Herbs to Boost Energy: Tonics

Herbs which restore strength and tonify weakened tissues when the body is ” empty” —deficient —are called “tonic” They are used to repair damage caused by “empty” ailments. Clinically tonics are used for two purposes. One is to increase the body’s resistance to disease when resistance has been impaired by excess “evil-qi”. Combined with drugs which dispel excess “evil-qi” tonics are used in ailments caused by excess “evil-qi” or deficient “pure-qi.” They tend to restore the body’s original primordial energies. The second clinical use is to restore energy and accelerate recovery in patients who have become weak and vulnerable due to long-standing chronic ailments. Tonics are among the most useful of all drugs in Chinese herbal medicine.

Tonics are primarily used in “empty” ailments, which are divided into four types: energy deficient, blood deficient, yang-deficient, and yin-deficient. Tonics are thus similarly sub-classified as energy tonics, blood nourishers, yang-tonics, and yin-nourishers. “Tonic” and “nourish” are interchangeable terms, though customarily “tonic” is used to describe yang and energy herbs, while “nourish” is used for yin and blood herbs.

In clinical application, it is important to match the right type of tonic to the equivalent type of deficiency, such as using yang-tonics for yang-deficiency and so forth. Energy deficiency and yang deficiency are interrelated (energy belongs to yang) and their symptoms often appear together. Degeneration of vital energies and impairment of vital functions are the main indicators. Similarly, blood deficient and yin-deficient ailments often coincide (blood belongs to yin), and their main symptoms involve internal damage to the body’s vital fluids and fluid balance. Therefore, energy- and yang-tonics are often combined in therapy, as are blood- and yin- nourishers. In cases of both blood and energy deficiency, or combined yin- and yang-deficiency, both types of tonics are applied.

In patients who have not fully recovered from “full” ailments, restorative tonics should be used sparingly in order to avoid retention of some of the “full-evil” excess.

Energy tonics or “tonify qi”

These tonics are used against ailments caused by energy qi- deficiency. They primarily tonify lung energy and spleen energy where energy deficiencies usually come to rest. The spleen regulates digestion and distribution, and when it is “empty,” common symptoms are fatigue, loose and lumpy bowel movements, poor appetite, abdominal pain and pressure, hernias, prolapse of rectum, and others. The lungs regulate qi. When they are “empty”, common symptoms are lack of energy, shallow and strained breathing, aversion to talk, slow and sluggish movements, cold sweats, and others. Energy tonics are used in all the above ailments and symptoms.

In therapy, energy tonics are often used together with blood nourishers because “qi is the general of the blood” and regulates its production and its circulation. Thus, when qi is deficient, blood also suffers. In cases of extreme blood deficiency, such as due to profuse loss of blood, energy tonics are used with blood nourishers to facilitate renewed blood production.

Excess or prolonged use of energy tonics may result in oppressive sensations in the chest and abdomen and loss of appetite.



Natural distribution: Northeastern China, northern Korea.

Parts used: Roots.

Nature: Sweet; neutral.

Affinity: Spleen, lungs.

Effects: Very tonifying to primordial energy; tonic to lungs and spleen; nourishes vital fluids; aphrodisiac.

Indications: Energy deficiency: weak pulse, asthma due to “empty” lungs, dyspepsia, lack of appetite, prolapse of rectum, hypertension, insomnia, heart palpitations; diabetes.

Dosage: Normal —2-8 g; acute —15-20 g.

Remarks: Strictly avoid tea and turnips when using ginseng; ginseng regulates blood pressure and blood sugar as well; promotes secretion of sexual hormones in men and women; promotes blood production by tonifying qi.



Natural distribution: Northern China.

Parts used: Roots.

Nature: Sweet, warm.

Affinity: Spleen, lungs.

Effects: Tonic to spleen and lungs; stomachic.

Indications: Energy deficiency: fatigue, shallow and strained breathing, lack of appetite, dyspepsia, facial swelling, prolapse of rectum.

Dosage: 10-15 g.

Remarks: Similar in action to ginseng, but not as strong; this drug is often substituted in places or at times when ginseng is too expensive.



Natural distribution: Northern China, Mongolia, Manchuria.

Parts used: Roots.

Nature: Sweet; slightly warm.

Affinity: Spleen, lungs.

Effects: Tonifies energy; diuretic; impedes perspiration; promotes suppuration of abscesses.

Indications: Energy deficiency: fatigue, prolapse of rectum, womb, or other organs; profuse sweating due to external “empty” ailments; stub- born abscesses; facial swelling; diabetes.

Dosage: 8-15 g.

Remarks: The drug is also cardio-tonic, and lowers blood pressure and blood sugar; improves circulation in flesh and skin.


        ATRACTYLDDES                          macrocephala

Natural distribution: China, Korea, Japan.

Parts used: Roots.

Nature: Sweet and bitter; warm.

Affinity: Spleen, stomach.

Effects: Tonic to spleen; drying; diuretic; impedes perspiration

Indications: “Empty” stomach and spleen: full feeling after small food intake, fatigue, diarrhea; phlegm and swelling due to damp-excess; profuse perspiration due to “empty- cold” ailments.

Dosage: 3-10 g.

Remarks: The drug is sedative to restless foetus.



Natural distribution: China, Japan.

Parts used: Roots (tubers).

Nature: Sweet; neutral.

Affinity: Spleen, lungs.

Effects: Tonic to spleen, stomach, and lungs; stomachic; digestive.

Indications: “Empty” spleen and stomach: lack of appetite, fatigue, diarrhea, leukorrhoea; chronic coughs; nocturnal emissions; spermatorrhoea; frequent and scanty urination.

Dosage: 10-30 g.

Remarks: The drug also lowers blood-sugar and is used in diabetes.



Natural distribution: China, Japan, India, Afghanistan.

Parts used: Fruits.

Nature: Sweet; neutral.

Affinity: Spleen.

Effects: Tonic to spleen and stomach; nutrient; sedative.

Indications: “Empty” spleen and stomach; general energy deficiency; fatigue; hysteria.

Dosage: 3-5 fruits.

Remarks: The plant is added to many strong tonic prescriptions as a metabolic buffer to slow down and prolong their effects.



Natural distribution: Northern China, Mongolia, Siberia.

Parts used: Roots.

Nature: Sweet; neutral.

Affinity: Enters all 12 meridians and organs.

Effects: Tonic; antipyretic; antidote; demulcent to lungs; expectorant; analgesic.

Indications: “Empty” spleen and stomach; blood and energy deficiency; toxic abscesses; swollen and sore throat; coughs; asthma; acute abdominal pains.

Dosage: 2-10 g.

Remarks: This is the most commonly used Chinese herb, appearing in almost all prescriptions; it benefits all the organs; its flavor improves the taste of all prescriptions; it slows and prolongs the effects of strong tonic prescriptions; antidote in mushroom poisoning; emollient in peptic ulcers.


Natural distribution: World-wide.

Parts used: Dried placenta tissue.

Nature: Sweet and salty; warm.

Affinity: Heart, spleen, kidneys.

Effects: Tonifies energy, blood, and vital essence.

Indications: Extreme blood and energy deficiency; general weakness and fatigue; asthma due to lung deficiency.

Dosage: 3-5 g.

Remarks: Also an effective tonic in impotence, sterility and neurasthenia.

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