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What Are Herbal Actions?

What Herbal Actions Should An Herbalist Know?

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Herbal Actions are the terms used to describe how an herb can affect the body. Think of them as the herbal vocabulary. Learning the definitions of herbal actions, will make reading herbal books and listening to herbal classes, much easier.

Herbal actions are also important, because they help us align the herbs in our thoughts (creating herbal intuition), for instance, when you read that a particular herb is anti-microbial, or anti-bacterial, you will instantly know that it's action is one that helps the body's immune system resist pathogens. If you don't have access to that particular herb, you will then know other herbs that may be able to be substituted. This interplay not only helps you move forward in your herbal learning, it also connects the plants together, so herbalism makes sense.

Here are 10 herbal actions to get you started:

  • Adaptogen - An herbal adaptogen increases the body's resistance to outside stressors. Used to help the body cope and remain strong or heal. Some examples of adaptogenic herbs are Astragulus and Licorice Root.

  • Alterative- The gradual process of restoring health to the body, by improving healthy function. These herbs are also known as blood purifiers, and include Burdock, Dandelion, and Echinacea.
  • Analgesic - This refers to herbs that help relieve pain. This can be both outside as well as inside the body. Herbs that are considered analgesic include Arnica, Bergamot, and White Willow.
  • Antacid- Herbs that neutralize acid in the stomach. Some examples of Antacid herbs are Fennel, Chamomile, Red Raspberry Leaf, and Mint.
  • Anticatarrhal - Counteracts excess mucous and inflammation in the upper respiratory system. Herbs in this list are Ginger, Rosemary, and Sage.
  • Antidepressant - Herbs that are said to relieve the depressed state of mind. For more on antidepressant herbs, see this informative article by Cathy Wong, About.com Guide to Alternative Medicine: Depression Remedies to Consider
  • Anti-emetic - Herbs that help relieve nausea and vomiting fall under this term. A well known herbal remedy for nausea is Ginger.
  • Anti-inflammatory - These herbs are said to combat inflammation in the body. It is important to note that some inflammation is necessary for healing. Herbs that are considered Anti-inflammatory can be found here: Herbs For Pain Management
  • Anti-microbial - These herbs help the body's immune system resist pathogens. Some examples of Anti-microbial herbs are Garlic, Rosemary, and Lavender.
  • Anti-oxidant - Herbs that protect the body against free radical damage are said to be anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidant herbs include Elder, Ginger and Burdock.

If you are new to studying herbalism, it is a great idea to start studying these herbal actions. I like to refer to my list over and over, right as I come across the words. This is sort of reminiscent of how to learn the times tables as a child (although much more fun). After a while, you will find yourself starting to connect the herbal dots, and cross reference other herbs that have the same actions.

I encourage you to actually learn them. Try some simple games like flash cards, or speed tests (can you tell I am a homeschooling mother?)Within a day, you will understand what herbal content you read on a much deeper level. It is worth the time and effort.

I want to thank James Green, of The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook, for the idea of making this list. He recommends 40 terms, and they have served me well over the years. Most Popular Topics |Latest Articles | Newsletter | Discuss in my Forum | Add to RSS Feed |Follow me on Twitter!

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