Deficiency Syndromes Herbs and Herbal Tonic Formulas

Tonics herbs are the highest and most sought-after herbal remedies in many
traditional systems of healing, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
and Ayurveda. These herbs nourish specific cells, tissues, organs, and the
whole individual, and are often used for long periods of time. These remedies
help focus and call forth the biogenetic potential or vitality of the individual
for use such as supporting the immune system, nerve function or hormonal

Tonics are very gentle and slow stimulants, and they provide nutrients that
the body can use, such as vitamins, minerals, and many other constituents
like plant pigments, such as anthocyanins or flavonoids. Large quantities
can be given without harm of overstressing cells, tissues, organs or body

Most importantly, the therapeutic and toxic doses are very far apart–giving
a large margin of safety. For this reason, these herbs are called “superior”
herbs in TCM.

The tonics are remedies that are well-tolerated, do not force the body to
change and have a slow, nourishing and normalizing effect on body systems,
imparting strength and tone. In western herbal medicine, these medicines
were called “alteratives,” “roborants” or even “tonics.”
The most famous example in this category is ginseng.

The two types of tonics are:

1) stimulating tonics (gently stimulates functional activity, like weight-lifting
stresses and builds muscle)

2) nourishing tonics (provides vitamins, minerals, other nutrients and building
blocks for proper tissue health and organ function.

Deficiency Conditions

Deficiency of blood, Qi (vital energy), yin (vital essence) and yang (functional
energy) are common and can lead to pathology and symptoms involving any
body system. Herbal “tonics” are used to relieve deficiencies.
Following is a list of herbs and herb formulas to tonify blood, Qi, yin
and yang.

Keep the following guidelines in mind when using tonics:

  • Take tonics regularly for at least 3 months, on up to 9 months (a usual
    course for moderate deficiencies) or even for years with chronic or severe
    deficiencies (AIDS).
  • Tonics are not suitable for people with excess conditions, such as robust
    individuals who have a stimulating diet with atherosclerosis.
  • Tonics are warming, so excess amounts must be avoided during the acute
    phases of pathological heat-type infections–or use sparingly with cool,
    heat-clearing herbs, such as oregon grape root.
  • Tonics are often sticky and moistening (rehmannia), so they should be
    used cautiously with damp, stagnant spleen conditions (add aromatic, pungent
    herbs like atractylodes or ginger to counteract this tendency) and with
    overweight people.

Blood Tonics

Symptoms: dizziness, pale face, lips and tongue, fatigue, small pulse; in
women, scanty or absent menstrual flow.

Shu di huang rehmannia rt ht, liv, ki fatigue, poor sleep, chronic fatigue,
(prepared) infertility, impotence
He shou wu Polygonum liv, ki weak heart, palpitations, involuntary
multiflorum rt seminal emission
Dang gui Angelica sinensis rt ht, liv, sp menstual imbalances, infertility,
constipation during menstruation,
menstrual pain
Bai shao* Peonia alba rt liv pain, excessive menstual bleeding
californica avail. Santa Lucia mts.,
south; P. alba is a common ornamental
Gou qi zi Lycium fr liv, ki increases production of sperm and
blood, supports vision
Nettles lf* liv, ki prostatitis, fatigue, poor sperm
production, scanty menstrual flow
Yellow liv, li constipation, poor fat digestion, low
root* hematocrit during pregnancy
Spirulina* liv, ki, ht low hematocrit, protein deficiency in
vegetarians, low sperm count
Sea ki, ht, liv slow metabolism, overweight,
vegetation* neurasthenia, weakness due to anemia

Qi Tonics

Symptoms: fatigue, often poor digestion accompanied by gas, pain, bloating
after meals; depression, chronic loose bowels, a feeling of heaviness in
the limbs.

Ren shen ginseng rt lu, sp fatigue, poor appetite, poor digestion,
heart palpitations, low sex drive,
impotence, infertility
Dang shen* codonopsis rt lu, sp painful digestion, weakness, fatigue, low
semen production, low appetite
Bellflower* Campanula sp. lu, sp American species with large, sweet roots
may be a substitute for codonopsis
Tai zhi shen Pseudostellaria rt sp, lu improves digestion, low appetite, mental
fatigue, neurasthenia
Huang qi* Astragalus rt sp, lu cancer, cysts, weakness, diarrhea, poor
appetite with fatigue
Shan yao Dioscorea rt sp, lu poor appetite, digestion, diarrhea with
weakness, cough with weakness, seminal
emission, frequent urination with weakness
Bai shu Atractylodis alba rt sp, st diarrhea, poor digestion, fatigue, low
appetite, mental fatigue, water retention,
nausea, fetal restlessness
Da zao* Zizypus fr sp harmonizes other herbs, poor appetite,
digestion, anxiety, sleeplessness **red
Chinese dates can be grown
Gan cao* licorice rt all 12 pathogenic heat, ulcers, controls cough,
swellings, boils, palpitations, toxicity
during pregnancy **Glycyrrhiza lepidota is
wild American sp.
Huang jing Polygonatum rz sp, lu strengthens sperm, debility, weakness, dry
cough, thirst**P. pubescens common
East-coast sp.
Maltose* Saccharum granorum sp, lu, st pain, coughs, poor digestion with weakness
**substitute barley malt, brown rice syrup
baked, Ipoema batatas sp poor appetite, fatigue, spontaneous
dried sweating, anorexia, mental lassitude
Eryngo, sea Eryngium sp. sp, st, lu baked, honeyed roots make an excellent Qi
holly* tonic for the lungs and digestion; species
available locally; western substitute for

Yin Tonics

Symptoms: ringing in the ears, fatigue, lower back pain, weak knees, night

Sha shen Glehnia rt lu, ki pain, edema, colds, pathogenic heatXi
yang shen
American* Panax quinquefolium lu, st dry cough with deficiency heat, weakness
ginseng rt due to stress, sugar addiction
Tian men dong* Asparagus rt (A. lu, ki cough with fatigue, weakness, neurasthenia
Mai men dong Ophiopogon rt lu, st, ht coughs, thirst, lung weakness with
general fatigue, constipation, blood
sugar irregularity
Shi hu Dendrobium hb st, lu, ki thirst, fevers, weakness due to sexual
excess, low back pain, weak knees
Bai he Lilium bulb lu, ht low-grade fever, restlessness,
sleeplessness, heart palpitations
Shang ji sheng Loranthus rm li, ki uterine bleeding during pregnancy,
restless fetus, dry skin, brittle hair,
weak bones
Han lian cao* Eclipta hb li, ki dizziness, vertigo, graying of hair,
excessive menstrual bleeding
Nu zhen zi* Ligustrum fr li, ki fatigue, weakness due to excessive sexual
activity, dizziness, tinnitis, spots in
front of eyes; common ornamental, widely
Hei zhi ma* black sesame sm li, ki weakness, severe illness recovery,
headaches, menstrual constipation
Bai mu er* Tremella fb lu, st, ki dryness, lung heat conditions, dry cough,
scanty menstruation, low semen output
Yams* baked, sliced, dried lu, sp, ki yin deficiency, fatigue, poor digestion

Yang Tonics

Symptoms: same as under yin tonics, but with a feeling of coldness, avoidance
of cold and low sex drive.

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Written by Christopher Hobbs LAc AHG

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