Actions All herbs have actions. Herbal actions help describe what the plant does for the body. Most herbs have multiple actions. 

Adaptogen  herbs helping to increase the body’s resistance to stress, mainly by supporting the function of adrenal glands. For an herb to qualify as an adaptogen, it must meet the following criteria:

1. Adaptogens are nontoxic in normal therapeutic doses.
2. They produce a non-specific state of resistance in the body to physical, emotional, or environmental stress. So they reduce the effects of stress, whether the source is psychological, physiological, noise, temperature, etc.
3. They have a normalizing (amphoteric) effect on the body, helping to restore normal physiologic function that has been altered by stress. This means if the immune system is depressed, adaptogens enhance the immune response. If the immune system is overactive—for instance with allergies—adaptogens help re-regulate the immune response, decreasing overactivity.

Aphrodisiac herbs intensify sexual desire. 

Alterative herbs gradually increase overall health and vitality. They help the body restore to its natural, proper function by promoting the body’s ability to eliminate waste through the main channels of elimination (kidneys, lymph, liver, skin, bowels or lungs). Alteratives are used to combat chronic inflammatory or degenerative conditions. 

Anti-Inflammatory herbs help the body fight inflammations. Anti-Inflammatories do not inhibit the body’s natural inflammatory reaction but rather support the cleansing work the body is doing. 

Anti-Microbial herbs that assist with the destruction or resistance of pathogenic micro-organisms. Anti-Microbials is a broad term and can be divided into the following groups:

  • Anti-Bacterial – Helps the body fight against and destroy bacterial infections
  • Anti-Fungal – Helps the body fight and destroy fungal infections
  • Anti-Viral – Helps the body fight against viruses or viral infections
  • Anti-Parasitic – Helps the body rid of parasites

Aromatic herbs have a strong oil based and often, but not always, pleasant scent. Aromatics are often used to stimulate the digestive system and are the basis of Aromatherapy. 

Astringent  herbs containing compounds that bind onto mucous membranes or skin, producing shrinkage or contraction of the tissue, and therefore reducing inflammation, irritation or bleeding, and creating a barrier against infections.

Cardiotonic or Cardiac Tonic are herbs that are beneficial to the heart. These herbs contain cardiac glycocides which strengthen and improve efficiency in the heart muscles. This allows the heart to pump blood all throughout the body, clearing stuck fluid, without needing more oxygen. 

Carminative plants, rich in aromatic volatile oils, which promote appropriate digestive system function, soothing the gut wall, reducing inflammation, easing gripping pains, and helping the body eliminate gas from the digestive tract.

Cholagogue herb compounds that stimulate the release of bile that has already been formed in the biliary system. Can help to decongest the liver, support digestion of fats, and prevent formation of gallstones.

Demulcent herbs high in mucilage, soothing and protecting surface area, such as irritated or inflamed mucosal tissue; these herbs reduce irritation in gut, diminish surface tension in the respiratory tract and relax painful spasms in the bladder.

Diaphoretic herbs promote the body to produce sweat. Sweating is one of the ways the body eliminates waste. Traditionally, used to increase sweat during a fever to help the body rid illness. 

Diuretic herbs increase the flow and release of urine from the body. They do this in two ways; by increasing blood flow to the kidney therefore producing more urine or by plant constiuents being removed via the kidney. Can be useful in treating Kidney infections and Kidney Stones.

Emmenagogue herbs help bring on menstrual flow and activity. In broader terms, Emmenagogues help stabilize the female reproductive system. 

Emetic herbs cause vomiting. The main use of these herbs are to empty the stomach in cases of poisoning. Emetics work by irritating either the stomach or nervous system. 

Emollient herbs are rich in compounds that soften and moisturize the skin

Expectorant herbs help the lungs get rid of excess mucus.

  • Relaxing Expectorants work by agitating the bronchiole lining causing expulsion of the mucus. 
  • Stimulating Expectorants work by soothing the bronchiole lining and loosening the mucus that is sometimes caused by the body producing a thinner mucus which draws up the stickier stuff from below.

Hepatic herbs improve the overall function of the liver by toning, strengthening and in some cases increasing bile flow. 

Hypnotic herbs induce deep and healing sleep. Some herbs do this through volatile oils and others through strong alkaloids. The volatile oils work by relaxing the muscles and easing the mind and the alkaloids work directly with the central nervous system, inducing sleep. 

Febrifuge herbs reduce fevers.

Galactagogue herbs help increase the flow of milk in nursing women. 

Hypotension herbs lower blood pressure in the body. Hypotension is a cold sign.

Laxative herbs stimulate the bowels, inducing bowel movements. Laxatives work powerfully opposed to Aperients which gently support the bowels. 


  • Relaxant or anxiolytic herbs act on the nervous system, easing anxiety and tension, soothing both body and mind
  • Stimulant or tonic herbs directly stimulate nerve activity

Pectoral herbs strengthen the lungs.

Rubefacient herbs work by increasing surface blood flow to the area of the skin where it is applied.

Sedative herbs calm the nerves and help reduce stress on the body. 

Spasmolytic or anti-spasmodic herbs ease muscle cramps. The compounds in these herbs alleviate muscular tension or reduce muscle spasms throughout the body; some herbs work on specific organs or organ systems.                  

Tonic  Herbs that nurture and enliven; usually whole plants that enliven whole body by supporting nourishment and repair.                  

Vulnerary herbs promoting wound healing; although the term is used mainly to describe skin-healing, this action is applicable and relevant for internal wound healing as well.