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Introduction to Herbal Medicine

As you are interested in herbal medicine, you should learn as much as possible about the type of soil in which plants thrive, the colour of the flowers, the number of petals, and so on. This study of plants is termed Botany. There have been many books written on Botany, perhaps you could borrow some of them from your local Public Library. Try to read as many of these books as possible and any books dealing with Herbal medicine that are in the Library.

You might purchase some books dealing with Wild Flowers, armed with these you could venture out plant hunting, and see if you can identify some of the plants that are described and illustrated within these books. You could concentrate on many of the herbs that occur within these articles Even if you live within a town or city, it is surprising the number of wild flowers you will find, some growing within cracks in kerbstones and paving slabs, and brick walls where the mortar is decaying. There are of course, public parks, botanical gardens, museums of natural history and local plant nurseries. These are all worth a visit. There is of course the open countryside.

Should you visit a local nursery or nurseries, you might decide to purchase several herbs to study closely. You could keep them in pots on a windowsill within your house. As you are commencing on the first steps of a career in Herbal Medicine, it might prove rewarding to purchase a number of medicinal herbs, especially if you have a garden. Sometime in the future you may be faced with a medical emergency and some of these herbs might be of use in the healing formula. Every month or two you might purchase another herb or two or, you might wish to grow them from seed. Each year you would be able to harvest your own medicinal herbs. When thoroughly dried you could keep them in glass jars in a cool, dry, dark cupboard.

There may be other ways of learning about plants, for instance, there may be evening classes at a local school or civic centre, and these might be conducted by a local botanist. Such a course usually includes field trips. Such trips consist of going into the countryside and finding the plants. Your tutor, if he sees that you are very keen to learn, may be prepared to assist you when the classes have finished, and he or she may know some of the medicinal properties of the plants.

Good luck in your study of Herbal Medicine. The Actions listed below of Herbs will be learned as you progress in your studies.

Some definitions within Herbal Medicine

HERBAL MEDICINE

This is a system of Medicine that relies on non-poisonous plants as the source of its healing remedies. It was the major system of medicine throughout the World prior to the Industrial Revolution. Today, it is classed as an alternative healing therapy to the orthodox allopathic medicine (chemical drug medicine). Todays Herbal Practitioners use remedies that have been tried and tested over thousands of years. Herbal remedies are used to strengthen and stimulate the vital force, to counteract disease, unlike orthodox medicine, which is used to attack directly the symptoms of disease. The term herbal medicine is used to denote the professional practice of herbalism within the United Kingdom and is officially recognised in the Medicine’s Act of 1948. However, there is no official State Registration in force at the time of writing. Practitioners of Herbal Medicine use both modern and traditional systems of diagnosis.

PHYTOTHERAPY

This is a term used mainly upon the Continent of Europe and is being used more frequently in the United Kingdom and the United States. It is virtually the same in meaning as Herbal Medicine.

BOTANIC THERAPY

Botanic Therapy can mean exactly the same as the preceding definitions. However, it can also be interpreted in the following way. Botanic Medicine can be a mixture of Herbal and Homoeopathic Medicine. In this system, the Homoeopathic portion of Botanic medicine, is composed of potentised plant medicines, that are in the main poisonous plants. Potentisation dilutes the plants to the degree where the poisonous principle of a plant is harmless. A study of Homoeopathic law is necessary to understand how that system works. Botanic therapy is more effective than plain herbal therapy.

Actions of Herbs

ABORTIFACIENT

An agent that induces, or causes abortion, or causes a premature expulsion of the foetus.

ABSORBENT

An agent used to produce absorption of exudates or diseased tissues. Used quite often in the sense of counteracting the acidity of the stomach and bowels.

ABSTERGENT

An agent that has detergent properties. (see detergent).

ACRID

Having a hot biting taste, or causing heat and irritation when applied to the skin or mucous membrane.

ADJUVANT

An agent that is added to a remedy to assist or increase the action of that remedy.

ALTERATIVE

An agent capable of favourably altering and changing unhealthy conditions of the body, and tending to restore normal bodily functioning.

ANALEPTICS

Restorative foods or herbs.

ANALGESIC

An agent that relieves pain without causing loss of consciousness.

ANAESTHETIC

An agent that causes anaesthesia or unconsciousness.

ANAPHRODISIAC

An agent that lessens sexual function and desire.

ANODYNE

An agent that quiets, relieves or kills pain.

ANTACID

An agent used to neutralise acid in the stomach and intestines.

ANTIBIOTIC

An agent that averts or destroys the growth of micro-organisms.

ANTI-CATARRHAL

An agent that prevents the formation, or aids in the removal of catarrh, prevents the inflammation of the mucous membrane.

ANTI-COLIC

An agent that prevents or reduces colic, helps to prevent spasmodic pains in the stomach, bowel and intestines.

ANTI-DYSPEPTIC

An agent that improves or prevents poor digestion.

ANTICOAGULANT

An agent that prevents clotting in a liquid, i.e. As in blood.

ANTIDIARRHOEAL

An agent that combats and arrests diarrhoea.

ANTIDOTE

An agent that counteracts a poison.

ANTHELMINTIC

An agent that destroys or expels intestinal worms. (See also, Vermifuge, Vermicide and Taenicide.)

ANTIHYDROPIC

An agent used for relieving oedema or dropsy (old word for oedema).

ANTIHYDROTIC

An agent that reduces or suppresses perspiration.

ANTIEMETIC

An agent that counteracts nausea and relieves vomiting.

ANTILITHIC

An agent that reduces or suppresses urinary calculi (stones) or dissolves any already present.

ANTIPERIODIC

An agent which counteracts periodic or intermittent diseases or fevers (malaria).

ANTIPHLOGISTIC

An agent that reduces inflammation.

ANTIPYRETIC

An agent which prevents or reduces fever and relieves the body temperature.

ANTISCORBUTIC

An agent used in the prevention or treatment of scurvy, a source of Vitamin C.

ANTISEPTIC

An agent used for destroying or inhibiting pathogenic or putrefactive bacteria.

ANTIRHEUMATIC

An agent used in the treatment of rheumatism.

ANTISPASMODIC

An agent that relieves cramps and spasms.

APERATIVE

An agent that stimulates the appetite.

APHRODISIAC

An agent that tones up and stimulates sexual activity.

ASTRINGENT

A substance that causes contraction and firming of the tissues.

BACTERIOSTATIC

An agent that prevents the multiplication of bacteria.

BECHIC

An agent that soothes a cough.

BIOCATALYST

An agent that increases the rate of the body’s metabolism (Enzymes, hormones, vitamins and trace elements).

CALMATIVE

An agent having a mild calming or sedative action.

CARDIAC

An agent that has an effect on the heart.

CARDIAC DEPRESSENT

An agent that lowers the heart’s action.

CARDIAC STIMULANT

An agent that increases the heart’s action.

CARMINATIVE

An agent that aids in the elimination of flatus (gas) from the stomach and intestines.

CATHARTICS

Agents which promote evacuation of the bowels. They can be subdivided into the following types:-

APERIENTS or LAXATIVES. These favour a gentle movement of the bowel.

CATHARTICS. These induce a more copious evacuation of the bowel.

PURGATIVES. These occasion repeated and watery evacuations. They are sometimes referred to as DRASTICS.

CAUSTICS

An agent capable of burning away tissue.

CEREBRAL DEPRESSANT

An agent used to lower the vital activity of the brain.

CEREBRAL EXCITEANT

An agent used to increase the vital activity of the brain.

CHOLAGOGUE

An agent which increases the excretion of the bile into the intestines.

CORDIAL

An invigorating and stimulating medicine, food or drink.

COUNTER-IRRITANT

An agent used to produce superficial inflammation of the skin, in order to relieve deeper inflammations.

DEMULCENTS

Agents used to soothe and protect irritated mucous membranes or other tissues.

DEOBSTRUENT

An agent that removes obstructions.

DEODERANT

An agent that destroys foul odours.

DEPURATIVE

An agent that purifies the blood.

DETURGENT

An agent that cleanses wounds, boils, ulcers, etc.

DIAPHORETIC

An agent that promotes an increase in perspiration.

DIGESTANTS

Ferments and acids which aid in the solution and absorption of foods.

DISCUTIENT

An agent that dissolves or removes tumours.

DIURETICS

An agent that increases the secretion and flow of urine.

DISINFECTANTS

Agents which destroy the noxious properties of decaying organic matter.

ECBOLIC

Agents that produce abortion.

EMETICS.

Agents which promote the expulsion of the contents of the stomach by vomiting.

EMMENAGOGUE

Agents which facilitate and regulate menstrual flow.

EMOLLIENT

An agent which is softening and soothing to inflamed parts.

ERRHINES

Agents which cause sneezing and promote nasal secretions.

ESCHAROTIC

Agents that are biting and caustic, used for dissolving, corns, warts, etc.

ESCULENT

Esculent is an item that is edible as food.

EXANTHEMATOUS

An agent that is used for the treatment of skin eruptions and diseases.

EXPECTORANT

An agent that facilitates expectoration. It encourages the expectoration of pulmonary secretions.

FEBRIFUGE

An agent that abates and reduces fever, generally by increasing the evaporation of perspiration.

GALACTAGOGUE

An agent that increases the secretion of milk in the nursing mother.

GALENIC

An agent of plant origin.

HAEMOLYTIC

An agent that destroys red blood cells.

HAEMOSTATIC

An agent which arrests haemorrhage.

HEPATIC

An agent having an effect on the liver.

HERPATIC

An agent used for the treatment of skin eruptions, ringworm, etc.

HYDRAGOGUE

An agent that causes purgation producing large watery discharges.

HYPERTENSIVE

Agents that cause an increase in blood pressure.

HYPNOTIC

An agent with the ability to induce sleep.

HYPOGLYCAEMENT

An agent with the ability to cause a reduction in the blood-sugar level.

HYPOTENSIVE

An agent having the ability to reduce blood pressure.

LITHANTRYPTIC

An agent which dissolves calculi (or stones) in the urinary organs.

MATURATING

An agent which ripens, or brings boils, tumours and ulcers to a head.

MUCILAGINOUS

Soothing to inflamed parts.

MYDRIATIC

An agent which causes dilation of the pupil of the eye.

MYOTICS

Agents that cause the contraction of the pupils of the eye.

NAUSEANT

An agent that produces vomiting.

NECROTIC

An agent that causes death of tissues.

NERVINE

An agent that acts specifically on the nervous system, allaying nervous excitement.

NUTRIENT

Agents which facilitate assimilation and improve the condition of the tissues.

OPHTHALMICUM

An agent used to treat discharges of the eye.

OXYTOCIC

An agent that hastens childbirth by increasing the contractions of the uterine muscle.

PECTORAL

An agent that relieves chest infections.

PARTURIENT

An agent that induces and promotes labour at childbirth.

REFRIGERANT

An agent that induces cooling and allays thirst.

RELAXANT

An agent that brings unduly contracted tissues to the normal condition.

RESOLVENT

An agent that resolves and reduces tumours.

RUBIFACIENT

An agent that stimulates circulation and causes redness of the skin.

SEDATIVE

An agent that lowers functional activity.

SIALAGOGUE

An agent that increases the secretion of saliva.

SPASMOLYTIC

An agent that relieves and counteracts cramp.

SOPORIFICS

Agents which induce sleep.

STERNUTATORY

An agent that causes sneezing.

STOMACHIC

An agent that promotes the functions of the stomach and improves appetite and digestion.

STIMULANTS

Agents that arouse the nervous sensibility.

SUDORIFIC

Agents that produce profuse perspiration.

STYPTIC

Agents that arrest haemorrhage and bleeding.

TAENICIDE

Agents that kill tapeworms.

TONICS

Agents that impart a full vigour and stronger acting power to the system.

VASOCONSTRICTOR

An agent that narrows the blood vessels.

VASODILATOR

An agent that widens the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.

VESICANT

An agent that produces blisters.

VERMICIDE

An agent that destroys worms.

VERMIFUGE

An agent that expels worms, without necessarily destroying them.

VULNERARY

Agents that promote the killing of worms.

4 comments to Introduction to Herbal Medicine

  • Skean Dhude

    Ken,

    This is a good introduction and explains a lot of the terms that are bandied about. Thanks.

  • fred

    ANAPHRODISIAC

    An agent that lessens sexual function and desire.

    Is that really desirable, Kenneth?

  • Kenneth Eames

    Hello Fred, Anaphrodisiacs have uses for medical reasons and of course if you are a monk in a monestry! However, I am sure that very few people require them. Kenneth Eames.

  • iaaems

    Very many thanks for this intro – fascinating subject and I will most definitely be printing this out for my ‘manual’ which has grown a bit just recently.

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