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Tonic Herbs : Supplemental therapy - Page 1

In the oriental systems of healing rejuvenation and regeneration have a prominent place in the herbal philosophy and pharmacopoeia. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine regenerating herbs are called tonic or supplemental herbs. In Western herbology, there is a class of herbs called adaptogens, a coined word which refers to herbs that help us to adapt to various stresses internally and externally, but an in depth philosophy of rebuilding and rejuvenation is missing from much of the Western alternative healing systems.

What is available in the West for rejuvenation is usually cleansing techniques such as fasting, sweating and using herbs that clear pathogens and waste from the body. Herbs that help facilitate this are laxatives, diuretics, emetics and diaphoretics. For some people with certain constitutional proclivities and conditions this is a good way to begin their herbal program. After a cleansing program of this nature, some of the people will feel revitalized because the metabolic waste that were inhibiting the biological functions were eliminated, but we must remember, there are many people who are depleted of essential nutrients and vital energy thus fasting will not be the right step for them. In fact, in some cases it can actually worsen the situation and weaken the essence.

Even those who are able to cleanse successfully must consider taking the rebuilding herbs and foods to protect and increase their essence. Anabolism, building of tissue, ( a kapha or yin quality), is a necessary part of our health and well being.


Before jumping to the conclusion that someone needs to cleanse, the practitioner needs to evaluate the basic vitality of a person. The cleansing should not decrease their storehouse of basic energy, known in Ayurvedic medicine as Ojas and in Chinese medicine as Jing. If the cleansing is excessive or if the person does not have the vital force to go through a cleanse then their energy will dwindle and may leave the person with weakened digestion, fuzzy thinking, and possibly with a compromised immune system. In other words, people have to have enough basic energy in order to undergo rigorous fasts and cleansing techniques.

One example of inappropriate cleansing stands out in my mind as an example. A few years ago, I had befriended an elderly woman who was health oriented. She was drawn to a teacher who promoted raw foods and extreme cleanses and decided to go to his retreat center for a cleanse. There she began to have juices, raw foods and water for three weeks. By the third week she was unable to get up from under the tree where she was lying and had to be carried to her room. The teacher said it was due to more toxins in the system and she had to continue the cleanse. In a few days she broke out on the forehead with an awful sore that wouldn't heal. She finally was sent home were she was terribly ill and weak.

She called her local herbalist who was a Western herbalist but had studied and utilized Eastern principles to her practice, much in the manner that I do. She evaluated my friend and said she had diminished her vital force through a deficient diet. She told her to have no raw foods or juices and recommended eggs, soups, meat broth, warm mild herbs teas and steamed vegetables. She gave her building tonic herbs to enhance her vitality and had her rest until she was fully recovered. In a months time, my friend had returned to her customary state and her sore had cleared up.

Although we may see people in our clinic who are very toxic, they are also very deficient in many ways due to dietary inadequacies, eating of inappropriate substances and excess unrelenting stresses. Along with all this, you may also see that there has been sleep deprivation ( ie. 80% of Americans are sleep deficient - lack of deep sleep or not enough hours of sleep per day) as well as excess use of drugs (prescribed, over the counter or street) , excess coffee, carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol. In my clinic, I've noticed this scenario emerging more frequently in the last 8 years or so. The big question is how does the clinician approach a case like this.

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