The world of tonic herbs stole my heart many years ago. After growing up in a culture that mostly waited until one was sick and experiencing symptoms of illness until treatment (and realising that most Traditional Chinese Medicine and western herbalism is practiced in a similar allopathic way, for that matter), I was enchanted by the path of tonic herbalism that the Taoists paved millennia ago.
I found this tonic herbalism magic; the herbs are adaptogenic and contained a sophistication that led them to build, cultivate and further develop the various systems and organs of the body in a way that was both preventative and simultaneously fuelled our love for life, and therefore the desire and capacity to experience a nice long one.
Along the way there were several books that inspired me to go deeper into this topic and helped me develop the mindset so that I could begin to understand how deep the benefits of the tonic herbalism path can go. Here are my three favourites:
Before medicinal mushrooms like reishi and chaga became uber trendy, Christopher Hobbs was nerding out on this incredible class of tonic herbs and paving the way for us to learn about this magical realm of mushies that seem to be here to dramatically change the way humans heal and potentiate their health. I recently met Christopher and he is a testament to the long-term benefits of both ingesting and hunting for wild medicinal mushrooms. His book is the main reason I dove so deep into the mushies and why, through SuperFeast, I strive to use wild-crafted mushrooms that still contain the magic of the land. I highly suggest getting a copy of Medicinal Mushrooms if you’d like to enter into this realm further (there is a reprint on the cards for the next few months, so perhaps wait until this is out as it will have some exciting new scientific revelations as to how mushrooms like reishi work wonders on the immune system).
Just an outright wonderful book that can provide you with the understanding of Taoist tonic herbalism and the concepts that have an ability to expand the way we look at the body and its organs. From the three treasures, the role of the organs and yin/yang, you’ll enter into the language and concepts that allow us to communicate effectively about how tonic herbs act in the body. The listing of the most revered tonic herbs in China along with their benefits, uses and lore is such a potent foundation for aspiring tonic herb nerds. You’ll also experience the intention and “science” behind tonic herbal formulations. It is just so nice diving into a herbal book that isn’t focused on what the herbs can heal (even though tonics can also help heal and relieve symptoms), but also covers how they help us to generate potent levels of health and bring on some sweet anti-ageing vibes.
When you dive deeper into the ways in which long-term usage of tonic herbs helps to harmonise and enhance the body it is SUPER useful to get the concept of the Five Elements as laid down by the Taoists and Chinese medicine. Along with the elements comes an encouragement to get to know your inner organs. You see, it makes it hard for us in the West to be interested in something unless we can see it (which is why we focus so much on building muscles, despite the fact that people who focus on this don’t seem to really extend their lives in any impressive amount). Reading this book helped me to get in touch with the organs via the explanation of the adaptive expressions that emerge through the elements that are associated with them. The reason I like this so much especially is because he doesn’t just say “the kidneys are water element, their emotion is fear and courage…. duhhhhhhh,” but rather gives us an insight into the way that the elements and organs adapt and express within their environment and the process required to bring our organs in harmony so they may explore their purest expression. It’s bloody cool and game-changing, especially for the tonic herbalist.
Whether you’re a practitioner wanting to expand into the realms of tonic herbalism or someone, like me, who is incredibly interested in researching ways to enhance your health, then I recommend diving deep into these epic books so that you can further hone and enhance your tonic herb practice.
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Part III of our series, where we check in on how you are, provide some updates on how the HQ is operating and chat about herbs...