Taoism and TCM have a highly developed understanding and application of specific herbs for longevity. With an expansively sophisticated materia medica, this system has over 4,000 years of practice and we are blessed to have access to this astounding information. As Ron Teeguarden would say, "Tonics are a protective form of herbalism costumed to support glowing health, support functionality, and promote radiant adaptability." Therapeutically, Western herbalism is a bit linear in diagnosis patterns and non-specific with organs and vital life force energy (or lack of) as causative factors for disease. Without the navigational tool of the 5 elements, 8 evils, Yin and Yang, and Superior herbs, Western herbalism uses many simples to address what they see, rather than comprehending larger patterns. A critical factor in TCM tonic herbalism is the acknowledgement of constitutional tendencies and temperatures. Western herbalists are not always trained to understating Excess/Deficient, Hot/Cold, Damp/Dry, Internal/External. With tonic herbalism as Western herbalism simply views it, certain building, heating, cooling, eliminating, drying, dampening herbs can be mis-prescribed and drive a pattern deeper, overheat a system, or deplete a person further. Basically, Chinese Tonics have indications and contraindications, so the season and the individual condition must be calculated wisely. Also, there are few tonics that are traditionally taken daily for long periods of time, and this should be taken into consideration. Schizandra, Reishi, Goji, Cordyceps, Astragalus and Jujube can be taken from childhood to Elder years with no proven depletion, whereas tonics like Ren Shen can burn out the body by liberating stored Qi. Another factor is to differentiate if a tonic is accessing stored Qi or acting as a truly nutritive tonic. This can differ from case to case and proper prescription is provided through therapeutic practice, sharing of wisdom and monitoring of the individuals condition.
Chinese tonics are classified as Yin, Yang, Qi, or Blood and go beyond simples in western herbalism in that they carry, perform, and supply the micronutrients to harmonize a body into a state of balanced physiological energy, vitality, and regeneration. Taken from EastWest course work, this paragraph impresses any herbalist: "Modern Chinese research on the effect of Qi tonics has shown that they not only stimulate digestive secretions, but increase intracellular mitochondria through their involvement with protein synthesis and lipid metabolism. Blood tonics supply easily assimilated minerals (like iron) essential for healthy blood. Yin tonics supply vital nourishing components to aid formation of bodily secretions and substances. Yang tonics provide hormonal precursors the body uses to reassemble into hormones, neural transmitters, and other substances for healthy endocrine and reproductive functions." BAM!! - AmaZing!
Through increasing bioavailability of nutrients and metabolic efficiency in a system, longevity, vitality, Jing, Qi, and Shen are all supported! Jing is our primal power source that comes from Earth, where our inner power and adaptability reside. Qi is our vitality, our breath, our day to day metabolism of the nectars and obstacles of life. Shen is the divine flame, our light supported by Jing and Qi. The three treasures are a foundational principle in Tonic herbalism as they help us understand the energetic location we are therapeutically nourishing, building, and balancing. An example of how complex and sophisticated this can get is: "with Yin deficiency, the Yin can't control Yang, so the heat of Yang becomes more apparent because Water is lacking to control Fire...leading to Empty Heat (when heat is not truly from an excess Yang condition) and heat becomes a sign without the strength of Yang." Anything that depletes the Kidneys, like excessive work, also depletes the root of Yin and Yang and can burn out the Yin. This stream of thought example is from looking at my notes for the indications for Liu Wei Di Huang - Rehmannia 6, which is a tonic formula for nourishing Blood and Yin and Water Yin deficiency. This kind of analysis and poetic navigation is not practiced is Western herbalism, and I find it fascinating to be trained in TCM and begin to understand the dance of it all. With the application of Chinese tonics, we are preventing leakages of Qi, preserving essence, and harmonizing the internal with the external. This is profound.
Through the unity of opposites, and integrated approach to Chinese Tonics can assist with illuminating the positive aspects of life and longevity, and eradicate the noxious. Personally, the use of Reishi and Schizandra have helped me to be more present, spiritually stable, and have helped my immune system flourish rather than decay.