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Tonic Herbs

Disease Prevention and Chinese Medicine

There is allot of talk about preventative medicine, preventative health care, and healthy aging; when it comes right down to it, most Western practitioner are unaware of the benefits of Tonic Herbs. The Chinese were contemplating the affects of aging some 3,000+ years ago, and began to utilize Tonic Herbs as preventative medicine and to reverse disease processes.

Tonic herbs do not have to originate in Asia; there are a handful of Native American herbs that are considered Tonics, and Ayurvedic medicine has a rich history of Tonic use, as do most ancient cultures. Herbs from many cultures are used in our formulas, but the healing strategies and theories come from Chinese medicine. An herb is classified as a Tonic when it has certain qualities not found in all herbs.

One of the first Chinese manuals on pharmacology, The Divine Farmers Materia Medica was compiled by The Taoist master, alchemist and pharmacologist Tao Hongjing who was born around 456 BC. He was also credited with the development of early grain cultivation and practiced under the imperial patronage of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty.

Tao Hongjing artfully divided herbs into three categories; the first were the Superior herbs, or Tonic herbs, that were often used over a long period of time to strengthen the body and to prevent disease and deterioration. The second were medicinal, or general herbs, used to correct imbalance in the body and to rectify disease patterns. The third classification was inferior, or toxic herbs that had very strong actions on the body and could only be used for short periods.

Theory of Chinese Herbal Medicine and Formulas
Chinese herbs are selected and combined in to formulas based on principles that are based on Chinese medical theory. The majority of Chinese herb formulas include four herbs or more. In Chinese medicine, there are only a few herbs are used by themselves alone because formulas can be designed for optimal effectiveness without side effects.

There are three basic levels of herbs:

Superior- Tonic Herbs that can rebuild organ systems and repair damage from chronic diseases. A relatively new subclass of tonics are adaptogens; these are herbs that can be taken safely for a long period of time and are able to re-enforce the body’s ability to adapt well to physical and emotional stressors.
General- Herbs that clear acute conditions, symptoms, and act as support herbs.
Toxic- Herbs that are prescribed by a trained herbalist in small amounts for specific conditions.
Designing herb formulas that are affective and do not present side effects is a high art that takes many years to master. Here is a common format for combining formulas:

  • King or Emperor Herb at Top - This is the herb or herbs that is used to the strongest effect on the most important imbalance, pathology,  and organ system.
  • Minister or Deputy Herbs - This herb is directed to the main imbalance and to the secondary imbalance that may be involved in the illness or condition.Assistant or 

Adjunct Type Herbs: 

  • Helpful Assistant - strengthens the effect of the King 
  • Corrective Assistant - These herbs reduces or eliminates the harsh or toxic effects of the King and/or Minister Herbs and help to decrease digestive side effects of the herbs and increase the digestive potential.
  • Opposing Assistant - These herbs buffers the effect of the King. Typically, these are only used in complex combinations of imbalances and pathologies. 
  • Guide - Envoy - Messenger Herbs - guides other herbs in a specific direction or helps to focus other herbs on a particular organ, channel or region of the body.

Also taken in to account when herbs are blended are their affinity for certain organ systems and their energetic qualities:

  • Temperature - hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold
  • Taste - salty, sour, bitter, sweet, spicy

Most of the herbal therapies that you will run in to at your local health food store fall under the classification of medicinal, or general herbs; they address specific diseases and are only intended for short use periods. Examples of general herbs are Echinacea and Goldenseal; these herbs are wonderful in the treatment of colds or sinus infections, but are not to be taken for more than 10 days. Tonic herbs such as codonopsis are more of a super-food that can be consumed year round to strengthen the immune system so that you are not susceptible to a cold in the first place. There are examples of general herb therapies that are appropriate for an infection, or crisis condition, and then Tonic herbs that can rebuild each organ system to avoid a chronic health predicament. Prevention and avoidance is a preferred when referring to health care in general.



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