Common Terms Used in the Quest for Herbal Remedies

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herbal tea (2)For many of us, the migration toward independence and self-reliance includes having a knowledge of herbal remedies.  There are many reasons for this not the least of which is the lack of traditional, western medicines in a post SHTF world.  But even in a world without problems and global uncertainties, the benefit of using herbal remedies are immense.  For the most part they are inexpensive, easy to administer and safe.

As you begin to learn about herbals, you may find that you are faced with a myriad of confusing terms.  What is a tincture?  How about an infusion?  What is all this business about an active principal?

Today I am reaching into the archives of some of my own reference books to bring you a dictionary of common terms that are used in the quest for herbal remedies.  While not all inclusive, the following list includes some of the most common terms used when describing herbals uses for self-treatment.

herbal book

Herbal Medicine: What Some of Those Terms Really Mean

Active Principle:  A plant chemical proven to have medical effect.

Antiseptic:  A substance that prevents or stops the growth of microorganisms that cause infection.

Astringent:  A substance the draws together the soft tissues such as skin or mucous membranes.

Decoction:  A drink or liquid extract made by boiling plant bark, roots, berries or seeds in water.

Diuretic:  A substance that increases the flow of urine.

Emollient:  A substance that softens and soothes the skin and mucous membranes.

Essential Oil:  A plant oil that  vaporizes readily and is often obtained by steam distillation.

Expectorant:  A substance that loosens and helps to expel phlegm.

Herbal Tea:  A beverage made from steeping or boiling herbs.

Infusion:  A preparation in which flowers, leaves or stems are steeped in water that is not boiling.

Liquid extract:  Concentrated infusion made by soaking an herb in distilled water, grain alcohol, or glycerin for a long period.

Mucous membrane:  Lining of body passage, such as the throat, that protects itself with secretions of mucus.

Photosensitivity:  Sensitivity to sunlight, resulting in rash or burning sensation, brought on by ingestion or application of certain substances.

Plaster:  Gauze or cloth in which medicine has been wrapped.  A plaster is typically applied to the skin.

Poultice:  An herbal preparation that is usually applied directly to the affected area to relieve pain or swelling.

Purgative:  A very strong laxative.

Tannins:  Astringent and bitter compounds found in the seeds and skins of grapes, which slow oxidation and aging.

Tincture:  An herbal liquid extract that generally involves macerating the herb in alcohol.

Volatile Oil:  A plant oil that vaporizes readily and is often obtained by steam distillation, used interchangeably with essential oil.

Wash:  A liquid herbal medicine preparation for external use.

The Final Word

Having some knowledge of the terms used in herbal medicine will help you when choosing the best method to administer your self-healing remedy.  Whether are growing your own herbs (see Nine Healing Herbs You Can Grow Yourself in a Healing Garden) or purchasing fresh herbs from a farmer’s market or herbalist, learning to take care of yourself using natural remedies can greatly enhance your ability to take care of your health when there is no other resource available.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


From the Bargain Bin: Today I present some suggested books on the topic of herbal healing and aromatherapy. Speaking of aromatherapy, if you are just getting started, get some clove, tea tree and lavender essential oils and everything else can follow as budget allows. Also, be sure to read my article Essential Oils for the Survival Kit.

Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies: Rosemary Gladstar is the mother of modern herbalism. Her wisdom and vision have inspired an entire generation of herbal healers, and her insights into the healing power of plants have helped people everywhere embrace more natural, healthy, and radiant lives.

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: I first became interested in aromatherapy and essential oils in the early 90s which was before they really became mainstream. I read every book I could get my hands on and dabbled at creating synergy’s (a combination of two or more oils that create a chemical compound that is greater than the some of its individual components). My bible then, and even now, is this book.

Aromatherapy for Dummies: Another good book that will help you get started understanding and using Aromatherapy. And you know how I love the “dummies” book series.

Clove Oil: Clove oil should be a component of every survival first aid kit. You have a multi-purpose product that takes up little room but solves a myriad of unwelcome and unexpected ailments. Travelers – this especially applies to you!

Top 14 Essential Oil Set: This well-priced set included Bergamot, Clary Sage, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Grapefruit, Lavender, Lemon, Lime, Patchouli, Peppermint, Rosemary, Spearmint, Orange & Tea Tree.

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Updated Jun 26, 2019

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15 Responses to “Common Terms Used in the Quest for Herbal Remedies”

  1. Most of what you read or think you know about herbal “medicine” is pure BS. There were (and may still be) some medicinal value in plants but in general what was useful was incorporated into science based medicine and what was useless was left to the voodoo crowd. There is no herbal medicine that is actually of any medicinal value. My measure of medicinal value is that it cures or prevents a disease/illness. There are herbs that are claimed to calm an upset stomach or might help relieve a headache but seriously do you call that medicine. Many of these plants are dangerous and people die every year from playing doctor with plants and other strange items. None of these plants actually “cure” anything. Pursuing herbal “medicine” is more then a waste of time it is a distraction from real medicine and may well kill you.

  2. I was going to respond to GoneWithTheWind’s rather ignorant comments but felt that engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed person is unfair.

    Understanding the healing power of plants would also require a vibration at a plant level that supersedes are our own dense vibration.

    I’m feeling kind today.

    • Dear MelonBall,

      After reading the conversation that took place between you and GWTW, a wise person once told me, “you cant argue with stupid so don’t bother.” You should have ended your conversation with GWTW after your initial reply. I believe in the medicinal powers of herbs. I’ve used turmeric for inflammation. It works the same way as Ibuprofen. I use Milk Thistle to keep my liver working in prime condition since there is so many toxins in todays world. I rather use herbs than man made meds. I’ve had a lot of people want to debate herbs used as meds but unless they are knowledgable in the subject I won’t debate. Stay educated on what you know to be helpful and pure. : ) Jill

  3. So take my challenge and name a plant/herb that actually cures a disease or prevents a disease. Alternatively if you have nothing useful to offer just continue to make ad hominem attacks.

  4. I have 1st hand experience with many herbs. The most dramatic experience was with Pau d’arco for cancer. I have routinely witnessed goldenseal work wonders on periodontal disease, bee balm for candida, hawthorn berry for heart issues to name a few.

    Herbs used in conjunction with a body, mind, spirit approach work at levels that will not be verified by science. Too much money in Rx to release any findings.

    I’m sorry you thought I was attacking you. I was following the tone you set in your opening statement, “Most of what you read or think you know about herbal “medicine” is pure BS.” Absolute statements are entertaining and I often find that there is a closed mind behind them.


  5. If you truely believe that Pau d’arco will cure cancer you owe it to yourself and the rest of mankind to prove it or at least open up a clinic and start saving lives. But you won’t. And you will die of one of the big three (heart attack, cancer and stroke) just like the rest of us. It won’t matter if you take Pau d’arco or bee balm. Why? Because herbalism, just like all the other “alternative medical beliefs” is pure voodoo/BS. By the way, “voodoo/BS” is a perfect description and that’s why I used it. People are dying from these phony beliefs, Steve Jobs for example. My only intent is to instill some skepticism and common sense. Too bad there isn’t a herb for that.

  6. Cheers, GWTW. You seemingly have it figured out through your filters.

    I’m always thankful when I bump into someone of your energy. Thank-you.

  7. You’re welcome. Now I have to go change my filter it’s been 3000 miles…

  8. What’s with the anger, folks? Many type of cancer cannot be cured. Modern medicine is still in “practice.” It’s labeled such for a reason. When modern medical “practice” drugs etc, are no longer available, we will be going back to the herbs of our ancestors & I hope that the “practitioners” out there will be able to know what they are doing & will be able to do it. There are NO absolutes except that we are all dying from the moment we are born. It’s what you do with that time in between that counts.
    Call me a 44yr nurse & military veteran.

  9. No anger. There are no viable herbs of our ancestors that will cure or prevent any disease. To claim that there is and encourage people to use them in place of science based medicine is crazy. The sad fact is if we ever get to a point (TEOTWAWKI or SHTF) where modern medicine is totally unavailable then the sick who depend on medications to live will die and we will revert to 19th century life spans and life expectancies. There are no magic herbs and miracle supplements. I will give you this; with common illnesses good care from a parent or nurse will dramatically improve the chances of survival and shorten the length of non-life threatening illness. Just knowing the value of sanitation and keeping the patient hydrated and fed will improve outcomes.

  10. Maybe you should check out this database and talk to some patients.


  11. As I am sure this will not persuade you to change your opinion here are a few more supporting stories.


  12. And let’s not forget this. This part in particular stands out to me “You’re nearly 300,000 times more likely to die from a preventable medical injury during a hospital stay. Pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than food supplements and 7,750 times more likely to kill you than herbal remedies.”


  13. Wouldn’t it be great! All rainbows and unicorns. Just eat these “superfoods” or smoke some dope and cure cancer! Ahh! It must be great to live in LALA land…

    No doubt about it. Medicines are powerful and if taken improperly they can cause side effects and een kill you. What a great world we live in that you have freedom to make those choices. Don’t see a doctor or take medicine if you don’t want to. I prefer to be careful and use medicine as prescribed. But you can do what you like.

  14. I’m just now reading this article, so forgive the late reply.
    All of the medicines that our doctors are using are originally plant based. The problem is….they are chemical fakes of the original constituent of the plant that actually works to cure/ease medical problems, hence the horrid side-effects of the pharmaceutical offerings. Mother nature doesn’t just use ONE thing to help us cure or ease our medical conditions, there is more than one thing in the plant that helps that “one thing” work much better.
    Our ancestors weren’t stupid people. They were like our modern physicians….using trial and error to effect a cure/easing of the human and animal illnesses. It has been this way since the beginning of human-kind. Always trial and error to medicine….that is why they call it “medical practice”…they are always practicing….perfecting their “craft” of medicine. I’m not saying that mother nature’s pharmacopia doesn’t have side-effects, but they are most times much less severe than the pharmaceutical offerings.
    There has been much more research done around the world on herbs and their effectiveness than here in the U. S. where the pharmaceutical companies run things. If they were to actually allow viable research here in the U. S., they would loose billions of dollars in revenues. One cancer drug can cost tens of thousands of dollars for just one dose, when the medication itself may only cost them $10 to produce, and a few thousand dollars to research. They are covering their financial behinds and their stockholders when the drug quits working, or people die from the drug and they get sued. More deaths and injuries are caused by medicine (the medicine itself as well as by improper useage of it by physicians (using it for other things than what it was created for), surgeries, etc.) than we all know or are being told.
    Have you seen how many lawyers are advertising in print and on TV for “bad drugs” or “bad medical devices” the past few years? They aren’t helping you sue whomever for no reason. There IS a reason, and this is the reason so many drugs and procedures are so flipping expensive. They aren’t suing the doctor….they are suing the manufacturers of the drugs or devices. Not a cheap undertaking when one person can receive over a million dollars for one of their “bad” drugs or devices causing permanent injury or death.


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