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Superior Medicine; the New Old Medicines/Remedies

By Mark J Kaylor

One of the oldest and longest operating system of healing is traditional Chinese Medicine dating back thousands of years.  Within this tradition they graded the remedies on 3 levels: inferior, general, and superior.  Inferior remedies were thought of as the assistance, used for the curing of illness and symptomatic relief.  These “medicinal” substances acted in a linear and unidirectional manner much like the pharmaceutical drugs in common use today.  General remedies are the ministers used for both preventive and medicinal purposes.  It is the superior medicines that we are going to explore in this article. Superior herbs are the rulers; used for prolonging and maximizing life, promoting overall well-being, enhancing the body’s Qi – aka life energy.  Fundamentally they help you be the best you, you can be.

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This healing orientation requires us to significantly change the way we look at healthcare and in the larger sense calls for a drastic paradigm shift. It requires us to move beyond a symptom and disease model, even beyond prevention, to one oriented to maximizing our health and vitality. The necessity for such a dramatic reorienting can be seen in the failures of our current health “care” (a misnomer in that it is not health centered rather it is disease oriented) while the US spends far more money on health care than any other country and yet we are not even in the top 20 of longest-lived nations. The US also fairs poorly when it comes to infant mortality, not ranked in the top 10 of modernized countries. On top of this are the indisputable demographics of an aging baby boom or population. Simply put Western medicine has become too expensive while not yielding the desired results and the most powerful healing allies we have available to us to help us with this are tonics. (See Reishi Insert)

In reviewing several of the books and many, many articles on tonics one of the things I have found a bit contradictory is that inevitably the discussion turns toward what diseases or symptoms each tonic is good for. The irony here is that this is fundamentally not what the tonic approach is all about nor does it honor the true nature of what makes them so special and unique.

tempCheck out the Tonic Orientation box to see what they are all about, it’s not that these tonics don’t have specific applications, they do in fact, have a huge body of scientific research confirming a myriad of specific uses. (Enlarge Image)

In light of the fact that there is such a significant amount of research on them along with hundreds if not thousands of years of hands-on use it would be impossible to do even any one of these tonics justice in a thousand words. So instead of trying to squeeze in a whole bunch of research this article is going to share a glimpse, just a taste, of the energetics and nature of each tonic with the hope that it will pique your interest in more deeply exploring these, dare I say it, magical remedies.

The Tonics

Panax or Asian Ginseng: the granddaddy of the tonic family, Ginseng is said to enlighten the mind, quiet the spirit, increase the wisdom, and build vital energy. In fact it was so highly prized that the Latin name Panax is derived from the Greek for panacea, all healing.

American Ginseng:  as Panax’ American cousin it has many of the properties of Asian ginseng but is better suited for the type A driven personality. It reduces stress, heightens alertness, and nourishes the lungs and stomach.

Reishi: traditionally associated with immortality it has been long used and revered by sages for thousands of years throughout Asia. Reishi is thought to help us perceive more deeply, connect to the divine, and clear karmic baggage.

Known as the “mushroom of spiritual potency” I refer to it as the “tonic for the 21st century” because of its benefits in relation to the big 3 of disease in the modern era: heart disease, cancer, and stress. The one word though that best summarizes the nature of Reishi’s gift is balance.

Shilajit: this is a tar-like substance that exudes from rocks. According to an ancient Ayurvedic text; “there is no curable disease in the universe that cannot be cured by Shilajitu.”

Chyawanprash: according to the above mentioned Ayurvedic text the benefits of using 40 herb blend are: “one obtains longevity of life, memory, understanding, health, youth, brightness, complexion, excellence of voice, great strength of body and the senses, power of making speech true, bows (from others) and comeliness of features”. Certainly peaks my interest, how about you?

He Shou Wu: in traditional Chinese medicine, this herb is said to impart youthfulness, longevity, and virility. It is reputed to be the secret of longevity for Li Qing Yuen who is reported to have lived to 252 years old. As a Yin tonic it is good for weakness of the lower back, hips, and knees. It is probably best known in the West as an aid to prevent or reverse graying hair.

Cordyceps: found at very high altitudes in the Himalayan Mountains, it was discovered by shepherds who noticed that when the yak grazed on this mushroom they became quite randy and frisky thereby acquiring its nickname as a “yakodisiac”. This tonic is one of the top 2 or 3 legitimate longevity remedies. It strengthens the body and mind at a fundamental level and builds “motivating” energy while nourishing the essence of the body. Research suggests that the longer you use it the greater the benefits.

Shatavari: considered a powerful rejuvenative in Ayurveda, it is said to prolong life, open the (emotional) heart, improve memory and intelligence, and nourish the feminine–guys don’t be afraid to try this herb. The name translates as “she who has hundreds of husbands”.

Schizandra: if used for 100 days it is said “to purify the blood, sharp in the mind, improve memory, rejuvenate the kidneys and cause the skin to become radiantly beautiful.” Schizandra calms the spirit, soothes anxiety, and helps to prevent the loss of physical, mental, and spiritual energy.

Eleuthero, formerly known as Siberian Ginseng: if you’re worried about stress then this is the herb you.

Albizzia: a favorite in my household it nourishes and supports our emotional “heart” making it useful for broken hearts, great loss, worry, fright, and paranoia. Overall Albizzia lifts, lightens, and opens one’s mood and energies and who living in this crazy world could use a little bit of this?

Ligustrum or Glossy Privet: originally I wasn’t planning on mentioning this not well-known in the West herb but since a dreamed about it I feel a responsibility to introduce it.  As a Yin tonic it is supportive of the kidneys and liver and may be useful to improve blurred vision, premature graying, and lower back pain.

Nutritional tonics

There are several foods, herbs and even a couple of nutrients that I refer to as nutritional tonics because they are so nutritionally supportive of the body and they deserve to be mentioned in this conversation. The common weed Dandelion, digestion and liver support; Burdock, nutritive blood cleanser; Chickweed, kidney and urinary tract support; Nettle, mineral rich, like clearing and said to brighten the vital essence; and Alfalfa, restorative tonic; are of special note in this category. They are edible, make wonderful teas, and are available in several supplemental forms. One food group that we all are familiar with that warrants tonic mention is the berries. The compounds found in berries have such broad, diverse, and system supporting benefits that they do fill the tonic bill.

While many may not consider specific nutritional substances to qualify as a tonic, the dynamic duo of acetyl L–carnitine and alpha lipoic acid bring such profound benefits to the body from a cellular level all the way up to the organism as a whole should in my mind make them a legitimate tonic. Among the vast array of benefits and research is an intriguing and promising study performed at UC Berkeley where these 2 compounds used together only stopped the aging process in rats, they actually successfully reversed it. The head researcher suggested that this was the equivalent of turning a 70-year-old person into someone in his or her mid-40s.

The Tonic Catch-22

Probably the one aspect of utilizing tonics to the Western mind is the ‘No Result’ result. By this I mean that often the evidence that tonics are working is found in the lack of results. How can this be a good thing you ask? It is as the old saying goes “no news is good news”. A tonic may be working because you didn’t get that cold or infection that’s been going around, or maybe you didn’t experience the chronic symptoms that we associate with getting older such as memory loss, fatigue, lack of libido, or even cancer or heart disease. This is the tricky aspect of tonic use that requires of us a shift in thinking and perception.

My fervent hope is that you will include 1, 2, 3 or even all of these tonics in your daily routine. Only with the regular and long-term use of these remedies can we hope to realize our fullest health and life potential. May the use tonics help you on your path to radiant health.

Mark J. Kaylor has been exploring holistic health and healing for close to four decades. He is the founder and director of the not-for-profit Radiant Health Project. Mark welcomes you comments and questions and can be contacted at his website: or on facebook at
Disclaimer: All information and results stated here is for educational and entertainment purposes only. The information mentioned here is not specific medical advice for any individual and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. This content should not substitute medical advice from a health professional. Always consult your health practitioner regarding any health or medical conditions.