid the effect of the principal ingredient.
Alterative: Produces gradual beneficial change in the body, usually by improving nutrition, without having any marked specific effect and without causing sensible evacuation.
Analgesic: A drug which relieves or diminishes pain; anodyne.
Anaphrodisiac: Reduces sexual desire or potency.
Anesthetic: An agent that deadens sensation.
Anodyne: An agent that soothes or relieves pain.
Anthelmintic: Destroys or expels intestinal worms; vermicide; vermifuge.
Antibiotic: Destroys or arrests the growth of micro-organisms.
Anticoagulant: Prevents clotting in a liquid, as in blood.
Antiemetic: Counteracts nausea and relieves vomiting.
Antihydrotic: Reduces or suppresses perspiration.
Antilithic: Reduces or suppresses urinary stones and acts to dissolve those already present.
Antiperiodic: Counteracts periodic or intermittent diseases (such as malaria).
Antiphlogistic: Reduces inflammation.
Antipyretic: Prevents or reduces fever.
Antiscorbutic: A source of vitamin C for curing or preventing scurvy.
Antiscrofulous: Counteracting scrofula.
Antiseptic: An agent for destroying or inhibiting bacteria.
Antispasmodic: Relieves spasms or cramps.
Antitussive: Relieves coughing.
Aperient: A mild stimulant for the bowels; a gentle purgative.
Aphrodisiac: An agent for arousing or increasing sexual desire or potency.
Appetizer: An agent that excites the appetite.
Aromatic: A substance having an agreeable odor and stimulating qualities.
Astringent: An agent that contracts organic tissue, reducing secretions or discharges.
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Balsam: A soothing or healing agent. Also a resinous substance obtained from various trees and used in medicinal preparations.
Bitter: Characterized by a bitter principle which acts on the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach to increase appetite and promote digestion.
Calmative: An agent that has a mild sedative or tranquilizing effect.
Cardiac: An agent that stimulates or otherwise affects the heart.
Carminative: Expels gas from the intestines.
Cathartic: An agent that acts to empty the bowels; laxative.
Caustic: A corrosive substance capable of burning or eating away tissues.
Cholagogue: Increases the flow of bile into the intestines.
Coagulant: Induces clotting in a liquid, as in blood.
Counterirritant: An agent for producing irritation in one part of the body to counteract irritation or inflammation in another part. (See also Irritant).
Demulcent: Soothes irritated tissue, particularly mucous membranes.
Deodorant: An herb that has the effect of destroying or masking odors.
Depressant: An agent which lessens nervous or functional activity; opposite of stimulant.
Depurative: Cleanses and purifies the system, particularly the blood.
Detergent: An agent that cleanses wounds and sores of diseased or dead matter.
Diaphoretic: An agent that promotes perspiration; sudorific.
Digestive: Promotes or aids digestion.
Disinfectant: An agent that cleanses infection by destroying or inhibiting the activity of disease-producing micro-organisms.
Diuretic: An agent that increases the secretion and expulsion of urine.
Emetic: An agent that causes vomiting.
Emmenagogue: An agent that promotes menstrual flow.
Emollient: An agent used externally to soften and smooth.
Errhine: An agent that promotes sneezing and nasal discharges.
Euphoriant, Euphorigen: An agent that induces an abnormal sense of vigor and buoyancy.
Exanthematous: Relating to skin diseases or eruptions.
Expectorant: Promotes the discharge of mucous from the respiratory passages.
Febrifuge: Reduces or eliminates fever.
Galactagogue: An agent that encourages or increases the secretion of milk.
Hallucinogen: An agent that induces hallucinations.
Hemostatic: An agent that stops bleeding.
Hepatic: A drug that acts on the liver.
Hydragogue: A purgative that produces abundant watery discharge. (See also Purgative.)
Irritant: An agent that causes inflammation or abnormal sensitivity in living tissue.
Laxative: An agent promoting evacuation of the bowels; a milk purgative.
Mucilaginous: Characterized by a gummy or gelatinous consistency.
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Narcotic: A drug which relieves pain and induces sleep when used in medicinal doses; in large doses narcotics produce convulsions, coma, or death.
Nauseant: An agent that produces an inclination to vomit.
Nephritic: A medicine applicable to diseases of the kidney.
Nervine: An agent that has a calming or soothing effect of the nerves; any agent that acts on the nervous system.
Oxytocic: An agent that stimulates contraction of the uterine muscle and so facilitates or speeds up childbirth.
Pectoral: A remedy for pulmonary or other chest diseases.
Poison: A substance which has a harmful or destructive effect when in contact with living tissue.
Purgative: An agent that produces a vigorous emptying of the bowels.
Refrigerant: An agent that lowers abnormal body heat.
Restorative: An agent that restores consciousness or normal physiological activity.
Rubefacient: A gentle local irritant that produces reddening of the skin.
Sedative: A soothing agent that reduces nervousness, distress, or irritation.
Sialagogue: An agent that stimulates the secretion of saliva.
Specific: An agent which cures or alleviates a particular condition or disease.
Stimulant: An agent that excites or quickens the activity of physiological processes.
Stomachic: An agent that strengthens, stimulates, or tones the stomach.
Styptic: An agent that contracts tissues; astringent; specifically, a hemostatic agent that stops bleeding by contracting the blood vessels.
Sudorific: An agent that promotes or increases perspiration.
Taeniacide: A substance that kills tapeworms.
Tonic: An agent that strengthens or invigorates organs or the entire organism.
Vasoconstrictor: An agent that narrows the blood vessels, thus raising the blood pressure.
Vasodilator: An agent that widens the blood vessels, thus lowering the blood pressure.
Vermicide: An agent that destroys intestinal worms.
Vermifuge: An agent that causes the expulsion of intestinal worms.
Vesicant: An agent that produces blisters.
Vulnerary: A healing application for wounds.