A Basic Guide to Herbal Remedies – Part 1: Herbal Actions

A Basic Guide to Herbal Remedies – Part 1: Herbal Actions

The world of herbal remedies is a vast one and can get very confusing very fast. For every ailment, there are at least a dozen herbs that might help. Healing herbs are classified by their actions, meaning a particular herbs area of healing. Using these common categories can help us immensely when making decisions about herbal formulations or if you find you need to substitute herbs for a particular recipe.

Why is it important to know herbal actions: the properties by which herbs work? Well for one, it is exceptionally easier to find a remedy or treatment when the need arises, and also, you can use this knowledge to formulate your own unique remedy based on your personal needs. Sure, you can just Google, ‘herbs for insomnia,’ etc, but to actually know why that particular herb is used in that particular way is truly a reward in itself! Being aware of herbal characteristics maximizes the healing potential of the individual herb and allows one to customize their course of healing.

For the sake of this and future articles pertaining to herbs, here are some common universal herbal actions and what they are capable of:


These have the ability to dry tissue and reduce secretions and discharges to help create a barrier for healing. Astringents can be used for bug bites, burns, and to stop bleeding. Internally, they help tone mucous membranes and dry up excessive secretions, i.e., diarrhea. Rose roots and leaves are astringents, as well as, green and black tea.


Aromatics are herbs that are used for their volatile essential oils and can be identified by their strong aromas. They have the ability to stimulate the digestive system, reproductive system, and to disinfect the respiratory tract. Some common aromatic herbs are mint, ginger, and rosemary.


These herbs support the body’s natural defenses in the presence of illness by helping to restore its proper functions, specifically in the glands, lymph nodes, and mucous membranes. Burdock, echinacea, violets, and nettle are all alternative herbs.


As the name suggests, adaptogens help us to adapt and handle stress as it happens. These herbs restore overall balance and strengthens the body as a whole, without disrupting the balance of an individual organ or system. Adaptogens can be stimulating and/or relaxing, many help improve focus or support immune system functioning. Some examples of adaptogens are ashwagandha, brahmi (bacopa monnieri), licorice root, and Korean Red ginseng.


These herbs are bitter in taste and help to stimulate appetite, as well as, the digestive system. They can be helpful for constipation, gas related cramping, sluggish digestive movement, and to support a healthy appetite after an illness or while traveling, for example. A few bitter herbs are: dandelion, chamomile, artichoke leaf, and yarrow.


Nervines strengthen and tone the nervous system, easing anxiety and stress. Common nervines include: passion flower, lemon balm, valerian root, and St. John’s wort.


These herbs help raise your body temperature to make you sweat and stimulate circulation. Using diaphoretics may be helpful for breaking dry fevers, erupting skin infections, promoting blood flow, and detoxification. Boneset, elderflower, and willow are a few examples of diaphoretics.


Expectorants assist the body in expelling excess mucous from the respiratory system. Marshmallow root and linden flower are two herbs that have this trait.

Now that we’ve got the lingo down, we can dive right into blending herbs to aid common ailments. Stay tuned for a few of my favorite recipes and blends that hopefully you too will enjoy!