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Common Herb Terms Every Nutritional Therapy Practitioner or Consultant Needs To Know

Aug 10, 2017 | Nutrition Articles | 0 comments

If you are new to learning about herbs, then you are going to have to become familiar with words such as: Adaptogens, Alteratives, Bitters, Carminatives etc. So I thought I would define the ones most commonly used along with a few of the plants that belong in each group.


This is a plant or material that helps us to cope better with physiological stressors that we deal with by living in this toxic industrial world. Adaptogens trigger the innate resources of vitality in our body to get to work and invigorate and protect the body.

An adaptogen is a plant that just about everyone on the planet could use right now.

  • Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng)
  • Vitamin C
  • Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom)
  • Curcuma longa (Turmeric)
  • Camellia sinensis (Green Tea)


This is an old term (whereas Adaptogen is a newer term). An alterative is sometimes referred to as a blood & lymph cleaner. It will help to “alter” the body to come back to “normal”. If an organ is performing in a hyper- or hypo- state, an alterative will bring it back to balance.

  • Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)
  • araxacum officinale (Dandelion)
  • Uritica dioica (Nettles)
  • Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)
  • Rumex crispus (Yellow Dock)


This is one of those terms that all nutritionists need to know. A bitter is an agent that will stimulate digestion. Bitters help to increase the performance of the Autonomic Nervous System, and they may act by stimulating the appetite. Bitters are also known to increase acid production and should be given about a half hour before a meal. Bitters increase the appetite, assist assimilation, and are indicated for loss of taste.

  • Gentian lutea (Gentian)
  • Humulus lupulus (Hops)
  • Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew)
  • Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)


These are aromatic herbs that will help the body to expel gas from the stomach and intestines. These herbs often contain volatile oils which have an effect on the digestive tract by toning mucous surfaces and increasing peristaltic action. Carminatives often taste good.

  • Foeniculum vulgar (Fennel)
  • Zingiber officinale (Ginger)
  • Mentha piperita (Peppermint)
  • Matricaria chamomilla (Chamomile)


These are plants that help with the secretion of bile from the gallbladder into the duodenum. Cholagogues are often bitter in nature and have a slight laxative effect on the body.

  • Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)
  • Cynara scolymus (Artichoke)
  • Aloe barbadensis (Aloe vera)
  • Rumex crispus (Yellowdock)


These are herbs that are rich in mucilage (slimy, like Okra). Mucilage is soothing, bland and offers protection to inflamed or irritated mucous surfaces. It is best to always use a demulcent when working with internal stones of any kind; it can protect the surrounding mucosa so that the passing stones don’t cause damage.

  • Trigonella foenum (Fenugreek seeds)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice root)
  • Althea officinale (Marshmallow root)
  • Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm bark)


Emollients are a lot like Demulcents, but are used on the outside of the body. Emollients have a protective and soothing action upon the skin. Please note the overlap with some of the Demulcents.

  • Trigonella foenum (Fenugreek seeds)
  • Althea officinale (Marshmallow root)
  • Stelleria media (Chickweed)
  • Sesame seed oil


These are herbs that promote perspiration (make you sweat!). Our skin is a semi-permeable membrane and is a vital part of our immune system. By causing the body to sweat, we can help to rid the body of toxins, therefore helping to improve the immune response.

  • Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset)
  • Zingiber officinale (Ginger)
  • Salvia officinalis (Sage)
  • Capsicum frutescens (Cayenne)


Diuretics help to increase urine from the kidneys and help to excrete excess fluid from the body. Most diuretics will cause the body to loose potassium. Dandelion is one of the exceptions, as it is loaded with potassium.

  • Taraxacum officinal (Dandelion root & leaf)
  • Urtica urens (Stinging Nettles)
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Uva Ursi, Bearberry)


These help to encourage your body to cough up mucus. They are especially useful with those dry, unproductive coughs. At first it may seem like the person is coughing more, but as the mucus is expelled from the body, s/he will no longer need to cough as much.

  • Grindelia squarrose (Gumweed)
  • Sticta pulmonaris (Lungwort lichen)
  • Populus gileadensis (Poplar buds) *personal favorite
  • Plantago major (Plantain) *personal favorite


I just love to say this word; it sounds like something right out of a science fiction book! It means an herb that helps a nursing mother to produce more milk for her baby.

  • Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle)
  • Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel)
  • Urtica urens (Stinging Nettles)


These herbs will help to calm, soothe, and strengthen the nervous system. In this age of “over doing”, a knowledge of nervines is good to have.

  • Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) *should not be used with low thyroid
  • Avena sativa (Green Oats in Milk) *personal favorite
  • Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)


These herbs assist in healing and soothing tissues inside and outside the body.

  • Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel)
  • Calendula officinalis (Calendula) *personal favorite
  • Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort)
  • Plantago major (Plantain) *personal favorite

I have not listed all the facts about each of these plants in order to encourage you to do some research on each of them yourselves. As you learn more about herbs, you will find that when you get those late-night emergency calls, you will be able to think outside the box and help your clients pull something out of the kitchen cupboard or backyard to help with their problem.