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Tonics: Your Path to Radiant Health

By Mark J Kaylor

The urgency, nature, and substance of this introduction were changed dramatically at the last minute as I received the news that a very dear friend had passed away after her long and valiant battle with breast cancer.  Now I imagine you are asking yourself what does breast cancer have to do with “tonic remedies”?  I thought tonics were not about disease and symptomatic relief but more so about health, maintenance, vitality, etc.  Well you are right; tonics are about maximizing and optimizing our health and longevity.  The passing of my friend, and unfortunately the millions of others that we lose every year due to an array of chronic diseases, like heart disease or cancer is a call for a revolutionary re-orienting of our focus and orientation with regards to our health and healing.  The current approach simply isn’t working.

We live with a healthcare system as well as a personal focus that tends to ignore our body and health until something breaks.  For many it goes even further, we ignore our body’s messages until it says “enough, you need to pay attention, this needs to be tended to.”  Why wait for a crisis?  Why wait for the pain or discomfort to rear up?  Why not be attentive to our health on a daily basis, maximizing our health potential, and hopefully (because, unfortunately there are no guarantees) prevent these imbalances and diseases from happening in the first place.  This is the “Tonic” approach.

And while diet, lifestyle, and mindset are of ultimate import, nature has provided us an array of tonic healing allies that can help us optimize our health and healing, hopefully moving us further along on our path to Radiant Health.  So this article is dedicated to the millions of loved ones that have gone before us that we have lost way too early.  It is also intended as an offering to you, hoping that YOU will take up the banner of your health, espousing not just a relief from symptoms, but a focus on optimizing your vitality – embracing being the best you, you can be.  So if you are interested in a healthier, happier, more balanced, energized, and possible even longer life here are some tonics for you.

What I am going to try to do is to share a little flavor of, offer you a feel for what each of these tonic remedies are about, not a list of actions, benefits, and applications. I realize this is a little risky because of the Western or allopathic perspective on health care but still hope that this will peak your interest into exploring and hopefully trying the tonics of your choice. (To see a brief breakdown of how the conventional medicine differs from a tonic approach see chart). inflammation causes_CHART The picture offered here will only be the tip of the tip of the iceberg for these tonics are long-used and energetically rich, with a very broad and diverse array of health supporting actions. (Enlarge Image)

“When the heart is not healthy, the entire system is deceased”

The above Unani medicine (Greco-Arabic traditional medicine) saying is still timely today.  Many traditional healing systems placed a great import on the emotional/spiritual element of health and healing.  As I’m sure many of you would agree, there is plenty of “disturbance” going on in the world and in our lives so I want to begin with some herbal allies that support our emotional/spiritual radiance, what is referred to in traditional Chinese Medicine as Shen.

First up, and with good reason, is a remedy I call the “tonic for the 21st century,” Reishi.  Used and highly prized for thousands of years in Asia, Reishi is not only an outstanding Shen tonic it is also a tonic for the brain, central nervous and cardiovascular system, heart, lungs, kidneys, adrenals, liver, and so much more.  It is said to nurture the growth of intelligence and wisdom, while calming the mind and building willpower. Reishi almost with its first use promotes a sense of peacefulness.  The word that best sums up Reishi’s gift is balance.  If you are looking for balance on any level in any way in your life I encourage you to try Reishi extract.

Shatavari is another ancient herb that was, and is, widely used for Shen support coming out of the Ayurvedic healing tradition.  It is said to open the heart, prolong life, and lift a person’s spirit to the degree that it was thought to make you feel so light and buoyant that you would feel like you could fly.  It was also used to support lung function, tonify sexual functions in both men and especially women, and reputed to make one’s skin beautiful.

Next up is a favorite around my house, Albizzia, which is a type of mimosa tree. Albizzia is a tonic for the emotional center of the body, which it is said to nourish and strengthen. It is a wonderful remedy for those suffering loss, fear, excessive worry, or even a broken heart. The flowers are considered to be uplifting while the bark has a more soothing effect.

Tonics A to Z

Amla:  This powerful tonic is thought to promote longevity, strengthen the lungs, and support heart health.  It is bioflavonoid-rich and an effective anti-oxidant.

Ashwagandha:  This adaptogen calms and strengthens the nervous system while reducing stress and supporting adrenal function as it increases immune health and overall vitality.  A nice energizing tonic for those of us who are too wound up or agitated, well suited for the type A workaholic personality.

Astragalus:  Best known for its immune support, it strengthens Qi (vital force), as well as the heart, lungs, and digestion.  Astragalus is good for those who catch every bug that comes around.

Chaga:  This medicinal mushroom has long been used in Russia and Scandinavia.  It is a potent immune booster and antioxidant with significant anti-inflammatory actions. Chaga is a constitutional strengthener that builds “strong” (not stimulatory) energy.

Chyawanprash:  This is the foremost tonic in Ayurvedic medicine that is considered to be beneficial for virtually all imbalances, especially aging.  Intelligence, memory, beauty, longevity, and strength are but a few of the attributes it is said to impart.

Cordyceps:  If you have any interest in living a long life full of vitality and energy then this is the remedy for you.  Best known as an aid to increasing energy and endurance, Cordyceps is particularly effective at strengthening the heart, lungs, and kidneys as well those balancing and building the endocrine system.

Eleuthero:  If you are all too familiar with stress than give this a try.

Ginseng: With thousands of years of use Ginseng is said to strengthen our vital or life force, building energy but not in the typically stimulating Western way.  It enhances the body on micro to macro levels, from our DNA and RNA to strengthening and enhancing all the organs and systems along with our muscles and bones.

Guduchi:  A leading tonic in Ayurveda, it is known as the “one who protects the body.” To give you a sense of how powerful it was thought to be, it was said to be full of the nectar of the gods. This regenerative is balancing, age reversing, immune supporting, and detoxifying, particularly for deeper toxins.

Gynostemma:  Referred to in China as the “herb of immortality” it has a biphasic affect on the brain and nervous system, that is energizing and calming at the same time. It helps build strength and endurance while supporting immune, liver, and cardiovascular function.  Gynostemma builds protective energy and balances the major body systems while reinforcing overall health.

Holy Basil:  This nerve tonic helps reduce stress hormones and improve immunity and oxygen use while reducing systemic inflammation. It makes a wonderful tea that is said to open the heart and is used to enhance spiritual devotion.

Rhodiola:  This rebuilding, adaptogenic tonic is perfect for those experiencing depletion and deficiency of energy, i.e. those who are overworked and exhausted.

Shilajit:  This is a tar-like substance exuded from rocks in the Himalayan Mountains. A leading traditional rejuvenative, anti-aging tonic it also supports and tonifies the brain, liver, kidneys, G.I. tract, heart, and sexual organs. It is said to strengthen the body overall, maintain youthfulness and help one to attain long life.

Not Just About Herbs

In the opening of this article I mentioned the ultimate import of lifestyle choices on our health, healing, and radiance. There are numerous lifestyle choices we can make that I consider to be effective, tonic remedies as well; and while not as exciting or sexy as an exotic herb they are nonetheless quite helpful. These include going for a walk, getting plenty of sleep and rest, being active and moving, getting proper nourishment, connecting with others, staying involved, and having a purpose in life. Since I opened with Shen tonics I’d like to share some lifestyle Shen tonics: love, gratitude, compassion, and joy.

It’s Your Choice

Please keep in mind, it’s your choice it’s your body, it’s your health, and it is all up to you.  In an ancient Chinese medical text called the Bencao Yanyi it was written, “The body has peace and joy as its foundation. Peace and joy may be obtained if one takes protection and maintenance of life as its foundation.” May you take this thousand-year-old advice and embrace 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.