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Actions of Botanical Medicine

Botanicals comprise a wide range of activity within the body. Some botanicals are specific for one kind of action whereas some have multiple actions. Below is a list of the many possible actions that botanicals have on the body. The naturopathic doctor will decide which botanical actions are best used for your case and will prescribe accordingly. In many cases multiple botanicals can be used having a wide range or very specific effects on the body.


  • An action that improves the body’s adaptability to stress and stressful environments.
  • Enables the body to avoid reacting a point of collapse or over-stress because it can ‘adapt’ around the problem.
  • Adaptogens support adrenal gland and pituitary gland functioning which help to balance the hormone system.
  • ex. Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng


  • Herbs that will eventually restore the proper function of the body and increase health and vitality.
  • Known as ‘blood cleansers’ that purify the blood by removing harmful metabolites from circulation.
  • Alter the body’s processes of metabolism so tissues can deal with the range of functions of nutrition and elimination of waste.
  • Help the body eliminate waste from the major emunctories such as the kidney, lung, liver and skin
  • ex. Burdock, Nettles


  • Anti-parasitic botanicals that destroy or eliminate worms and other harmful parasitic invaders from the digestive system.
  • Synonymous with vermifuge and anti-parasitic.
  • ex. Aloe, Garlic, Pomegranate, Thuja, Wormwood, Rue


  • Supports the liver to remove excess bile and aids in cases of biliary and jaundice conditions.
  • Synonymous with cholagogues and hepatics.
  • ex. Barberry, Dandelion, Fringe Tree, Golden Seal, Mugwort, Wormwood


  • Supports the lung to remove excess mucous build-ups either in the sinus area or other parts of the body.
  • Used in ear, nose and throat infections.
  • Supports the lung and respiratory tissues in the body to produce a more watery solution so it can be removed easier or reduce secretion directly.
  • Astringent action of tannins is common.
  • ex. Golden Rod, Peppermint


  • Botanicals that are mood tonics and aid in maintaining emotional stability through supporting nervous system and neuropeptide function.
  • Synonous with Nervine tonics.


  • Reduce the feeling of nausea and relieve or prevent vomiting.
  • Carminative and stomatic herbs settle digestive processes.
  • Hepatics aid digestion and reduce nausea.
  • ex. Black Horehound, Balm


  • Term used synonymously with Astringent.


  • Botanicals that help the body combat inflammations.
  • Botaniclas rarely inhibit natural inflammation processes but support and encourage cleansing of the body to resolve inflammation in a timely manner.
  • ex. German Chamomile, Wild Yam, Willow Bark


  • Prevent the formation of stones or calculi in the liver and urinary system – help the body remove stones which have formed.
  • Either helps the body remove the stones or dissolves the stones for easy removal.
  • ex. Parsley


  • Help the body to destroy or resist pathogenic microorganisms
  • Help the body strengthen its own defences against organisms.
  • ex. Echinacea, Wild Indigo


  • Synonym with Anthelmintic.


  • Synonym with Febrifuge.


  • Prevent the ease of spasms or cramps in the smooth and skeletal muscles of the body.
  • Reduce body tension.
  • Many anti-spasmodics are nervines which work on the nervous system of the body.
  • Reduce muscle spasm and can work on organs and systems.
  • ex. Black Haw


  • Mild and gentile form of laxative effects on the bowel.
  • Work in a way that the natural bowel movements and functions are promoted.
  • Act as bulk laxatives for the bowel.
  • Gentle stimulant of digestive possesses to help with food assimilation and elimination.
  • ex. Rhubarb Root, Yellow Dock


  • Strong and pleasant odour.
  • Oil-based aroma stimulates the digestive system to help with digestion.
  • Used in aromatherapy and creams.
  • ex. Aniseed


  • Causes the tightening of tissues.
  • Binding action on mucous membranes, skin and other exposed tissue.
  • Also called styptics.
  • Used to stop external bleeding or anti-haemorrhagic from internal bleeding.
  • ex. Agrimony, Oak bark


  • Bitter in taste which stimulates appetite via stimulation of digestive juices
  • Aid the liver with detoxification through bile secretion.
  • Regulatory effect of pancreatic secretions and hormones.
  • Aid in gut repair to damage.
  • ex. Wormwood, Rue, Gentian Root

Cardiac tonic:

  • Beneficial action to the heart.
  • Cardiac glycosides have an affinity to the heart muscle without increasing the need for oxygen.
  • May affect the circulatory system and/or the nervous system.
  • ex. Foxglove, Hawthorn, Motherwort


  • Botanical remedies that are rich in volatile oils.
  • Stimulate the digestive system.
  • Soothe and settle the bowel wall to reduce gas and bloating.
  • Action is due to the complex oils.
  • ex. Fennel, Ginger, Caraway


  • Stimulate the flow of bile from the liver to help in digestive assimilation.
  • Acts as a natural laxative and thus cleanse the system.
  • Direct cholagogues à increase the amount of secreted bile from the liver.
  • Indirect cholagogues à increase the amount released by the gallbladder.
  • Have bitter and hepatic actions.
  • ex. Balmony, Fringe Tree, Golden Seal


  • Botanicals rich in mucilage and can sooth and protect irritated or inflamed internal tissues
  • Contain mucilaginous materials which are gummy and slimy.
  • Soothing action for lining of intestine and aids in direct contact as it reduces inflammation.
  • ex. Comfrey, Marshmallow


  • Term is synonymous with Alternative.


  • Produces and promotes sweating through the skin.
  • Helps the skin eliminate wastes from the body.
  • Causes the dilation of the surface capillaries à aid in circulation.
  • ex. Yarrow, Boneset, Cayenne

Digestive bitter:

  • Term is synonymous with bitter.


  • Increases the secretion and elimination of urine from the body.
  • Increase kidney blood flow and reduce water reabsorbtion in the nephrons of the kidney.
  • ex. Bearberry, Buchu, Couch Grass


  • Botanicals that induce vomiting à empty the body.
  • Used for first aid treatment of poison swallowing.
  • Cause irritation of the stomach or nervous system.
  • ex. Ipecacuanha


  • Stimulate menstrual flow and activity.
  • Normalizes and tones the female reproductive system organs.
  • ex. Golden Seal


  • Botanicals that softens, soothes, and protects the skin – used in burns and other skin injuries.
  • Used externally they have the same role that demulcents have internally.
  • ex. Greater Plantain, Flaxseed


  • Herbs that help the body remove excess mucous from the lungs.
  • Tonic for the respiratory system.
  • Irritates the lining of the bronchioles à reflex action lining the gut.
  • Also works to sooth the bronchial spasm and loosen mucous secretions to produce thinner mucous.
  • ex. White Horehound, Coltsfoot, Mullein


  • Remedies reduce fevers.


  • Herbs that increase the flow of milk in lactating women without forcing hormone pressure on the body.
  • ex, Goat’s Rue


  • Herbal remedies that tone, strengthen and increase bile flow in the liver.
  • Bitters and cholegogues and act as hepatics.
  • ex. Dandelion, Boldo, Milk Thistle


  • Help to induce a deep healing state of sleep in anxious patients who cannot get into proper REM sleep patterns.
  • Contain muscle relaxing properties.
  • ex. Passion Flower, Jamaican Dogwood


  • Stimulate the bowels to promote movements (opposed to aperients that gently support bowel processes).
  • Anthraquinone glycosides stimulate the walls of the large intestine 8-12 hours after taking the remedy.
  • ex. Butternut, Senna Pods, Blue Flag


  • Benefits the nervous system by supporting parasympathetic nervous system function.
  • Acts as relaxants, stimulants or tonics and has warming properties.
  • Aids in cases of stress, anxiety, shock and nervous debility.
  • Contains adaptogens which support adrenal function.
  • ex. Oats, St. John’s Wort, Vervain


  • Remedies that are good for the lungs and respiratory tissues.
  • All expectorant remedies whether stimulating, relaxing, or normalizing.
  • ex. Elecampane, Lobelia, Blood Root


  • Applied to the skin cause gentle and localized increase in surface blood flow (vasodilation) resulting in rending of skin.
  • Brings blood to cleanse and nourish the affected part of the body.
  • Mimics inflammation to help heal tissues.
  • Draw blood from deep parts o the body to skin to eliminate visceral pain.
  • ex. Mustard, Horseradish


  • Calms the nervous system, reduces stress and nervousness.
  • Can be nerviness, hypnotics, anti-spasmodics.
  • ex. Valerian, Lady’s Slipper, Wild Lettuce


  • Term is synonymous with anti-spasmodic.


  • Botanicals stimulates nervous system function causing quickness, and enlivens physiological activity of the body.
  • Alkaloids in the plant cause stimulation of activity.
  • ex. Bayberry, Prickly Ash


  • Term is synonymous with astringent.


  • Remedy that raises mood and counteracts depression my modulating neuropeptide release and balancing adrenal and nervous system function.


  • Strengthen or enliven a specific organ or the whole body.
  • Many herbs tonify certain organs.
  • Used in cases of exhaustion or organ atony.
  • ex. Golden Seal, Black Cohosh, Centaury


  • Remedies that bring about healing in wounds or inflammation.
  • Herbs used to heal skin lesions.
  • Tannins produces an impervious layer which aids in the healing process.
  • A chemical called allantoin stimulates cell growth and division and speeds up the healing process.
  • ex. Marigold