When I began to seriously study herbs and herbalism it was with the desire to make medicines using the plants I grow on my own property, medicines that will aid in comforting myself as well as those I love. I was immediately overwhelmed with scientific and/or unfamiliar terminology. In an attempt to better understand these terms, I decided to write about each one, defining it in as many ways as possible. As I synthesize myriad definitions from multiple sources, I will relate them to the plant allies I am growing, harvesting and working with..reinforcing my studies.
The term aperient comes from the Latin aperire, meaning "to open." And so, with a bit of one’s imagination we can easily jump to its definition…
An aperient is defined by James Green, Director of the California School of Herbal Studies, as a plant ally that provides:
A gentle stimulant to digestion, and produces a very mild laxative action.
Most herbalists are sure to point out that plant allies possessing aperient action will not produce an immediate or “explosive” laxative effect (think: magnesium citrate). Rather, these plant allies gently encourage digestion and eventual movement of the bowels. In other words, these plants slowly and gently relieve constipation.
Types of Laxatives
A plant acting as a bulk-forming laxative will pull water into the intestines which increases the size and softness of the stool (thus, acting as a stool softener).
A plant acting as a stimulant laxative possesses properties that irritate the lining of the intestinal wall; the resulting muscle contractions help move stool along.
So what common plants possess this herbal action? Well, a quick Google search produces a list that includes such ubiquitous species as dandelion and burdock. Ah, but I wanted to understand why certain plants have a laxative effect on the body. A closer look at dandelion showed me how one herbal action can be responsible (often, indirectly) for another herbal action.
Herbalists often suggest dandelion as a “liver detox” because it aids in bile production. Bile serves as a natural laxative. Bile is secreted by the liver and is stored in the gallbladder. It is important for digestion and thus, a key to effective elimination of feces (stool, or if you are a six-year-old…POOP).
When working efficiently, the liver releases bile into the duodenum (which is located at the beginning of the small intestine). This begins the process of breaking down our food for its eventual evacuation (i.e. defecation).
Dandelion also acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production in the body. Indirectly, this action will introduce water into the intestines, allowing dandelion to act as a bulk-forming laxative.
Dandelion helped me understand how a desired result may be achieved by choosing safe, simple herbs with corresponding actions. Burdock, another backyard plant ally, acts in a similar way…
Burdock, like dandelion, is considered a blood purifier. Again, this refers to the action of stimulating the liver (detox) so it may work at optimum efficiency. If the liver is working efficiently, toxins are being eliminated (i.e. defecation) from our bodies.
Also, like dandelion, burdock acts as a diuretic - and like dandelion, this action introduces water into the intestines.
While obviously I have not yet begun to understand the scientific complexities (i.e. chemistry) responsible for every herbal action, I am beginning to better understand how to recognize a plant’s potential for healing. I have also begun to identify how an action may indirectly affect another action (resulting in a desired OR undesired effect). Having a general understanding of each herbal action is allowing me to comprehend more of what I read and encouraging me to synthesize information gained from multiple sources. ♥