Medical or acute herbalism focuses on a specific ailment and matches the phytochemical properties of herbs to combat or address the issue at hand, as in the above examples.
In contrast, tonic herbalism is a concept of using herbal medicines to improve the overall energy and vitality of a person. The herbs show non-specific, normalising actions, without overstimulating.
While both are valid applications of herbal medicine, it is the crafting of a tonifying formula that reminds us most of traditionally working with plants.
In Chinese medicine, the use of energy tonics is thousands of years old and continues to be a focus of its wisdom. Panax ginseng, Schisandra, Glossy Privet, Astragalus…. these are all examples of herbs which ‘put energy back in’. Their consistent use results in an improvement in health, vitality and resistance to disease. They raise the bar of what health is for the individual. They support our essence and make us more potent human beings, in line with our genetic potential.
Every traditional culture has these relationships with certain plants – Black Elder is as revered in Central Europe as Ashwagandha or Holy Basil are in India, Panax in Korea or Rhodiola in Siberia.
They are usually used in a number of different forms – Elderberry is used as a compote with honey in Austria; Rhodiola makes a very fine vodka infusion; Ashwagandha is part of a milky nightcap in Ayurvedic concoctions; Basil and Oregano are added to tomato dishes in the Mediterranean.
So, we see that these building herbs are incorporated into daily life as foods and drink as well as tinctures. They help us to adapt to the environment around us and strengthen our innate ability to cope with stressors. Importantly, they also aid our recovery from any health or life event.
Sometimes clients wonder how long they should continue to take herbal medicine. When we are speaking about herbal tonics, one could well answer with “How long do you plan to live well?”, as these tonics can form part of a health maintenance program over the years, in the same way we exercise, meditate and sleep on a regular basis to maintain health. While the exact proportions and dosage of the herbs will change as needs change, tonics are beneficial to improve and maintain health for a prolonged period of time, especially as we age.