Have you heard of Herbal Actions?
Before a Medical Herbalist chooses the herbs and blends a formula for a patient, he/she decides on what Herbal Action is required.
This guides their choice of herbs in the formula.
The actions are chosen after a thorough case-take with the client and will try to improve symptoms as well as promote the client’s overall holistic health.
Plants have different herbal actions and often a herb can have multiple herbal actions. For example, Withania somnifera (aka Ashwagandha) has the herbal actions of being a tonic, adaptogen, mild sedative, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulator, anti-anaemic, and possible anti-tumour (Bone & Mills, 2013).
Herbal Actions (Bone, 2007)
Adaptogenic – A substance that increases the body’s resistance or adaptation to physical, environmental, emotional or biological stressors and promotes normal physiological function.
Astragalus, Siberian ginseng, Gotu kola, Korean ginseng, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Shatavari, Withania
Adrenal tonic – A substance that improves the tone, histology and function of the adrenal glands (especially the cortex).
Alterative/Depurative – A substance that improves detoxification and aids elimination to reduce the accumulation of metabolic waste products within the body. They were formerly known as alteratives or blood purifiers and are largely used to treat skin and musculoskeletal disorders.
Black walnut, Blue flag, Burdock, Clivers, Echinacea root, Fringetree, Globe artichoke, Golden seal, Hemidesmus, Nettle leaf, Oregon grape, Pau d’arco, Poke root, Red clover, Sarsaparilla, Thuja, Yellow dock.
Analgesic/Anodyne – A substance that relieves pain.
Arnica (topically only), California poppy, Cloves, Corydalis, Devil’s claw, Jamaica dogwood, Kava (mild), Pasque flower, Peppermint (topically), Willow bark.
Anaphrodisiac – A substance that reduces libido (usually in males).
Antacid – A substance that counteracts or neutralizes acidity in the gastrointestinal tract.
Anthelmintic – A substance that kills or assists in the expulsion of intestinal worms.
Andrographis, Black walnut, Cloves, Feverfew, Garlic, Mugwort, Myrrh, Stemona, Wormwood.
Antiallergic – A substance that tones down the allergic response often by stabilising mast cells.
Albizzia, Baical skullcap, Evening primrose oil, Feverfew, Paeonia, Nettle leaf, Coleus
Antiandrogenic – A substance that inhibits or modifies the action of the androgens (male sex hormones).
Hops, Saw palmetto (possibly)
Antianaemic – A substance that prevents or corrects anaemia (i.e. reduction in RBCs or quantitiy of haemoglobin).
Withania, Dong quai.
Antiarrhythmic – A substance that prevents or is effective against arrhythmias (any variation in rate of heart beat from normal rhythm).
Corydalis, Dong quai, Hawthorn (leaf & berry), Motherwort, Tienchi ginseng.
Antiasthmatic – A substance that prevents or relieves asthma attacks.
Black haw, Tylophora, Euphorbia
Antibacterial – A substance that inhibits the growth of bacteria (bacteriostatic) or destroys bacteria (bacteriocidal).
Barberry, Elecampane, Garlic, Golden seal, Myrrh, Oregano, Pau d’arco, Pelargonium, Propolis, Rhubarb root, Thyme
Anticariogenic – A substance that reduces the incidence of dental caries (tooth decay).
Green tea, liquorice
Anticatarrhal – A substance that reduces the formation of catarrh or phlegm (pathological mucus secretion).
Elder flower, Eyebright, Golden rod, Golden seal, Ground ivy, Horseradish, Mullein, Ribwort
Anticoagulant – A substance that reduces the rate of blood coagulation.
Anticonvulsant – A substance that tends to prevent or arrest seizures (convulsions).
Bacopa (mild), Kava, Paeonia
Antidepressant – A substance that alleviates depression.
Lavender, Schisandra (mild), St John’s wort, Damiana
Antidiabetic/hypoglycaemic – A substance that alleviates diabetes or the effects of diabetes.
Cinnamon, Goat’s rue, Gymnema, Kumerahou, Elderberry
Antidiarrhoeal – A substance that alleviates diarrhea.
Cranesbill root, Raspberry leaf, Shatavari
Antiecchymotic – A substance that prevents or alleviates bruising.
Antiemetic – A substance that reduces nausea and vomiting.
Barberry, Fringe tree, Ginger, Globe artichoke, Peppermint
Antifibrotic – A substance that reduces the excessive formation of fibrous connective tissue e.g. scleroderma.
Dan shen, Gotu kola
Antifungal – A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys fungi.
Calendula (topically), Garlic, Oregano, Pau d’Arco, Pelargonium, Propolis, Stemona, Thuja, Thyme
Antihaemorrhagic – A substance that reduces or stops bleeding when taken internally.
Bethroot, Cranesbill root, Golden seal, Horsetail, Ladies mantle, Rehmannia, Shepher’s purse, Tienchi ginseng, Yarrow
Antihydrotic – A substance that reduces excessive sweating.
Anti-inflammatory – A substance that reduces inflammation.
Topically – Arnica, Calendula, Chamomile, Comfrey, Evening primrose Oil, Liquorice, Myrrh, Oregon grape, Witch Hazel leaf, Yarrow
Gastrointestinal – Baical skullcap, Bilberry, Calendula, Chamomile, Fenugreek, Liquorice, Meadowsweet, Yarrow.
Anti-inflammatory (musculoskeletal) – Boswellia, Black cohosh, Blue cohosh, Cat’s claw, Celery seed, Devil’s claw (standardized to harpagoside 60mg/day), Ginger, Juniper, Meadowsweet, Pokeroot, Polygonum cuspidatum, Rosehips, Sarsaparilla, Turmeric, Wild yam, Willow bark, Withania, Yarrow
Against immune-mediated inflammation – Baical skullcap, Bupleurum, Echinacea root, Feverfew, Gotu kola, Rehmannia, Sarsaparilla, Tylophora.
Other – Bearberry, Butchers Broom, Crataeva, Dong quai, Eyebright, Golden rod, Golden seal, Greater celandine, Horsechestnut, Ladies mantle, Paeonia, Poke root, Rhubarb root, Saw palmetto, Tienchi ginseng, Wild yam.
Antilithic – A substance that reduces the formation of calculi (stones) in the urinary tract.
Corn silk, Crataeva, Gravel root, Hydrangea.
Antimicrobial/antiseptic – A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys micro-organisms.
Aniseed, Barberry, Calendula, Cloves, Fennel, Golden seal, Myrrh, Oregon grape, Peppermint (internally & topically), Rosemary, Sage, St Jon’s wort, Thuja, Thyme, Yarrow.
Antiobesity – A substance that assists in the reduction of body weight.
Bladderwrack, Coleus, Gymnema.
Antioedamatous – A substance that prevents or alleviates oedema (fluid retention).
Bilberry, Butcher’s broom, Horsechestnut.
Antioxidant – A substance that protects against oxidation and free radical damage.
Bacopa, Bilberry, cat’s claw, Chaparral, Elder berry, garlic, Ginkgo, Grape seed, Green tea, Hawthorn (Leaf & berry), Olive leaf, Oregano, Polygonum cuspidatum, Polygonum multiflorum, Rhodiola, rosemary, Sage, Schisandra, Thyme, St Mary’s thistle, Turmeric.
Anti-PAF – A substance that inhibits the activity of platelet activating factor (PAF).
Antiparasitic – A substance that inhibits the activity of or kills parasites, especially protozoa.
Barberry, Euphorbia, Garlic, Pau d’Arco, Propolis, Qing hao, Wormwood.
Antiplatelet – A substance that reduces platelet aggregation (& hence prolongs bleeding time & may prevent thrombus formation).
Coleus, Dan shen, Dong quai, Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric
Antiprostatic – A substance that reduces the symptoms from the prostate gland.
Hydrangea, Nettle root, Saw palmetto, Willow herb.
Antipruritic – A substance that relieves or prevents itching.
Kava (topically),Peppermint (topically).
Antipyretic/Febrifuge – A substance that reduces or prevents fever.
Baptisia, Qing hao, Rehmannia, Rhubarb root, Willow bark, Yarrow.
Antirheumatic – A substance that prevents or relives rheumatic symptoms.
Black cohosh, Celery seed, Dandelion root, Devil’s claw, Gravel root, Nettle leaf, Pokeroot, Prickly ash, Sarsaparilla, Wild yam, Willow bark
Antispasmodic/Spasmolytic – A substance that reduces or relives smooth muscle spasm (involuntary contractions).
Aniseed, Black cohosh, Blue cohosh, Cayenne, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coleus, Corydalis, Cramp bark, Elecampane, Fennel, Greater celandine, Hops, Hyssop, Inula racemosa, Jamaica dogwood, Kava, Lavender, Lemon balm, Lime flowers, Mexican valerian, Motherwort, Paeonia, Pasque flower, Passionflower, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Saw palmetto, Shatavari, Skullcap, Squaw vine, Sundew, Thyme, True unicorn, Valerian, White horehound, Wild yam, Yarrow.
Antithyroid – A substance that reduces the activity of the thyroid gland.
Antitumour – A substance that has activity against a malignant tumour.
Boswellia, Chaparral, Pau d’Arco, Polygonum cuspidatum, Red clover (traditional use), Rhodiola, Sheep sorrel, Shiitake, Violet leaf (reputed).
Antitussive – A substance that reduces the amount or severity of coughing.
Bupleurum, Liquorice, Peppermint, Schisandra, Stemona, Wild cherry, Kumerahou
Antiulcer – A substance that prevents or relieves ulceration (usually in the GI tract).
Antiuraemic – A substance that reduces the levels of urea in the blood (especially in kidney failure).
Antiviral – A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys viruses.
Calendula (topically), Elder berry, Greater celandine (topically, Green tea (topically), Leon balm (topically), Lomatium, Phyllanthus, Propolis, St John’s wort, Thuja.)
Anxiolytic – A substance that alleviates anxiety.
Bacopa, California poppy, Green oats, kava, Lavender, Mexican valerian, Passionflower, Valerian, Zizyphus
Aphrodisiac – A substance that stimulates sexual desire or libido.
Shatavari, Tribulus leaf
Aromatic digestive – A substance that is generally pleasant tasting and/or smelling that assists digestion. They are warming to the body and are also warming digestive tonics.
Angelica root, Chen pi, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coleus, Dill, Ginger
Astringent – A substance that causes constriction of mucous membranes and exposed tissues, usually by precipitating proteins. This has the effect of producing a barrier on the exposed surfaces.
Agrimony (mild), Bayberry, Bearberry, Beth root, Black haw, Chickweed, Cinnamon, Cramp bark, Cranberry, Cranesbill root, Eyebright, Grape seed, Green tea, Ground ivy, Hawthorn (leaf & berry), Horsetail, Ladies mantle, Meadowsweet, Myrrh, Propolis, Raspberry leaf, Ribwort, Rosehips, Sage, Squaw vine, Vervain, Wild cherry, Witch Hazel leaf.
Bitter tonic – A substance that is bitter tasting and stimulates the upper gastrointestinal tract via the bitter-sensitive tatse buds of the mouth and /or by direct interaction with gastrointestinal tissue. Bitters have a promoting effect on all components of upper digestive function, namely the stomach, liver & pancreas. In addition to appetite & digestion they improve general health & immune function.
Barberry, Dandelion root, Devils claw, Gentian, Globe artichoke, Golden seal, Hops, Olive leaf, Polygonum multiflorum, Qing hao, True unicorn, White horehound, Wood betony, Wormwood, Yarrow.
Bladder tonic – A substance that improves the tone and function of the bladder and reduces postvoid residual urine.
Bronchospasmolytic – A substance that reduces spasm in the lower respiratory tract.
Adhatoda, Black haw, Coleus, Elecampane, Grindelia, Inula racemosa.
Cancer preventative – A substance that prevents the incidence of cancer.
Cardioprotective – A substance that protects cardiac tissue against hypoxia and decreases the risk of heart damage.
Dan shen, hawthorn (leaf & berry), Terminalia arjuna, Tienchi ginseng
Cardiotonic – A substance that improves the force of contraction of the heart.
Astragalus, Coleus, Hawthorn (leaf & berry), Korean ginseng, Motherwort
Carminative – A substance that relieves flatulence and soothes intestinal spasm and pain, usually by relaxing intestinal muscle and sphincters. They are also added to herbal formulations to ease the intestinal spasm or pain that maybe caused by laxative herbs.
Angelica root, Aniseed, Cayenne, Chamomile, Chen pi, Cinnamon, Cloves, Dill, Fennel, Ginger, Hyssop, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon balm, Peppermint, Rosemary.
Cholagogue – A substance that increases the release of stored bile from the gall bladder.
Barberry, Blue flag, Butternut, Cloves, Dandelion root, Fringe tree, Gentian, Globe artichoke, Greater celandine, Peppermint, Yellow dock.
Circulatory stimulant – A substance that improves blood flow through peripheral body tissues. Circulatory stimulants are warming and they support vitality in the body tissues.
Bayberry, Cayenne, Ginger (peripheral), Ginkgo, Horseradish, Prickly ash, Rosemary.
CNS stimulant – A substance that stimulates the CNS increasing alertness.
Cognition enhancing – A substance that facilitates learning, memory or concentration.
Bacopa, Ginkgo, Korean ginseng, Paeonia
Collagen stabilizing – A substance that stabilizes collagen and protects collagen from degradation. Connective tissue tone is thereby improved.
Grape seed, Hawthorn (leaf & berry)
Counterirritant – A substance that produces a superficial inflammation of the skin in order to relieve a deeper inflammation e.g. in muscles, joints & ligments.
Demulcent – A substance that has a soothing effect on mucous membranes e.g. within the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts.
Chickweed, Comfrey, Fenugreek, Liquorice, Marshmallow (root & leaf), Mullein, Ribwort, Slippery elm, Sundew, Violet leaf.
Diaphoretic – A substance that controls a fever often by promoting sweating. They are also known as sudorifics.
Angelica root, Bayberry, Boneset, Bupleurum, Cayenne, Chamomile, Chaparral, Elder flower, Elecampane, Ginger, Golden rod, Hemidesmus, Hyssop, Lemon balm, Lime flowers, Peppermint, Pleurisy root, Prickly ash, Vervain (mild), Violet leaf, Yarrow.
Diuretic – A substance that increases urinary output.
Astragalus, Buchu (mild), Celery seed, Corn silk, Couch grass(soothing), Dandelion leaf, Dandelion root, Globe artichoke, Golden rod, Gravel root, Green tea, Horsetail, Hydrangea, Juniper (mild), Kola nut (mild), Shatavari, Terminalia arjuna (mild).
Diuretic depurative – A substance that assists detoxification of the body by the kidneys.
Burdock, Celery seed, Cleavers, Globe artichoke, Gravel root.
Dopaminergic agonist – A substance that binds to and activates dopamine receptors.
Emmenagogue – A substance that initiates and promotes the menstrual flow. Several of these herbs are also regarded as abortifacients.
Blue cohosh, Feverfew (in high doses), Motherwort, Mugwort.
Emollient – A substance used to soothe, soften or protect skin.
Marshmallow (root & leaf), Slippery elm.
Expectorant – A substance that improves the clearing of excess mucus from the lungs by either altering the production and viscosity of mucus or improving the cough reflex.
Adhatoda, Angelica root, Aniseed, Beth root (mild), Chen pi, Elecampane, Fennel, Grindelia, Ground ivy, Hyssop, Liquorice, Mullein, Pelargonium, Pleurisy root, Polygala, Sundew, Thyme, Violet leaf, White horehound, Kumerahou
Female tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the female reproductive system.
Galactogogue – A substance that increases breast milk production.
Aniseed, Chaste tree, Fennel, Fenugreek, Goat’s rue, Shatavari, Vervain
Healing promoter – A substance that promotes the healing of tissue.
Hepatoprotective – A substance that protects the hepatocytes (liver cells) against toxic damage.
Andrographis, Bupleurum, Dan shen, Globe artichoke, Phyllanthus, St Mary’s thistle, Rosemary, Schisandra, Terminalia arjuna, Astragalus
Hepatorestorative – A substance that restores the integrity of liver tissue.
Globe artichoke, St Mary’s thistle
Hypnotic – A substance that induces drowsiness and sleep. They are also known as soporifics.
California poppy, Corydalis, Hops, Kava, Mexican valerian, Passionflower, Valerian, Zizyphus.
Hypocholesterolaemic – A substance that reduces the level of cholesterol in blood.
Albizzia, Fenugreek, Garlic, Globe artichoke, Green tea, Gymnema, Polygonum multiflorum, Terminalia arjuna, Tienchi ginseng
Hypolipidaemic – A substance that reduces the lipid level (cholesterol & triglycerides) of blood.
Fenugreek, Globe artichoke, Gymnema, Turmeric
Hypotensive – A substance that reduces blood pressure.
Astragalus, Black haw, Coleus, Cramp bark, Dan shen, Garlic, Hawthorn (leaf & berry), Inula racemosa, Mistletoe, Motherwort, Olive leaf, Zizyphus
Immune depressant – A substance that reduces immune function and is used particularly where part of the immune system is overactive.
Immune enhancing – A substance that enhances immune function.
Andrographis, Astragalus, Baptisia, Cat’s claw, Echinacea root, Elder berry, Pau d’Arco, Poke root.
Immune modulating – A substance that modulates and balances the activity of the immune system.
Echinacea root, Korean ginseng, Pelargonium, reishi, Sheep sorrel, Shiitake, Siberian ginseng, Withania
Laxative – A substance that facilitates evacuation of the bowel.
Aloes resin, Blue flag, Butternut, Cascara, Damiana (mild), Dandelion root, Dong quai (mild), Fringe tree (mild), Greater celandine (mild), liquorice (mild), Rhubarb root, Senna pods, Slippery elm, Yellow dock (mild)
Local anaesthetic – A substance that removes sensation or pain when applied locally.
Lymphatic – A substance that assists detoxification by its effect on the lymphatic tissue; often also improves immune function. They are often used when the lymph glands (nodes) are enlarged or tender.
Baptisia, Blue flag, Calendula, Clivers, Echinacea root, Myrrh, Poke root.
Male tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the male reproductive system.
Korean ginseng, Saw palmetto
Metabolic stimulant – A substance that boosts basal metabolic rate.
Mucoprotective – A substance that protects the mucous membranes, especially in the context of the GI linings.
Mucous membrane tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the mucous membranes (particularly of the respiratory tract).
Mucous membrane trophrestorative – A substance that restores the integrity of mucous membranes e.g. in the respiratory and digestive tracts.
Nervine tonic/nervine – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the nervous system. Nerve tonics relax and energise the nervous system.
Bacopa, Damiana, Gotu kola, Green oats, Motherwort, Oats seed, Pasque flower, Polygonum multiflorum, Schisandra, Skullcap, St John’s wort, Vervain.
Neuroprotective – A substance that helps prevent damage to the brain or spinal cord from ischaemia, stroke, convulsions or trauma.
Nutritive – A substance that has a nutritive effect on the body (provides nutrients).
Alfalfa, nettle, slippery elm, oats
Orexigenic – A substance that stimulates appetite.
Fennel, Fenugreek, Mugwort
Oestrogen modulating – A substance that acts by subtle, poorly understood mechanisms to promote oestrogen production and/or effects in the body. The activity may involve interaction with secondary oestrogen receptors such as those in the hypothalamus. Used to balance hormonal effects, promote fertility and alleviate menopausal symptoms.
Alfalfa, Aniseed, Black cohosh, Fennel, False unicorn root, Hops, Paeonia, Wild yam.
Ovarian tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the ovaries.
Blue cohosh, False unicorn root
Oxytocic – A substance that causes contraction in the uterine muscle in association with giving birth.
Adhatoda, Blue cohosh, Golden seal (reputed), Schisandra
Parturifacient – A substance that induces labour and assists in the efficient delivery of the foetus and placenta.
Raspberry leaf, Squaw vine
Partus preparatory – A substance taken in preparation for labour and childbirth. Treatment usually begins in the second trimester.
Raspberry leaf, Squaw vine
Peripheral vasodilator – A substance that dilates or widens the peripheral blood vessels and thereby improves circulation to peripheral tissues and may assist in reducing blood pressure.
Cramp bark, Hawthorn (leaf & berry), Lime flowers, Mistletoe, Yarrow
Progesterogenic – A substance that promotes the effect or production of progesterone.
Chaste tree (indirectly)
Prolactin inhibitor – A substance that inhibits the secretion of prolactin.
Pungent – A hot-tasting substance that acts upon a common group of nerve cell receptors having the effect of warming the body and improving digestion and circulation.
Cayenne, Ginger, Horseradish, Garlic
Refrigerant – A substance that has cooling properties, particularly when applied to the skin.
Sedative – A substance that reduces activity particularly in the nervous system and decreases nervous tension. It may alleviate pain, anxiety or spasm and induce sleep.
Bugleweed, California poppy, Chamomile, Cramp bark, Corydalis, Hops, Hyssop, Jamaica dogwood, Kava, Lemon balm, Lime flowers, Mexican valerian, Mistletoe, Passionflower, Peppermint, Polygala, Skullcap, True unicorn, Valerian, Wild cherry, Withania, Wood betony, Zizyphus.
Sexual tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the sexual organs.
Sialogogue – A substance that increases the secretion of the salivary glands.
Echinacea root, Gentian, Prickly ash
Skeletal muscle relaxant – A substance that relaxes skeletal muscle tone.
Kava, Paeonia (mild)
Styptic – A substance that stops bleeding when applied locally.
Calendula, Cranesbill, Horsetail, Nettle leaf, Rhubarb root, Ribwort, Shepherd’s purse, Witch Hazel leaf, Yarrow.
Thymoleptic – A substance that elevates mood.
Kola nut, Oats seed, Vervain, Korean ginseng, Rosemary, Damiana
Thyroid stimulant – A substance that enhances the activity of the thyroid gland.
Tissue perfusion enhancing – A substance that enhances the flow of nutrients into a tissue.
Tonic – A substance that improves the tone, vigour and function of the whole body. Tonics can give a boost in energy.
Astragalus, Codonopsis, Damiana, Korean ginseng, Oats seed, Reishi, Rhodiola, Shatavari, Tribulus leaf, Withania
TSH antagonist – A substance that blocks the activity of TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone)
Urinary antiseptic – A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys micro-organisms within the urinary tract.
Bearberry, Buchu, Juniper, Meadowsweet (mild), Shepherd’s purse.
Urinary demulcent – A substance that has a soothing effect on mucous membranes of the urinary tract.
Corn silk, Couch grass
Uterine antihaemorrhagic – A substance that reduces menstrual flow when taken internally.
Beth root, Ladies mantle, Shepherd’s purse, Tienchi ginseng
Uterine spasmolytic – A substance that helps alleviate and reduce uterine spasm.
Black cohosh, Black haw, Blue cohosh, Cramp bark, Motherwort, Paeonia, pasque flower, Wild yam
Uterine tonic – A substance that increases the tone of the uterine muscle.
Beth root, Black cohosh, Blue cohosh, False unicorn root, True unicorn
Vasoprotective – A substance that protects the integrity of the blood vessels, especially the fine and more delicate ones.
Bilberry, Grape seed
Venotonic – A substance that improves the tone and function of the veins.
Butcher’s broom, Grape seed, Horsechestnut.
Vulnerary – A substance that promotes the healing of wounds when applied locally.
Calendula, Chamomile, Comfrey, Cranesbill, Dan shen, Echinacea root, Golden seal, Gotu kola, Greater celandine (topically), Mullein, Myrrh, Propolis, Ribwort, St John’s wort, Yarrow.
Thanks for reading if this benefited you, please share!
Do comment below for questions or you’d like me to cover something.
Peace, Love & Healing,
- Bone, K. & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy (2nd ed.). Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
- Bone, K. (2007). The ultimate herbal compendium: A desktop guide for herbal prescribers.
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