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Medical Terms Glossary

Abortifacient

  • Induces the premature expulsion (abortion) of a fetus. Same meaning as Ecbolic. For example, pennyroyal.

  • Adaptogenic

  • Helping the human organism adapt to stressful conditions.

  • Ague

  • An intermittent fever, sometimes with chills, as in malaria.

  • Alkaloid

  • A large, varied group of complex nitrogen-containing compounds, usually alkaline, that react with acids to form soluble salts, many of which have physiological effects on humans. Includes nicotine, cocaine, caffeine, etc.

  • Alterative

  • A medicinal substance that gradually restores health.

  • Amenorrhea

  • Absence or suppression of menstruation.

  • Analgesic

  • A pain-relieving medicine. Same as anaphrodisiac.

  • Anhydrotic

  • Stops sweating.

  • Anodyne

  • A pain-relieving medicine, milder than analgesic.

  • Antacid

  • Neutralizes the acid produced by the stomach. Do the self-test to see if excessive acid is the cause of indigestion.

  • Anthelmintic

  • An agent that destroys and expels worms from the intestines. Same as vermifuge.

  • Anti-aphrodisiac

  • Suppressing sexual desire.

  • Antibacterial

  • Destroys or stops the growth of bacteria.

  • Antibilious

  • An herb that combats biliousness. The term biliousness refers to a group of symptoms consisting of nausea, abdominal discomfort, headache, constipation, and gas that is caused by an excessive secretion of bile.

  • Antibiotic

  • An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of, or kills, a living organism; usually used in reference to bacteria or other microorganisms.

  • Anti-convulsant

  • Reducing or relieving convulsions or cramps.

  • Anti-emetic

  • Prevents or alleviates nausea and vomiting.

  • Anti-epileptic

  • An agent that combats the convulsions or seizures of epilepsy.

  • Antifungal

  • An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of fungi, or kills them outright.

  • Antigalactagogue

  • Prevents or decreases secretion of milk.

  • Antihistaminic

  • Neutralizing the effect or inhibiting production of histamine.

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Reducing or neutralizing inflammation.

  • Anti-lithic

  • Aids in preventing the formation of stones in the kidneys and bladder.

  • Antimicrobial

  • An agent that inhibits the growth or multiplication of microorganisms, or kills them.

  • Anti-oxidant

  • Preventing oxidation; a preservative.

  • Antiparasitical

  • Destructive to parasites.

  • Anti-periodic

  • Prevents the periodic recurrence of attacks of a disease; as in malaria.

  • Antiphlogistic

  • An agent that counteracts inflammation.

  • Antipyretic

  • Reduces fever. Same as febrifuge or refrigerant.

  • Anti-rheumatic

  • An agent that relieves or cures rheumatism.

  • Antiscorbutic

  • An agent effective against scurvy.

  • Antiseptic

  • Preventing sepsis, decay, putrefaction; also, an agent that kills germs, microbes.

  • Antispasmodic

  • Preventing or relieving spasms or cramps.

  • Anti-syphilitic

  • Herbs that improve or cure syphilis. Also called antileutic.

  • Antitumor

  • Preventing or effective against tumors or cancers.

  • Antitussive

  • Preventing or relieving cough.

  • Antivenomous

  • Acts against poisonous matter from animals and snakes.

  • Antiviral

  • An agent that inhibits growth or multiplication of viruses, or kills them.

  • Antizymotic

  • Herbs that can destroy disease-producing organisms.

  • Aperient

  • Causes a gentle bowel movement.

  • Aphasia

  • Inability to express oneself properly through speech or loss of verbal comprehension; sensory and motor areas may be involved.

  • Aphrodisiac

  • Increasing or exciting sexual desire.

  • Apoplexy

  • The result of a stroke (cerbrovascular accident (CVA)).

  • Aromatic

  • Agents which emit a fragrant smell and produce a pungent taste. Used chiefly to make other medicines more palatable.

  • Ascaris

  • Roundworm (also called maw-worm and eelworm) found in the small intestine causing colicky pains and diarrhea, especially in children.

  • Ascites

  • Excessive accumulation of serous fluid in the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity.

  • Asthenia

  • Lack or loss of strength, usually involving muscular system.

  • Astringent

  • An agent that causes tissue to contract.


  • Bactericidal


  • An agent that kills bacteria.

  • Balsam

  • The resin of a tree that is healing and soothing. Example: myrrh

  • Bitter tonic

  • Bitter-tasting properties which stimulate the flow of saliva and gastric juice. Used to increase the appetite and aid in the process of digestion.

  • Bolus

  • A suppository injected into the rectum or vagina.


  • Calmative

  • An agent with mild sedative or calming effects.

  • Cardioactive

  • Affecting the heart.

  • Carminative

  • An agent that relieves and removes gas from the digestive system.

  • Cataplasm

  • Another name for poultice.

  • Catarrh

  • An inflammation of the mucous membranes with a free discharge. This has special reference to the air passages of the head and throat. For example; hayfever, rhinitis, influenza, bronchitis, pharyngitis, asthma.

  • Cathartic

  • A powerful purgative or laxative, causing severe evacuation, with or without pain.

  • Cephalic

  • Referring to diseases affecting the head and upper part of the body.

  • Cholagogue

  • An agent that increases bile flow to the intestines.

  • Chorea

  • Nervous disorder marked by muscular twitching of arms, legs and face.

  • CNS

  • Central nervous system.

  • Condiment

  • Enhances the flavor of food.

  • Cordial

  • A stimulating medicine or drink.

  • Counterirritant

  • An agent that produces inflammation or irritation when applied locally to affect another, usually irritated surface to stimulate circulation. (Example: a mustard plaster or liniment).

  • Cystitis

  • Inflammation of the urinary bladder.

  • Cytotoxic

  • An agent that is toxic to certain organs, tissues, or cells.


  • Decoction

  • A preparation made by boiling a plant part in water. Compare with Infusion.

  • Demulcent

  • An agent that is locally soothing and softening.

  • Demulcent febrifuge

  • Reduces heat while building bodily fluids.

  • Deobstruent

  • Removes obstructions by opening natural passages or pores of the body.

  • Depurative

  • Tends to purify and cleanse the blood. Same as blood purifier.

  • Dermatomycoses

  • Skin infection caused by fungi.

  • Detergent

  • An agent that cleanses boils, sores, wounds, etc.

  • Detoxicant

  • Removes toxins.

  • Diaphoretic

  • An agent that induces sweating.

  • Digestant

  • Contains substances (i.e. ferments, acids) which aid in digestion.

  • Digestive

  • An agent that promotes digestion.

  • Discutient

  • An agent that dissolves or causes something, such as a tumor, to disappear. Also called discussive.

  • Diuretic

  • An agent that induces urination.

  • Drastic

  • A violent purgative.

  • Dropsy

  • Generalized edema (swelling).

  • Dyskinesia

  • Defect in voluntary movement.

  • Dyspnea

  • Sense of difficulty in breathing, often associated with lung or heart disease.


  • Ecbolic

  • See abortifacient.

  • Emetic

  • An agent that induces vomiting.

  • Emmenagogue

  • A substance that promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid.

  • Emollient

  • An agent that softens and soothes the skin when applied locally.

  • Enteritis

  • Inflammation of the small intestine.

  • Enterorrhagia

  • Hemorrhage from the intestine.

  • Enuresis

  • Involuntary urination.

  • Ephidrosis

  • Abnormal amount of sweating.

  • Epigastric

  • Upper middle region of the abdomen.

  • Eructation

  • Belching.

  • Erysipelis

  • An acute disease of skin and subcutaneous tissue with spreading inflammation and swelling.

  • Esculent

  • Edible or fit for eating.

  • Estrogenic

  • A substance that induces female hormonal activity.

  • Exanthematous

  • Refers to any eruptive disease or fever. An herbal remedy for skin eruptions such as measles, scarlet fever, etc.

  • Exophthalmic

  • Protrusion of the eyeball.

  • Expectorant

  • An agent that induces the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs.


  • Farinaceous

  • Of the nature of flour or meal. Starchy or containing starch.

  • Febrifuge

  • That which reduces fever. Same as antipyretic or refrigerant.

  • Fistula

  • Abnormal tubelike passage from a normal cavity or tube to a free surface or to another cavity.

  • Flux

  • Excessive flow or discharge. For example, in dysentery or excessive menstruation.

  • Fungicidal

  • An agent that kills fungi.


  • Galactagogue

  • Promotes secretion of milk.

  • Gastralgia

  • Pain in the stomach.

  • Gastroenteritis

  • Inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract.

  • Gastroptosis

  • Condition in which the stomach occupies an abnormally low position in the abdomen.

  • Gleet

  • A urethral discharge, either of mucus or pus; commonly seen in the chronic form of gonorrheal urethritis.


  • Hemiplegia

  • Paralysis of one half of the body.

  • Hemostatic

  • An agent that checks bleeding.

  • Hepatic

  • An herb that promotes the well-being of the liver and increases the secretion of bile. For example; golden seal.

  • Herpatic

  • A remedy for skin eruptions, ringworm, etc.

  • Homeopathic

  • Relating to homeopathy, a system of medicine founded in the late 1700's by Samuel Hahnemann. The system is based on the principle that "like cures like". Practitioners believe that a substance that produces a set of symptoms in a well person will, in minute," potentized" doses, cure those same symptoms in a diseased individual.

  • Homeostasis

  • Equilibrium of internal environment.

  • Hydrogogue

  • Promotes watery evacuation of bowels.

  • Hydrophobia

  • Rabies.

  • Hyperchlorhydria

  • Excess of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretion.

  • Hypertensive

  • Causing or marking a rise in blood pressure.

  • Hypochondriac

  • Upper lateral region on each side of the body and below the thorax; beneath the ribs.

  • Hypnotic

  • Tends to produce sleep.

  • Hypoglycemic

  • Causing a deficiency of blood sugar.

  • Hypotensive

  • Causing or marking a lowering of blood pressure.


  • Immunostimulant

  • Stimulating various functions or activities of the immune system.

  • Infusion

  • A preparation made by soaking a plant part in hot water (or cold water, for a cold infusion); in essence, a "tea". Compare Decoction. Intercostal: Between the ribs.


  • Laxative

  • A mild purgative. An herb that acts to promote evacuation of the bowels.

  • Leukorrhea

  • A whitish, viscid discharge from the vagina.

  • Lithotriptic

  • Causing the dissolution or destruction of stones in the bladder or kidneys.

  • Lung fever

  • A severe lung infection, as pneumonia.


  • Maturating

  • An agent that promotes the maturing or bringing to a head of boils, carbuncles, etc.

  • Menorrhagia

  • Excessive bleeding during menstruation.

  • Mitogenic

  • An agent that affects cell division.

  • Monoplegia

  • Paralysis of a single limb or a single group of muscles.

  • Mortification

  • Gangrene.

  • Moxa

  • A dried herb substance burned on or above the skin to stimulate an acupuncture point or serve as a counterirritant. A famous technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine, using dried, pressed leaves of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).

  • Mucilaginous

  • Pertaining to or resembling or containing mucilage: slimy. Herbs that have a soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes.

  • Mydriatic

  • Dilates the pupil.


  • Narcotic

  • An addicting substance that reduces pain and produces sleep.

  • Nauseant

  • An herb that causes nausea and vomiting. Somewhat similar to an emetic.

  • Nervine

  • An agent that affects, strengthens, or calms the nerves.

  • Neurasthenia

  • Severe nerve weakness; nervous exhaustion.

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Inflammation of skin with itching that is associated with emotional disturbance.

  • Nutrient or Nutritive

  • Nourishing, increases weight and density.


  • Ophthalmic

  • Healing for disorders and diseases of the eye.

  • Ophthalmicum

  • A remedy for diseases of the eye.

  • Osteomyelitis

  • Inflammation of the bone, especially the marrow.

  • Oxyuris

  • Genus of nematode intestinal worms which includes pinworms (also called threadworm and seatworm).


  • Panacea

  • An agent good for what ails you, or what doesn't ail you. A "cure-all".

  • Parturient

  • A substance that induces and promotes labor.

  • Pectoral

  • Relieves disorders of the chest and lungs, as an expectorant.

  • Phagocytosis

  • Ingestion and digestion of bacteria and particles by phagocytes.

  • Plethora

  • Overfullness of blood vessels or of the total quantity of any fluid in the body.

  • Portal

  • Concerning entrance to an organ, especially that through which blood is carried to liver.

  • Poultice

  • A moist, usually warm or hot mass of plant material applied to the skin, or with cloth between the skin and plant material, to effect a medicinal action.

  • Prophylactic

  • Agent which wards off disease.

  • Pruritis

  • Severe itching.

  • Pterygium

  • Opaque triangular thickening of tissue extending from inner canthus to border or cornea with apex toward the pupil of the eye.

  • Puerperal

  • Period following childbirth.

  • Pungent

  • Irritating or shapely painful. Producing a sharp sensation of taste or smell.

  • Purgative

  • An agent that causes cleansing or watery evacuation of the bowels, usually with griping (painful cramps).

  • Pyelitis

  • Inflammation of the pelvis of the kidney and its calices.


  • Quicksilver

  • An old term for mercury.

  • Quinsy

  • Peritonsillar abscess or tonsillitis.


  • Refrigerant

  • Relieves fever and thirst. A cooling remedy. Lowers body temperature.

  • Relaxant

  • Tends to relax and relieve tension, especially muscular tension.

  • Resolvent

  • Promotes the resolving and removing of abnormal growths, such as a tumor.

  • Rhinitis

  • Inflammation of nasal mucosa.

  • Rubefacient

  • An agent that causes reddening or irritation when applied to the skin.


  • Saponin

  • A glycoside compound in plants, which, when shaken with water, has a foaming or "soapy" action.

  • Scald head

  • Ringworm, or some similar affliction, of the scalp. May also refer to a disease of the hair follicles with formation of small yellow crusts and a very offensive odor; usually affects the scalp.

  • Scorbutic

  • Concerning or affected with scurvy.

  • Scrofula

  • Tuberculosis involving the lymph nodes of the neck, usually occurs in early life. Now very rarely seen.

  • Sedative

  • Calms the nerves, allays excitement, induces relaxation, and is conducive to sleep.

  • Sialagogue

  • Promotes the flow of saliva.

  • Sleeping disease

  • Sleeping sickness; commonly found in Africa. Also viral encephalitis in which lethargy is a prominent feature.

  • Soporific

  • Herbs that help to produce sleep.

  • Spasmolytic

  • Checking spasms or cramps.

  • Specific

  • A remedy having a curative effect on a particular disease or symptom.

  • Spermatorrhea

  • Abnormally frequent involuntary loss of semen without orgasm.

  • Spondylosis

  • Abnormal immobility and fixation of vertebral joints.

  • Stimulant

  • An agent that causes increased activity of another agent, cell, tissue, organ, or organism.

  • Stomachic

  • Substances which give strength and tone to the stomach. Also used to stimulate the appetite.

  • Strangury

  • A slow and painful passage of the urine due to spasm of the urethra and urinary bladder.

  • Styptic

  • Checking bleeding by contracting blood vessels.

  • Subcostal

  • Beneath the ribs.

  • Sudorific

  • Herbs that cause heavy perspiration.


  • Tetters

  • A once popular name for various eczematous skin diseases. May also refer to a skin disease of animals communicable to man with intense itching.

  • Tincture

  • A diluted alcohol solution of plant parts.

  • Tinea capitis

  • Fungal skin disease of the scalp.

  • Tisane

  • A term used frequently in Europe referring to popular herbal infusions, such as chamomile flowers, etc., which are commonly taken as a beverage or for mildly medicinal effects.

  • Teratogen

  • A substance that can cause the deformity of a fetus.

  • Tonic

  • An ambiguous term referring to a substance thought to have an overall positive medicinal effect of an unspecified nature (see adaptogenic).

  • Tuberculostatic

  • Arresting the tubercle bacillus (the germ responsible for causing tuberculosis).


  • Uterotonic

  • Having a positive effect on an unspecified nature of the uterus.


  • Vasoconstrictor

  • An agent that causes blood vessels to constrict, or narrow the caliber.

  • Vasodepressant

  • Lowers blood pressure by dilatation of blood vessels; having a depressing influence on circulation.

  • Vasodilator

  • An agent that causes blood vessels to relax and dilate.

  • Vermicidal

  • Having worm-killing properties; an agent that kills worms; a vermifuge. Also Vermicide.

  • Vermifuge

  • Having worm-killing properties; an agent that kills worms.

  • Vesicant

  • An agent that causes blistering, such as poison ivy.

  • Vulnerary

  • An agent or herb used for healing wounds, fresh cuts, etc., usually used as a poultice.


  • Whites

  • See leukorrhea.


  • Zymotic

  • Caused by or pertaining to any infectious or contagious disease.


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