Terms of the Trade: Adaptogen

Terms of the Trade: Adaptogen

This is still a fairly controversial term among the herbal community, especially with the more grass-roots practitioners. Not all of us feel that it is useful as an action or category because it artificially lumps together herbs from several other classes in what is essentially a scientifically created box. I don’t personally categorize herbs this way, preferring many of the traditional, vitalist or organ system specific actions/terms to this more modern one. Nevertheless, the word has become fairly mainstream at this point and its meaning needs to be understood by any herbalist (or for that matter, any person that reads herb books and blogs). Below is the definition by the term’s creators, my distilled definition and the definitions of several notable practicing...

Terms of the Trade: Trophorestorative

Terms of the Trade: Trophorestorative

A trophorestorative is an herb, food or other substance that acts as a nutritive restorative for the body, usually with a strong affinity for an organ or organ system and corrects deficiency and weakness not simply through temporary stimulation but through the vital nourishment of that organ or organ system. It is a tonic in the deepest sense of the word, in that it provides substance for the building up of strength and function. It order to be a true trophorestorative it must not bring harm or have undue side effects and be able to be used over a long period of time safely. Also, while many herbs are nutritives, trophorestoratives are unique in that they can restore actual physical function to a debilitated organ or tissue, as is the case with Nettle Seed...

Terms of the Trade: Demulcent

ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: from Latin demulcent- ‘stroking caressingly,’ Demulcents are herbs that contain noticeable amounts of a carbohydrate (a polysaccharide, actually) called mucilage that moistens, cools heat, lessens inflammation and often stimulates local immune response. It was once thought that demulcents could only effect the surfaces they came in contact with, but it is now known that, through whatever mechanism, they are able to systemically moisten the whole body, some people call this the indirect demulcent effect. This means they can provide much needed moisture to places like the lungs where the physical matter of the herb will not touch during ingestion or digestion. Demulcents are one of the easiest herbal actions to recognize. In fact, you can...

Terms of the Trade: Aromatics (Carminatives and other Movers and Shakers)

Aromatics are easy to spot. Their strong signature aromas and tastes are dead giveaways. In fact – technically- aromatic is a taste, not an action. The proper action here should likely be labeled carminative (aromatic digestive herbs, generally). However, this action seems to have gotten pigeon-holed as only those herbs which release gas, and that’s a rather limiting definition of a very important class of herbs. I have thus melded a few different actions into one nontypical (at least in modern Western herbalism) category. This is how I tend to view them and how they make sense to me personally. Clinically, I find if very useful to combine the carminative and other aromatic subcategories into this main heading. The primary action is that of movement with...

Terms of the Trade 4: Bitters

Up until this point, I’ve kept my terms of the trade series very short and to the point. I’m afraid that this post breaks that trend a bit, leaning more towards the long-winded. The thing is, bitters are some of our most effective and widely applicable medicines. They are also easy to come buy and simple to integrate into our lives. The longstanding popularity of proprietary bitter formulas bespeaks the usefulness of such preparations. Very simply, a bitter is an herb with a predominantly bitter taste, and the activation of that taste in the mouth stimulates the secretion of digestive juices throughout the body. By necessity then, bitters must be tasted in order work their magic. Bitters stimulate the activity of the digestive organs, triggering or...

Terms of the Trade 3: Astringent

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to those Alterative differentials I promised sometime in the near future. For now let’s deal with an often misunderstood herbal action: astringency. In the most physical sense, astringents are those substances that tighten tissues on contact, resulting in that puckery mouth feeling so familiar to anyone who’s ever bitten into a green apple, tasted too strong black tea or chewed on a green banana peel. There’s a tendency to label astringents as herbs that dry the tissues out, but this is an oversimplification. In reality, astringents contract tissue and thus tonify. This can serve to lessen inflammation or irritation, strengthen weakened tissue and therefor provide a stronger barrier against infection, and...