[Editors note: Due to the length of this article, it was run in two of our printed issues, this is part 2 which describes the last 25 herbs. The introduction and sidebars are repeated for clarity as well as emphasis. The author uses terminology with which most of our readers are familiar, but briefly, the three treasures of Chinese medicine are "Jing" (essence), "Qi" (energy), and "Shen" (spirit). To achieve health, these treasures are balanced by bringing yin (deficient) or yang (excessive) qualities into equilibrium by using herbs, diet, meditation, exercise, lifestyle changes, etc. See Part 1 for a list of the first 25 herbs.]
Chinese tonic herbalism is the most sophisticated and effective herbal system in the world. It differs from other herbal systems in that it emphasizes the promotion of health rather than the elimination of disease. In this sense, tonic herbalism is extremely similar to qigong. Though qigong offers a wide variety of remedial exercises and techniques, quite clearly the emphasis is on developing superior health and spiritual power by performing exercises that harmonize the body, mind and spirit, that develop the Three Treasures, Jing, Qi and Shen, that integrate the organs, and help us harmonize with the environment and the universe.
Of the several thousand herbs used in the Chinese herbal system, there is an elite group of about fifty herbs known as the Superior Herbs. These very special herbs have also become known as the tonic herbs of Chinese herbalism. These incomparable, legendary herbal substances have stood the test of time. Each has in its own right come to be recognized through many centuries of continuous use to be a remarkable life-enhancing tonic. These are the true supersonics, the greatest list of herbal substances in the world.
The following descriptions are not exhaustive. They present insight into these 50 great tonic herbs and provide the most important functions of each oneknowledge that every qigong practitioner should have. The information provided here is designed to lay the groundwork for a broader understanding of tonic herbalism. If you are a health care practitioner, you may read descriptions in a number of texts, including the authors most recent book, The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs, published by Warner Books, that provides complete information on all of these herbs. In actual practice, most of these herbs are combined into formulations that may be consumed on a daily or otherwise regular basis to promote our long term health and well-being.
The herbs are presented here in alphabetical order for your ease in referencing them.
Ligusticum wallichi is a very widely used blood tonic. It is especially common in womens blood tonic formulations. Ligusticum is a superb blood vitalizing herb used to improve blood circulation and to disperse blood stagnation. It has recently been found to improve blood circulation in the heart. It is sometimes called Cnidium on some product labels, and should not be confused with Cnidium seed, a Yang essence tonic.
Ligustrum is a Yin essence (Jing) tonic that is said by the Chinese to prolong life. It has been found to contain significant immune enhancing agents. It is also used as a blood tonic. It has a slightly cool energy.
Longan is a wonderful and delicious tonic fruit used by the Chinese as a blood tonic, to nurture the heart, and to add luster and beauty to the skin. It is believed among the Chinese people that Longan is not only a great tonic for the skin, but is also a fantastic sex tonic. For that reason, Longan is considered as a special tonic for women who wish to be both beautiful and sexually active it has a 2000 year reputation as a love tonic. It is said that the most beautiful woman in the history of China, Yang Kuei Fei ate Longan every day. Longan is equally beneficial to men. It is believed to have a calming effect and to add radiance to the eyes. High quality Longan makes a fantastic snack.
This delicious fruit is very widely used as an excellent Yin Jing and blood tonic. Regular consumption of Lycium is traditionally believed to lead to a long and happy life. It is said that prolonged consumption of Lycium will promote cheerfulness and vitality. Lycium is also said to brighten the eyes and improve vision. It is said that Lycium strengthens the legs and enhances sexual function. Lycium fruit contains polysaccharides that have been demonstrated to strongly fortify the immune system. Lycium is also very rich in vitamin C and in B vitamins. Furthermore, it is the richest source of carotenoids, including beta carotene, of all known plants on earth and is thus a powerful antioxidant.
Maitake mushroom has gained a place in tonic herbalism due to its broad spectrum tonic benefits similar to Agaricus and Reishi. Like Agaricus, it is primarily beneficial to the immune system, having double-direction activity on the entire immune system.
Morinda is an excellent Yang Jing tonic. It is considered to be highly nutritious and is used in superior tonic formulas for strengthening the body. It is widely used in primal Jing formulations, often as the main ingredient. Morinda is widely believed in China to increase mental power. It is also considered to be beneficial to the heart. Morinda is excellent for martial artists because it makes you strong.
This herb, which is very similar both biologically and in its actions to wild Asparagus root, is primarily used as a Yin tonic, and especially as a Lung tonic. It is excellent for moistening any dryness in the body. It is considered to be a cold herb. It has special benefits for the Heart, and is said by the Daoists to be a major Shen tonic herb. Therefore, Ophiopogon has been very widely used by Daoist adepts through the centuries.
Pearl is a very special herbal substance used since ancient times. Powdered Pearl is used as a Shen tonic to stabilize the emotions, allay fright, ease frustration and anger, brighten the eyes and help regenerate tissue. Pearl is also used as a major beauty tonic, because it is believed that oral consumption of Pearl powder results in lustrous, pure, beautiful skin. Pearl powder is also used topically in skin creams to purify the skin. The best pearls, for herbal purposes, are wild seawater pearls that come from cold northern waters. The smaller the pearls, the more powerful their effect. However, modern technology has made it possible for anyone to consume excellent pearl powder that is highly assimilable and extremely nutritious. This dissolvable Pearl powder is known as hydrolyzed Pearl.
Peony root is an important blood tonic used to relax muscle and cleanse the blood. It is one of the most highly prized womens herbs used traditionally to help regulate the female hormonal cycle and to tonify and purify the blood. It is also used as a pain reducing agent and as an emotional stabilizer by women. It is said to help relieve cramps and spasms anywhere in the body. In particular, it is considered to be highly effective in relieving menstrual cramps. Peony root is also believed to extend life and to promote beauty. An old Chinese saying states that a woman who consumes Peony root regularly becomes as beautiful as the Peony flower itself.
Because of its role in nurturing new life, Placenta is considered to be the most profound substance for replenishing Yin and Yang Jing and blood. It is also considered to be a major Qi tonic. It is the dominant ingredient in many of the greatest restorative formulations, where quick and powerful replenishment is required. Sheep are the most common source of Placenta at this time.
Polygonatum Sibericum Root
This herb is used as a Qi tonic and as a Yin Jing tonic that is said to have a specific benefit on the brain. It is believed to be restorative to mental vitality, especially when the mind has been overworked. It is often used in Shen and Jing tonics to nourish the brain and strengthen the mind. This herb has been very popular among Daoists and all Qigong practitioners because of its nourishing effect on the brain.
Polygonum RootHo Shou Wu
Constant consumption of this famous longevity herb, whose full name is Polygonum multiflorum, is said in the Orient to help return an aging person to youthfulness and to keep a young person young. It is an unsurpassed Yin Jing tonic, as well as a major blood tonic. It is said to increase energy and to clean the blood. As an essence tonic, it is believed to be a powerful sexual tonic when consumed regularly. Polygonum is widely believed in China to increase sperm production in men and to increase fertility in women. It is used in almost all tonics that are believed in the Orient to nurture the hair and teeth. This herb has been consumed by almost every Daoist that has ever lived, and is fundamental to the practice of the Daoist inner arts.
Ant tonics are widely consumed in Asia to promote strength, sexual vigor and as a powerful anti aging agent. Research has proven that ants are highly nutritious and have powerful tonic and medicinal effects. Ant is considered a premium adaptogenic substance in the same ranks as Ginseng, Reishi and Cordyceps, the superstars of Chinese tonic herbalism. In fact, there is a saying in China that ginseng is the King of Herbs, but Ant is the Herb of Kings. Ant is widely used to boost the immune system, or to maintain already strong immune functions.
Polyrachis Ant, which is the unique variety of ant used as a tonic herb, has been established to have double-direction benefits on the immune system, so it can be used by anyone with any immune disorder to regulate immune functions. It is widely believed to prevent common symptoms associated with aging, such as lumbago (low back pain), memory loss, joint problems, fatigue, menopausal symptoms, cardiovascular disease, etc. It also strengthens the nervous system, digestive functions, detoxification functions and muscular system. Because of its long and short term energy boosting effects, Ant tonics are ideal for athletes, especially when combined with Ginseng, Cordyceps and other similar tonics. Ant strengthens the entire Kidney system, including the sexual functions, skeletal structures and renal system. Ant has a serious reputation in Asia for increasing libido and virility. Both men and women claim that after using Ant for even a short time that their interest in sex increases significantly and that their sexual performance improves in numerous ways.
Poria is very widely used in Chinese herbalism. It is traditionally used as a Qi tonic to benefit the internal organs. It is a solid fungus that grows on the roots of old pine trees. It is mildly diuretic and sedative, and is considered to be highly nourishing. This is an herb that has been widely used by Daoists through the centuries and was often consumed as a primary food source by Daoist hermits.
The miracle root for the preservation of life, as this herb has traditionally been called by the Chinese, stands as one of the great health preserving herbs known to mankind. Panax Pseudoginseng is a relative of Panax Ginseng. It is a superb blood tonic and blood cleanser when cooked. It is a powerful blood vitalizing agent when consumed raw, which means that it improves circulation throughout the body. It is believed by the Chinese to protect the heart and vascular system. It can be used externally to stop bleeding. It is widely used internally in Chinese herbalism as a tonic after traumatic injury. It is one of Chinas premier longevity herbs.
Rehmannia is said to be the Kidneys own food. It is thus believed to be a Kidney tonic and longevity herb and is found in many common anti-aging formulations for longevity, and rejuvenation. It is also considered a premium blood tonic and is said to benefit sexual functions in men and women. The steamed variety is said to be warm in nature, and it is the steamed variety that is considered tonic. Steamed Rehmannia should be combined with Qi tonics to improve its assimilation.
Also known Lingzhi (Chinese), Reishi is considered by many people to be the ultimate tonic herb. It is widely renowned in the Orient as the mushroom of immortality and the herb of good fortune. The best Reishi is the red variety known as Ganoderma lucidum. Reishi is now cultivated in China, and the very best Reishi is grown on Duanwood logs by organic means, and thus it is known as Duanwood Reishi. Hothouse Reishi and Reishi mycelium are of inferior quality. Wild Reishi is also available, and high quality wild red Reishi is said to be a premier Shen tonic. Reishi has been demonstrated in research done in China and Japan to be a significant immune system enhancing agent that also protects the various organs and tissues of the body. It is the supreme Shen tonic of Chinese tonic herbalism, and is also considered to be a major Qi tonic. Reishi has an immediate calming influence, and over time is believed to help enhance wisdom, which may lead to true spiritual insight. Reishi protects the liver from poisons and has a very powerful regulating effect on people who experience allergies. Again, every Daoist that has ever lived in China consumed Reishi as often as possible. Everybody should consume Duanwood or wild Reishi every day, and practitioners of Qigong or other forms of Daoist yoga should never miss a day.
Rhodiola Root (Tibetan)
According to the Tibetans, Rhodiola, which grows at the snow line of the Himalayas in Tibet, may be used as a tonic to increase vitality. It is superb for strengthening the body and mind, resisting fatigue, resisting a lack of oxygen, for exposure to excessive radiation, and for prolonging life. The immune potentiating effects of Tibetan Rhodiola are stronger than those of ginseng. It has a notable restorative effect if one consumes a preparation while the tired body is recovering or is failing to recover from strong or excessive exertion. It has double-direction-adjusting effects on the nervous and endocrine systems. It is especially well known in Asia for increasing the intelligence of those who consume it regularly. It can improve a persons memory, power of concentration and work-efficiency. Consumption of a small amount of Tibetan Rhodiola extract significantly improves a persons capacity to absorb and utilize oxygen. This is a major key to the incredible benefits associated with this herb. When you consume Tibetan Rhodiola, it is the same as inhaling pure oxygen. Tibetan Rhodiola was considered sacred by the monks of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Its Latin name is Rhodiola sacra.
A natural food substance produced by worker bees for their queen. This incredibly nutritious whole food is rich in a very broad spectrum of important vitamins, minerals and other substances essential to radiant health. Royal Jelly is believed to be an important beauty aid and is said to beautify the skin, eyes and hair. It is widely available in many commercially prepared products, or it can be obtained fresh, straight from the hive. Fresh Royal Jelly can have profound health benefits.
Schizandra is a wonderful tonic historically consumed by Chinese royalty. It is one of the few herbs that contains all three treasures. Therefore, Schizandra was consumed by all Daoists throughout Chinese history. Schizandra is renowned as a beauty tonic and is considered to be a youth preserving herb. It has been used for centuries to make the skin soft, moist and radiant. It is also said to be a powerful tonic to the brain and mind, and is believed in China to improve memory. It is also said to be an excellent and reliable sexual tonic when consumed regularly. It is said to help produce abundant sexual fluids, increase sexual endurance and to strengthen the whole body. It is used in many tonic formulations as an astringent.. Schizandra has a wonderful multi-layered flavor when processed properly. Schizandra is a must herb for Qigong practitioners.
Shitake mushroom is a potent immune modulating herb. It contains the beta-glucan type of polysaccharides that have been found to bolster the immune response of humans. Shitake also helps reduce blood lipids and bad cholesterol. Shitake is widely used as a food, though it is also available as a food supplement.
Siberian Ginseng is an incredibly important and popular tonic herb. It is another relative of true ginseng, though it shows no physical resemblance to Panax Ginseng. Wild Eleutherococcus senticosis grows widely in Siberia, Mongolia and Northeastern China. It is famous as an adaptogenic herb, thus aiding in handling of stress. It has been used for centuries to increase physical and mental endurance, to build blood and to improve memory. It is now widely used to regulate blood sugar levels, and is especially popular among athletes and those who work hard. It is perhaps the most popular herb in the world among martial arts practitioners.
Snow Lotus Flower
This herb is extremely rare and precious. It comes from one of the most remote areas of Asia. Snow Lotus has a general health promoting effect. It regulates the functions of different organs. In particular, it improves the immune system, prevents internal and external diseases, improves adaptability, and eliminates body toxins. Snow Lotus is anti-aging, strengthens the body, preserves youthfulness, and helps with all kinds of diseases. Snow Lotus calms and eliminates wind, smoothes Liver function, sedates rising Liver yang. It replenishes the Yin, strengthens the Yang, tonifies the blood, strengthens the sinews, relieves swelling and pain, improves blood circulation, removes blood stagnation, is said to remove sludge from the blood vessels, and promotes longevity. It clears away heat, toxic material and dampness. It is extremely rare and precious. Though it is equally beneficial to men and women, Snow Lotus has been the favorite herb of female Daoists and Qigong practitioners for many centuries.
Spirit Poria Mushroom
This special variety of Poria is considered a premium Shen tonic herb. It is the part of the Poria mushroom that contains the root of the old pine tree, upon which it has grown. Spirit Poria is said to benefit the heart, to nourish the Spirit and to lead to a long and happy life. It is often used by those wishing to overcome anxiety, worry, fear, etc. This is a very special herb traditionally used by Daoist adepts to help attain enlightenment.
The shell of the tortoise is a very special and potent Yin Essence tonic that also builds blood. It is said to increase fluids, build hormones and to replenish substances lost to stress and excessive behavior. The species used is cultivated for food and is not endangered if from a reputable vendor.
Ron Teeguarden has been practicing daoism and a variety of specific Daoist healing arts for over 30 years. Ron has spent many years studying in China and Japan. He studied with the legendary Daoist master Sung Jin Park in the 1970s, and as Master Parks primary student, took a vow to spread daoism in America. He was the co-founder of the Acupressure Workshops in Venice and Berkeley, Calif. Ron co-developed the acupressure technique known as Jin Shin Do. Ron has taught the Daoist healing arts to thousands of people. He wrote the classic book Chinese Tonic Herbs published by Japan Publications in 1985. His most recent book, The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs, published by Warner Books is available from our Qi Catalog. Ron is the developer of the Dragon Herbs line of superior tonic herbal products, which are also available through Qi Catalog.
© Qi Journal, Spring 2002