Herb Actions

Various applications of herbs related to body systems or clinical objective are outlined below under the major classification categories of herb actions.

Anti-inflammatory Herbs

Many of the herbal anti-inflammatories are particularly suited to specific body systems because these herbs also have other actions. The dual actions allow for healing and vitality in a specific body system while also reducing inflammation.


There are many herbal choices for the skin. Arnica, calendula, chickweed, plantain and St John's wort are the most popular.


For this system chose hawthorn, horse chestnut, linden or yarrow. All of these reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.


For particular problems such as stomach ulcers, colitis and hemorrhoids use chamomile, goldenseal, licorice, marigold, peppermint or wild yam. Demulcent herbs such as marsh mellow are useful because they are rich in mucilage and may reduce local inflammation.


These are herbs that sooth the tissue as they pass through the kidneys and bladder. Corn silk and golden rod fight infection and thus reduce inflammation.


There are system specific herbs such as blue cohosh and lady's mantle.

Muscles and bones

Herbs which contain salicylate will relieve the pain of overuse. Birch, meadowsweet, white poplar and willow bark are examples of these herbs. Also to be considered are black cohosh, bogbean, devil's claw, feverfew and wild yam.


In this area there are the relaxing nervines such as oat and valerian. St John's wort which is recognised as the only anti-inflammatory that is effective on nerve tissue will help the recovery of damaged nerves.

Rubefacient (stimulating) herbs

When applied to the skin rubefacient herbs stimulate circulation. This increase in circulation the reduces congestion and inflammation. They are particularly useful ingredients in a liniments for relieving rheumatism and other similar conditions. They are used on the skin to ease joint problems. They can cause skin irritation and so they should be used with care on people who have sensitive skin and they shouldn't be use on damaged skin.

Common herbal rubefacients are:

  • cayenne pepper
  • ginger
  • horseradish
  • mustard
  • peppermint essential oil
  • ragwort
  • rosemary
  • wintergreen essential oil


Herbs with a diuretic action assist the kidneys to eliminate metabolic wastes and toxins. They also help to eliminate the byproducts of inflammation. Because diuretics promote urination it is essential that you drink plenty of water while taking them.

Common herbal diuretics are:

  • bearberry
  • boneset
  • celery seed
  • dandelion leaf
  • gravel root
  • parsley
  • yarrow

Circulatory stimulants

These herbs stimulate the circulation in the body which increases the blood flow. One danger of this is that it may place a burden on the heart. Many herbs avoid this by increasing the peripheral circulation.

Common herbal circulatory stimulants are:

  • cayenne pepper
  • ginger
  • poke root
  • prickly ash
  • rosemary

Pain relievers

These are herbs that will assist in relieving the suffering of the person in need while other treatments are directed at fixing the underlying problem.

Common herbal analgesics are:

  • guaiacum
  • Jamaican dogwood
  • St John's wort
  • valerian

Digestive tonics

For the body to have the supply of nutrients that it needs to function and to repair itself the digestive system needs to be able to digest and absorb the nutrients effectively. Bitter tonics aid the entire digestive process.

Common herbal digestive tonics are:

  • gentian
  • goldenseal
  • wormwood
  • yarrow

Common herbs used for constipation are:

  • dandelion root
  • rhubarb root
  • yellow dock


Hoffman, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffman, D. 2001, Healthy Bones and Joints. Newleaf.




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