The Best Tonic Herbs
Tonic herbs are a great way to
begin with herbal remedies, to try something new and see what it
does for you. And they can be taken throughout life. We live in
such as toxic and disease-filled world that it cannot hurt to
strengthen our "shields."
By nourishing your tissues and energy the tonics help combat
disease, increase immunity and enhance the quality of your life.
Thus one definition of a tonic – the criterion used in most ethnic
healing systems – is a herb that, with long term use is "building"
in some way.
Don’t confuse the tonics with the adaptogens. Some, but not
all, tonics are adaptogens. Adaptogens increase resistance and
adaptation to all stresses and build stamina and vitality. Tonics
may generally support a specific organ or system – i.e., a herb
may be a tonic for the heart or lungs, but that doesn’t make it an
David Hoffmann, in The Elements of Herbalism, writes of
tonics: "Western medicine has neglected such ideas as having no
basis in fact. This is not so; rather it was a reflection of
research procedures that could not recognize such complex and
In addition, the tonic concept doesn’t fit into the orthodox
scientific model of useful substances. According to this model a
substance must have very narrow and targeted mechanisms of action
– a tonic’s lack of specificity bespeaks the lack of an underlying
mechanism. And that could mean, as Dr. Andrew Weil wryly points
out in Spontaneous Healing, "the substance could be –
perish the thought! – merely a placebo."
Herbalists know from experience that the tonic herbs are not
merely placebo’s. They value the tonics because they represent the
very essence of what herbs are about, first and foremost:
Their focus is primarily on keeping you well – although many
have secondary uses as remedies for already sick people.
But a word of warning. If you venture into herbal
remedies by using the tonic herbs, you
have to be prepared not to experience a necessarily dramatic
One of the ironies of striving for better than average health
and wellness is the "no-result" result. We are simply not
accustomed to measuring our success by what doesn’t happen. A
shift in thinking is in order here: No news is good news.
Choosing The Best
Robyn Landis, in
Herbal Defence Against Illness and Ageing, presents two
practical strategies for choosing your tonics:
"Just as some herbs have affinity for particular organs,
systems, or body processes, and are best utilized for healing in
those areas, many tonic herbs "specialize" in balancing a specific
system or systems.
Because everyone has a limit for daily herb consumption in
terms of time, convenience, tolerance, and money, it’s not
necessary to try to take four or five herbal tonics all the time
and work on all body systems and processes at once. It wouldn’t
hurt you, but it’s simply not practical. One or two at a time is
One way to choose your tonics is to think in terms of
individual areas of weakness. If you have a family history of
heart disease and did not adopt heart-healthy habits until
recently, hawthorn berry might be a good tonic for you.
If you tend to have respiratory infections and are a former
smoker, a lung-affinity tonic such as thyme would be good. If a
constant string of varying infections is your complaint, tonics
that specifically increase cell-mediated immunity should be
If you can’t think of a specific area that would help you
counter individual disease tendencies, another way to approach
tonic use is by rotation. Use one or two for a couple of months,
then switch to another one or two, so that every year you are
nourishing and balancing two to four major systems."
Listed below are some tonics for specific areas or issues. When
selecting a herb for its tonic effects try to take into account
the broader picture of your personal needs and the individual
herb’s range of actions.
Circulatory system: Cayenne, hawthorn berries, garlic,
ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, motherwort, turmeric
Respiratory system: Angelica, aniseed, cayenne, coltsfoot,
comfrey, garlic, hyssop, liquorice, thyme, yarrow
Digestive system: Angelica, aniseed, chamomile, clove,
comfrey, dandelion, garlic, ginger, mugwort, rue, turmeric
Urinary system: Buchu, parsley, yarrow
Reproductive system: Black cohosh
Muscles and skeleton: Alfalfa, angelica, black cohosh,
Nervous system: Black cohosh, lemon balm, motherwort,
Skin: Calendula, comfrey, echinacea, dandelion, garlic,
gotu kola (a.k.a. pennywort), nettles, turmeric
Immune system: Echinacea, garlic, ginger, ginseng,
We are in the process of giving the Herbal
a complete makeover. This means that not all the pages you'll visit will
have the same look, feel and functionality. Please accept our apologies for any
inconvenience this may cause.