Phytochemicals: The Active Substances in Herbs

Phytochemicals and polyphenols (which include flavonoids and constitute a large bulk of all phytochemicals) are chemical compounds naturally occuring in plants and are often considered the active properies of herbs. Thousands of phytochemicals have so far been identified. The table below lists medicinal properties of some of the main phytochemical groups, along with additional herbal property groups, commonly used by herbalists.
Herbal Group Medicinal Properties
Acids: Acids taste sour and may have antiseptic or cleansing actions.
Alkaloids: Alkaloids taste bitter and may be poisonous. Alkaloids usually affect the central nervous system.
Bitters: Bitters taste bitter and may be useful stimulants for the digestive juices, stomach and gallbladder.
Coumarins: Coumarins may increase sun-sensitivity of the skin and may be toxic in large amounts. Otherwise they may act antibacterial or as anticoagulants.
Flavonoids: Flavonoids act anti-allergic (Quercetin), anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhagic (Bilberry, Blueberry) and as anti-oxidants.
Glycosides: Depending on the herb, Glycosides have different actions including antispasmodic, cardiac, sedative, acrid, stimulant, antibiotic, cyanogenic, bitter or even irritating.
Gums & Mucilages: Gums and Mucilages are mostly used to treat inflammed soft tissue, membranes and linings.
Quinones: Quinones may act antibacterial and / or antifungal.
Anthraquinones: These types of quinones may be useful for diarrhea.
Resins: Resins may be useful antiseptics. They are astringent, acrid and support healing.
Saponins: Saponins may act anti-inflammatory, diuretic, stimulant and / or hormonal.
Tannins: Tannins are astringent (useful to stop bleedings) and may be useful antiseptics.
Terpenoids: Terpenoids taste bitter and display a variety of actions depending on the herb.
Volatile Oils: Volatile Oils are aromatic and may be antiseptic, antifungal, stimulant or irritating.
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