Glossary of Botanical / Medical Terms

By no means is this glossary exhaustive, but it may help you to demystify some of the terms often used in our site as well as other sites or books.

Abortifacient:
Induces the premature expulsion (abortion) of a fetus. Same meaning as Ecbolic. For example, pennyroyal.
Adaptogenic:
Helping the human organism adapt to stressful conditions.
Ague:
An intermittent fever, sometimes with chills, as in malaria.
Alkaloid:
A large, varied group of complex nitrogen-containing compounds, usually alkaline, that react with acids to form soluble salts, many of which have physiological effects on humans. Includes nicotine, cocaine, caffeine, etc.
Alterative:
A medicinal substance that gradually restores health.
Amenorrhea:
Absence or suppression of menstruation.
Analgesic:
A pain-relieving medicine.
Anhydrotic:
Stops sweating.
Anodyne:
A pain-relieving medicine, milder than analgesic.
Antacid:
Neutralizes the acid produced by the stomach.
Anthelmintic:
An agent that destroys and expels worms from the intestines. Same as vermifuge.
Anti-aphrodisiac:
Suppressing sexual desire.
Antibacterial:
Destroys or stops the growth of bacteria.
Antibilious:
An herb that combats biliousness. The term biliousness refers to a group of symptoms consisting of nausea, abdominal discomfort, headache, constipation, and gas that is caused by an excessive secretion of bile.
Antibiotic:
An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of, or kills, a living organism; usually used in reference to bacteria or other microorganisms.
Anti-convulsant:
Reducing or relieving convulsions or cramps.
Anti-emetic:
Prevents or alleviates nausea and vomiting.
Anti-epileptic:
An agent that combats the convulsions or seizures of epilepsy.
Antifungal:
An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of fungi, or kills them outright.
Antigalactagogue:
Prevents or decreases secretion of milk.
Antihistaminic:
Neutralizing the effect or inhibiting production of histamine.
Anti-inflammatory:
Reducing or neutralizing inflammation.
Anti-lithic:
Aids in preventing the formation of stones in the kidneys and bladder.
Antimicrobial:
An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of microorganisms, or kills them.
Anti-oxidant:
Preventing oxidation; a preservative.
Antiparasitical:
Destructive to parasites.
Anti-periodic:
Prevents the periodic recurrence of attacks of a disease; as in malaria.
Antiphlogistic:
An agent that counteracts inflammation.
Antipyretic:
Reduces fever. Same as febrifuge or refrigerant.
Anti-rheumatic:
An agent that relieves or cures rheumatism.
Antiscorbutic:
An agent effective against scurvy.
Antiseptic:
Preventing sepsis, decay, putrefaction; also, an agent that kills germs, microbes.
Antispasmodic:
Preventing or relieving spasms or cramps.
Anti-syphilitic:
Herbs that improve or cure syphilis. Also called antileutic.
Antitumor:
Preventing or effective against tumors or cancers.
Antitussive:
Preventing or relieving cough.
Antivenomous:
Acts against poisonous matter from animals and snakes.
Antiviral:
An agent that inhibits growth or multiplication of viruses, or kills them.
Antizymotic:
Herbs that can destroy disease-producing organisms.
Aperient:
Causes a gentle bowel movement.
Aphasia:
Inability to express oneself properly through speech or loss of verbal comprehension; sensory and motor areas may be involved.
Aphrodisiac:
Increasing or exciting sexual desire.
Apoplexy:
The result of a stroke (cerebrovascular accident (CVA)).
Aromatic:
Agents which emit a fragrant smell and produce a pungent taste. Used chiefly to make other medicines more palatable.
Ascaris:
Roundworm (also called maw-worm and eelworm) found in the small intestine causing colicky pains and diarrhea, especially in children.
Ascites:
Excessive accumulation of serous fluid in the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity.
Asthenia:
Lack or loss of strength, usually involving muscular system.
Astringent:
An agent that causes tissue to contract.
Bactericidal:
An agent that kills bacteria.
Balsam:
The resin of a tree that is healing and soothing. Example: myrrh
Bitter tonic:
Bitter-tasting properties which stimulate the flow of saliva and gastric juice. Used to increase the appetite and aid in the process of digestion.
Bolus:
A suppository injected into the rectum or vagina.
Calmative:
An agent with mild sedative or calming effects.
Cardioactive:
Affecting the heart.
Carminative:
An agent that relieves and removes gas from the digestive system.
Cataplasm:
Another name for poultice.
Catarrh:
An inflammation of the mucous membranes with a free discharge. This has special reference to the air passages of the head and throat. For example; hayfever, rhinitis, influenza, bronchitis, pharyngitis, asthma.
Cathartic:
A powerful purgative or laxative, causing severe evacuation, with or without pain.
Cephalic:
Referring to diseases affecting the head and upper part of the body.
Cholagogue:
An agent that increases bile flow to the intestines.
Chorea:
Nervous disorder marked by muscular twitching of arms, legs and face.
CNS:
Central nervous system.
Condiment:
Enhances the flavor of food.
Cordial:
A stimulating medicine or drink.
Counterirritant:
An agent that produces inflammation or irritation when applied locally to affect another, usually irritated surface to stimulate circulation. (Example: a mustard plaster or liniment).
Cystitis:
Inflammation of the urinary bladder.
Cytotoxic:
An agent that is toxic to certain organs, tissues, or cells.
Decoction:
A preparation made by boiling a plant part in water. Compare with Infusion.
Demulcent:
An agent that is locally soothing and softening.
Demulcent febrifuge:
Reduces heat while building bodily fluids.
Deobstruent:
Removes obstructions by opening natural passages or pores of the body.
Depurative:
Tends to purify and cleanse the blood. Same as blood purifier.
Dermatomycoses:
Skin infection caused by fungi.
Detergent:
An agent that cleanses boils, sores, wounds, etc.
Detoxicant:
Removes toxins.
Diaphoretic:
An agent that induces sweating.
Digestant:
Contains substances (i.e. ferments, acids) which aid in digestion.
Digestive:
An agent that promotes digestion.
Discutient:
An agent that dissolves or causes something, such as a tumor, to disappear. Also called discussive.
Diuretic:
An agent that induces urination.
Drastic:
A violent purgative.
Dropsy:
Generalized edema (swelling).
Dyskinesia:
Defect in voluntary movement.
Dyspnea:
Sense of difficulty in breathing, often associated with lung or heart disease.
Ecbolic:
See abortifacient.
Emetic:
An agent that induces vomiting.
Emmenagogue:
A substance that promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid.
Emollient:
An agent that softens and soothes the skin when applied locally.
Enteritis:
Inflammation of the small intestine.
Enterorrhagia:
Hemorrhage from the intestine.
Enuresis:
Involuntary urination.
Ephidrosis:
Abnormal amount of sweating.
Epigastric:
Upper middle region of the abdomen.
Eructation:
Belching.
Erysipelis:
An acute disease of skin and subcutaneous tissue with spreading inflammation and swelling.
Esculent:
Edible or fit for eating.
Estrogenic:
A substance that induces female hormonal activity.
Exanthematous:
Refers to any eruptive disease or fever. An herbal remedy for skin eruptions such as measles, scarlet fever, etc.
Exophthalmic:
Protrusion of the eyeball.
Expectorant:
An agent that induces the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs.
Farinaceous:
Of the nature of flour or meal. Starchy or containing starch.
Febrifuge:
That which reduces fever. Same as antipyretic or refrigerant.
Fistula:
Abnormal tubelike passage from a normal cavity or tube to a free surface or to another cavity.
Flux:
Excessive flow or discharge. For example, in dysentery or excessive menstruation.
Fungicidal:
An agent that kills fungi.
Galactagogue:
Promotes secretion of milk.
Gastralgia:
Pain in the stomach.
Gastroenteritis:
Inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract.
Gastroptosis:
Condition in which the stomach occupies an abnormally low position in the abdomen.
Gleet:
A urethral discharge, either of mucus or pus; commonly seen in the chronic form of gonorrheal urethritis.
Hemiplegia:
Paralysis of one half of the body.
Hemostatic:
An agent that checks bleeding.
Hepatic:
An herb that promotes the well-being of the liver and increases the secretion of bile. For example; golden seal.
Herpatic:
A remedy for skin eruptions, ringworm, etc.
Homeopathic:
Relating to homeopathy, a system of medicine founded in the late 1700’s by Samuel Hahnemann. The system is based on the principle that “like cures like”. Practitioners believe that a substance that produces a set of symptoms in a well person will, in minute,” potentized” doses, cure those same symptoms in a diseased individual.
Homeostasis:
Equilibrium of internal environment.
Hydrogogue:
Promotes watery evacuation of bowels.
Hydrophobia:
Rabies.
Hyperchlorhydria:
Excess of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretion.
Hypertensive:
Causing or marking a rise in blood pressure.
Hypochondriac:
Upper lateral region on each side of the body and below the thorax; beneath the ribs.
Hypnotic:
Tends to produce sleep.
Hypoglycemic:
Causing a deficiency of blood sugar.
Hypotensive:
Causing or marking a lowering of blood pressure.
Immunostimulant:
Stimulating various functions or activities of the immune system.
Infusion:
A preparation made by soaking a plant part in hot water (or cold water, for a cold infusion); in essence, a “tea”. Compare Decoction. Intercostal: Between the ribs.
Laxative:
A mild purgative. An herb that acts to promote evacuation of the bowels.
Leukorrhea:
A whitish, viscid discharge from the vagina.
Lithotriptic:
Causing the dissolution or destruction of stones in the bladder or kidneys.
Lung fever:
A severe lung infection, as pneumonia.
Maturating:
An agent that promotes the maturing or bringing to a head of boils, carbuncles, etc.
Menorrhagia:
Excessive bleeding during menstruation.
Mitogenic:
An agent that affects cell division.
Monoplegia:
Paralysis of a single limb or a single group of muscles.
Mortification:
Gangrene.
Moxa:
A dried herb substance burned on or above the skin to stimulate an acupuncture point or serve as a counterirritant. A famous technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine, using dried, pressed leaves of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).
Mucilaginous:
Pertaining to or resembling or containing mucilage: slimy. Herbs that have a soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes.
Mydriatic:
Dilates the pupil.
Narcotic:
An addicting substance that reduces pain and produces sleep.
Nauseant:
An herb that causes nausea and vomiting. Somewhat similar to an emetic.
Nervine:
An agent that affects, strengthens, or calms the nerves.
Neurasthenia:
Severe nerve weakness; nervous exhaustion.
Neurodermatitis:
Inflammation of skin with itching that is associated with emotional disturbance.
Nutrient or Nutritive:
Nourishing, increases weight and density.
Ophthalmic:
Healing for disorders and diseases of the eye.
Ophthalmicum:
A remedy for diseases of the eye.
Osteomyelitis:
Inflammation of the bone, especially the marrow.
Oxyuris:
Genus of nematode intestinal worms which includes pinworms (also called threadworm and seatworm).
Panacea:
An agent good for what ails you, or what doesn’t ail you. A “cure-all”.
Parturient:
A substance that induces and promotes labor.
Pectoral:
Relieves disorders of the chest and lungs, as an expectorant.
Phagocytosis:
Ingestion and digestion of bacteria and particles by phagocytes.
Plethora:
Overfullness of blood vessels or of the total quantity of any fluid in the body.
Portal:
Concerning entrance to an organ, especially that through which blood is carried to liver.
Poultice:
A moist, usually warm or hot mass of plant material applied to the skin, or with cloth between the skin and plant material, to effect a medicinal action.
Prophylactic:
Agent which wards off disease.
Pruritis:
Severe itching.
Pterygium:
Opaque triangular thickening of tissue extending from inner canthus to border or cornea with apex toward the pupil of the eye.
Puerperal:
Period following childbirth.
Pungent:
Irritating or shapely painful. Producing a sharp sensation of taste or smell.
Purgative:
An agent that causes cleansing or watery evacuation of the bowels, usually with griping (painful cramps).
Pyelitis:
Inflammation of the pelvis of the kidney and its calices.
Quicksilver:
An old term for mercury.
Quinsy:
Peritonsillar abscess or tonsillitis.
Refrigerant:
Relieves fever and thirst. A cooling remedy. Lowers body temperature.
Relaxant:
Tends to relax and relieve tension, especially muscular tension.
Resolvent:
Promotes the resolving and removing of abnormal growths, such as a tumor.
Rhinitis:
Inflammation of nasal mucosa.
Rubefacient:
An agent that causes reddening or irritation when applied to the skin.
Saponin:
A glycoside compound in plants, which, when shaken with water, has a foaming or “soapy” action.
Scald head:
Ringworm, or some similar affliction, of the scalp. May also refer to a disease of the hair follicles with formation of small yellow crusts and a very offensive odor; usually affects the scalp.
Scorbutic:
Concerning or affected with scurvy.
Scrofula:
Tuberculosis involving the lymph nodes of the neck, usually occurs in early life. Now very rarely seen.
Sedative:
Calms the nerves, allays excitement, induces relaxation, and is conducive to sleep.
Sialagogue:
Promotes the flow of saliva.
Sleeping disease:
Sleeping sickness; commonly found in Africa. Also viral encephalitis in which lethargy is a prominent feature.
Soporific:
Herbs that help to produce sleep.
Spasmolytic:
Checking spasms or cramps.
Specific:
A remedy having a curative effect on a particular disease or symptom.
Spermatorrhea:
Abnormally frequent involuntary loss of semen without orgasm.
Spondylosis:
Abnormal immobility and fixation of vertebral joints.
Stimulant:
An agent that causes increased activity of another agent, cell, tissue, organ, or organism.
Stomachic:
Substances which give strength and tone to the stomach. Also used to stimulate the appetite.
Strangury:
A slow and painful passage of the urine due to spasm of the urethra and urinary bladder.
Styptic:
Checking bleeding by contracting blood vessels.
Subcostal:
Beneath the ribs.
Sudorific:
Herbs that cause heavy perspiration.
Tetters:
A once popular name for various eczematous skin diseases. May also refer to a skin disease of animals communicable to man with intense itching.
Tincture:
A diluted alcohol solution of plant parts.
Tinea capitis:
Fungal skin disease of the scalp.
Tisane:
A term used frequently in Europe referring to popular herbal infusions, such as chamomile flowers, etc., which are commonly taken as a beverage or for mildly medicinal effects.
Teratogen:
A substance that can cause the deformity of a fetus.
Tonic:
An ambiguous term referring to a substance thought to have an overall positive medicinal effect of an unspecified nature (see adaptogenic).
Tuberculostatic:
Arresting the tubercle bacillus (the germ responsible for causing tuberculosis).
Uterotonic:
Having a positive effect on an unspecified nature of the uterus.
Vasoconstrictor:
An agent that causes blood vessels to constrict, or narrow the caliber.
Vasodepressant:
Lowers blood pressure by dilatation of blood vessels; having a depressing influence on circulation.
Vasodilator:
An agent that causes blood vessels to relax and dilate.
Vermicidal:
Having worm-killing properties; an agent that kills worms; a vermifuge. Also Vermicide.
Vermifuge:
Having worm-killing properties; an agent that kills worms.
Vesicant:
An agent that causes blistering, such as poison ivy.
Vulnerary:
An agent or herb used for healing wounds, fresh cuts, etc., usually used as a poultice.
Whites:
See leukorrhea.
Zymotic:
Caused by or pertaining to any infectious or contagious disease.