The herbs in this section are the top tonic herbs in the world because they consistently give excellent results. They are the herbs that are considered most precious for their power to create good health and a profound sense of well-being.
Each herb is shown with its category information to help you decide which herbs are likely to be best for your individual needs.
There are five tastes; sweet, bitter, pungent, salty and sour. Each taste is associated with a different type of energy. Sweet relates to the Earth element which means balance, feeling centred and dealing easily with stress. It is associated with the spleen so it means being well nourished with strong digestion. Bitter is linked to the Fire element, so its energy is of expansion, growth, of love, courage and joy. It is the taste associated with the heart. Pungent is connected with the element of Metal, and of the lungs. Its energy is about marshalling our core essence and letting go of dead weight. Salty is the Water element associated with the kidneys. It’s the energy of building and storing the root of our energy. Sour is linked to the wood element and is about creativity, new beginnings and growth. Sour goes with the liver, so it is associated with expressing ourselves and giving birth both to new physical life and to new projects.
Broadly speaking, the more tastes an individual herb has, the more systems it will work on all at once.
This category shows which of the Three Treasures – jing, chi and shen – the herb relates to. Jing, chi and shen are the three types of energy that form the basis of our being and of our health. Most of the ‘supertonics’ relate to at least one treasure, and there are a precious few that have all three treasures. These three energies are called treasures because they are the most valuable things we have. Without health and the energy to think, feel and take action, we can’t enjoy any of the things we might normally consider to be our treasures. See the section on the Three Treasures for a detailed description.
Some herbs are blood tonics, which mean they help to build and vitalise the blood and sometimes help to purify it as well.
It’s a good idea to begin with a blend of jing tonic herbs, as the most important and fundamental basis of health. Everyone can benefit from jing tonics to build the body’s deep energy reserves. Then with jing as the foundation, you could look at other tonics. All of the herbs benefit everyone at different times but often the chi tonics are good for men as a next step, while the blood tonics are often helpful for women. Blood tonics build the blood which tends to be weak in women, and promote beauty especially beautiful skin.
Each herb has special relevance to specific organ systems. The organ systems are Kidneys, Liver, Lungs, Spleen and Heart. The most important organ system is the kidneys because in Taoist medicine, the kidneys are the root of the body from which our energy springs. For this reason, you will find many of the top herbs are kidney tonics. See the Five Organs section for more.
The herbs are also categorised in terms of ‘temperature’ or atmospheric energy. In Taoist terms this usually relates to how yin or yang a herb is in its function. Just as a reminder, cool yin energy pulls in and stores energy while fiery yang is the expansive burning or spending of energy to create something.
There are five categories; hot and warm which generally mean yang; neutral which is balanced, and cool and cold which are yin. This is an important category to consider when you choose your herbs. For instance, if you have the symptoms associated with an overheated liver – cold hands and feet, muscle tension in the neck and shoulder, and headaches – then cooling yin herbs such as white peony will be more helpful than ‘hot’ herbs.