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Latin (Pharmaceutical) Herb Names Explained

The pharmaceutical name is usually derived from the Latin botanical name and consists of a term indicating the part of the plant or animal used followed by the genus name. Sometimes the species name is also added in cases where more than one member of a genus is included in the materia medica.

Radix Bupleuri is the pharmaceutical name for dried roots of either Bupleurum chinense D.C. or Bupleurum scorzoneraefolium Wild.; both species are interchangeable in their applications. Another example is Radix Angelicae, which refers to the roots of one of three species: Angelica dahurica Benth. et Hook., A. anomala Lallem., and A. taiwaniana Boiss.

On the other hand, Radix Angelicae Sinensis is the pharmaceutical name of a different herb, with very different properties from Radix Angelicae, and is distinguished by the explicit inclusion of the species name, sinensis, in the pharmaceutical name.

In certain cases, an entry in the materia medica may consist of several species from different genera. An example of this is Herba Jinqiancao, which can consist of either of five species: 1, Glechoma longituba (Nakai) Kupr.; 2, Desmodium styracifolium (Osbeck) Merr.; 3, Lysimachia christinae Hance; 4, Dichondra repens Forst.; 5, Hydrocotyle sibthorpiodes Lam. bar batrachium (Hance) Hand.-Mazz. In cases such as this, the pharmaceutical name typically is a transliteration of the Mandarin name, which is "jian qian cao", preceded by the plant or animal part, which in this case is "Herba".

Occasionally adjectives are appended to the pharmaceutical name to indicate how the herb was prepared commercially. For example, Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae Conquitae consists of the roots (Radix) of Rehmannia glutinosa that have been cooked (Conquitae) and then dried. This pharmaceutical preparation is distinguished from Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae, which is the same herb except that it is dried but not cooked. Likewise, Rhizoma Zingiberis Recens is fresh ginger root, whereas Rz Zingiberis is the dried preparation. The default method of commercial preparation is drying or dehydration, unless indicated otherwise by appended modifiers in the pharmaceutical name.

Commonly used abbreviations for certain plant or animal parts and their meanings are listed below. Entries are listed in the following order: (1) plant or animal part (Latin); (2) abbreviation, if any; (3) common English term.

Plant Parts

  • Bulbus; Blb; bulb
  • Caulis; -; tails of the root
  • Concretio; -; congealed secretions
  • Cortex; Cx; cortex or bark
  • Flos; Fl; flower
  • Folium; Fm; leaf
  • Frucificatio; -; fruiting body (i.e., of a fungus)
  • Fructus; Fr; fruit
  • Galla; -; gallnut (a plant tumor caused by an insect or other irritant)
  • Herba; Hb; herb, the whole plant
  • Lignum; -; heart wood
  • Pasta; -; paste made from a plant part
  • Pericarpium; Pc; pericarp or "skin"
  • Pollen; -; pollen
  • Radice; -; rootlet
  • Radix; Rx; root
  • Ramulus; Rml; twig
  • Ramus; Rm; branch
  • Rhizoma; Rz; rhizome
  • Secretio; -; secretions
  • Semen; S; seed
  • Spica; -; flower spike
  • Spora; -; spores (i.e. of a mushroom or fungus)
  • Tuber; -; tuber

Animal Parts

  • Carapax; -; carapace (dorsal aspect of a turtle shell)
  • Colla; -; skin
  • Concha; -; conch or shell, as of an oyster
  • Cornu; -; horn
  • Dens; -; teeth
  • Gelatinum; -; gelatin extracted by cooking
  • Nidus; -; nest
  • Ootheca; -; egg case (as of an insect)
  • Os; -; bone; sometimes refers to fossilized bone
  • Plastrum; -; plastron (ventral aspect of a turtle shell)
  • Squama; -; scales

Miscellaneous

  • Conquitae; -; cooked
  • Recens; -; fresh & undried
  • seu; -; or
  • et; -; and
  • cum; -; with