Before jumping to the conclusion that someone needs to fast, the practitioner needs to evaluate the basic vitality of a person. The cleansing should not decrease their storehouse of basic energy, known in Ayurvedic medicine as Ojas and in Chinese medicine as Jing. If the cleansing is excessive or if the person does not have the vital force to go through a cleanse then their energy will dwindle and may leave the person with weakened digestion, fuzzy thinking, and possibly with a compromised immune system. In other words, people have to have enough basic energy in order to undergo rigorous fasts and cleansing techniques.
One example of inappropriate cleansing stands out in my mind as an example. A few years ago, I had befriended an elderly woman who was health-oriented. She was drawn to a teacher who promoted raw foods and extreme cleanses and decided to go to his retreat center for a cleanse. There she began to have juices, raw foods and water for three weeks. By the third week she was unable to get up from under the tree where she was lying and had to be carried to her room. The teacher said it was due to more toxins in the system and she had to continue the cleanse. In a few days she broke out on the forehead with an awful sore that wouldn't heal. She finally was sent home were she was terribly ill and weak.
She called her local herbalist who was a Western herbalist but had studied and utilized Eastern principles to her practice, much in the manner that I do. She evaluated my friend and said she had diminished her vital force through a deficient diet. She told her to have no raw foods or juices and recommended eggs, soups, meat broth, warm mild herbs teas and steamed vegetables. She gave her building tonic herbs to enhance her vitality and had her rest until she was fully recovered. In a month's time, my friend had returned to her customary state and her sore had cleared up.
Although we may see people in our clinic who are very toxic, they are also very deficient in many ways due to dietary inadequacies, eating of inappropriate substances and excess unrelenting stresses. Along with all this, you may also see that there has been sleep deprivation (80% of Americans are sleep deficient - lack of deep sleep or not enough hours of sleep per day) as well as excess use of drugs (prescribed, over the counter or street), excess coffee, carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol. In my clinic, I've noticed this scenario emerging more frequently in the last 8 years or so. How does the clinician approach a case like this?
I would like to explain some Oriental concepts of healing that might help you obtain another viewpoint on this problem. This explanation is for those with no background in Oriental systems. I have taken the liberty of simplifying these concepts considerably and hope those who have a more thorough background in these systems will see that a simple explanation can greatly benefit a client so that they can understand why various lifestyle changes will benefit them.
In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a concept called 'Jing,' or the energy that is given to you at conception, which is the vital foundation of energy which will carry you through your life. Jing is the substance associated with the slow movement of organic change. It can be described as dark, quiescent, moist, and warm and is the inner essence of growth and decline. In Ayurvedic medicine this concept is the same but called "Ojas." I liken this Jing or Ojas to an inheritance that you are given at birth. This inheritance comes from the parents, and, in my way of thinking, includes the incarnating soul's own personal karma and needs. Some people are given a large inheritance and others a minimal one. Thus, we will notice that some people have a strong constitution while others are much weaker. But no matter how much Jing or Ojas you are given, it is best to utilize it in a very conscious way.
The aging process occurs when this stored energy becomes spent or exhausted. Most of the signs of aging, such as loss of hearing, teeth, hair , diminished sexual desire, reduced mental clarity and quickness, degeneration of the bones, and the wrinkling and drying up of the skin are largely due to the natural consumption of the Jing or Ojas over time. This energy, according to Chinese medicine, is stored in the Kidneys which governs the bones, brain, marrow, nerves, the reproductive organs and their energies. Thus, it is stated that one is basically 'as old or young as the Kidneys are."
Although Jing/Ojas is the initial and deepest source of vitality, it is not the only source of vitality in the body, which brings us to our next concept called "post-natal Qi' in Chinese medicine and 'digestive Agni' in Ayurveda.
Qi can be loosely translated as vital force but in Chinese thought it perhaps can be thought of as matter on the verge of becoming energy.
Post -natal Qi is obtained from the food, air, and water that are consumed each day. The digestive fires (enzymes etc) are the capacity of the body to break down food to obtain the life force stored in it. Post-natal qi can be likened to a checking account in which we put our energy. Each day we use most of this energy in order to go about our business of living. Anything left over goes into a savings account so that we are not living 'paycheck to paycheck.' This is called Post-natal Jing. This account is tapped into when necessary before dipping into our deepest energy resource, Pre-natal Jing.
So to summarize, Kidney Jing/Ojas is like an IRA or Inheritance which slowly is utilized throughout life, Post natal Qi is the paycheck we receive each day from our food, air and water, and Post Natal Jing is our savings account which will back us up with more energy if we need it for emergencies.
The thrust of rejuvenation and revitalization is dependent on our consumption and proper digestion of food, air, and water. If we skip meals repeatedly or live on coffee, donuts, sugar products, sodas, re-circulated air, unclean water, microwaved foods, and denatured food year after year then we will find ourselves without any energy in the checking or savings account. We will have to cash in the IRA ahead of time and with penalties! When we have to do this then we are shortening our lives, and may experience symptoms of premature aging and diminished well being.
What else can deplete us? Not taking time to rest, being emotionally overly stimulated day after day, upsetting relationships that do not come to a resolution, long term use of pharmaceutical drugs, recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco, excess noise, excess sexual activity, too much worry, too much stimulation from computers, games, TV'¦ I can go on and on. As you can see our modern life is not conducive to promoting great inner peace and longevity that is full of vigor.
What really amazes me is that so many of my clients do not have time to eat! They grab a bagel in the morning, maybe a piece of fruit for lunch and possibly a little sandwich or a can of soup for dinner. Also, eating and driving is becoming a common practice in our society. On the other end of the spectrum, I see people who are eating too much but their foods lack vital life force or substance. These folks may be big and overweight but "empty" inside with no substance, thus they are exhausted, too! When this type of lifestyle is continued for a period of time than the deep Jing energy is prematurely drained, thus creating the picture of what the Western medical system may call adrenal exhaustion.
When I see the exhausted person the first thing that I have to do is try to give them the viewpoint that their choices in foods and lifestyle each day are more important than taking a few herbs now and then. These basic choices are what create the basis from which herbal therapy can function! To try this or that herb without the basic foundation of healthy diet and lifestyle will only lead to failure. Sometimes taking certain herbs will give us the insight to make the changes needed but dietary changes have to be implemented because the herbs just won't do it 100%. I also have to tell the exhausted person that the process of healing will be a slow one because rebuilding takes time. I usually tell them that if they do the lifestyle that is nourishing and nurturing for a year, they will feel themselves slowly moving out of 'debt' and into a stronger place. According to the Ayurvedic paradigm, it takes 35 days for one drop of Ojas to be replaced in the deep tissue. So, education is the first step that I endeavor to take with a client when this type of situation is presented to me.
Even if we have depleted Jing/Ojas, we can create good functioning checking and savings accounts so that we do not have to burn out the rest of our inheritance prematurely.
For example, I had a client, aged 42, who had hair loss, no libido, restless sleep, loose teeth, frequent colds and flu, scattered mind and was constitutionally cold and exhausted. She had eaten a deficient diet for years, mostly raw foods, smoked pot on a regular basis, overworked and lived in a cold damp environment.
The first thing I did was to try to regulate the digestion and encourage her to take in vital food, water and air. The foods were to be organic whenever possible; cooked - soups, stews or casseroles are easy to digest; water should be pure without fluoride, chlorine or other toxins; and the air should be clean - air purifiers as well as the use of essential oil diffusers can be employed.
Along with the foods, a person may need to take probiotics (acidophilus supplementation), digestive aids such as spices, perhaps fennel or ginger tea after meals, or bitters before meals depending on the constitution of the client.
They may also have to implement some exercise into their life to the get the digestive metabolism going. This may be done with simple walking after meals or by using a rebounder (trampoline), gentle step aerobics, Nordic track or whatever else a person is willing to do. Rigorous, heavy aerobic exercises, and running may deplete the person too much and thus use up that which you are trying to build. So keep the exercise within the parameters of rebuilding vital force and moving it without depleting it.
I feel it is necessary that we clear up the word tonic. Many herbalists use the word tonic to denote herbs that tone up or cleanse the body tissues. This definition was popularized by Jethro Kloss in his herb book, Back to Eden. Most of the herbs listed in his tonic herbs are strong cleansing herbs such as boneset, dandelion, meadowsweet, and willow. This definition and outlook of tonics is very different from what we are discussing in this article. The concept of using the cleansing herbs as tonics goes along with the cleansing techniques which clear out metabolic waste and thus tones the tissue.
What is being discussed in this article are herbs which are 'supplementing,' or nourish and increase substance and density of the body. I think that better describes the category. I will be adding the word 'supplementing' alongside of the word tonic to emphasis this quality. Most books on Chinese medicine, however, use the word 'tonic' only but please keep in mind that the definition and the quality of the herbs are of a different character than those called tonic in Western herbology.
Tonic herbs should not be given to a person who is suffering from a cold or flu. Give alterative, and other clearing, diaphoretic, diuretic herbs first and then when they are recovering give them tonic herbs that are appropriate for rebuilding.
Those who have had a long term chronic illness or those who are too weak to get over an acute ailment are given certain tonic herbs to help boost the immunity and digestion so that the illness can be eliminated or at least pacified to a certain degree in regards to a deep chronic condition.
Tonic/supplementing herbs generate some of the following qualities when ingested:
Tonic or supplementing therapy is for those who are in a deficient, malnourished and weakened state. This scenario is very common in our modern culture and is not just reserved for those who are in a third world country or situation.
For example, diabetes, known as the starving disease, is one of poor nutritional assimilation. Many diabetics are obese but are in a deficient state none the less. We also have in the West the scenario of the extreme dieting types whose caloric intake does not meet the needs of their activities thus creating a catabolic state '“ continuous breaking down of tissue. This leaves a person with a nutritional deficit. Another situation is the 'fast food' vegan/ vegetarian diet. Often, their nutrition consists of carbohydrates (chips, pasta) but low in building foods, proteins. Carbohydrates are known as the 'grow' food (they help us put on weight as excess carbs turn into fat) and proteins as the 'go' food, or foods that give us slow burning energy and build organ tissues. I liken carbs to throwing paper in the fireplace to get warm (it burns quickly) and proteins as the oak log in the fireplace that burns slowly. Proteins give us long sustaining energy and satisfy the appetite as opposed to carbs which burn up quickly and leave us in a weakened state.
There is also the Standard American Diet, known as SAD, which consists of fast foods, sodas, chips, sugar, white flour, coffee, and other non-foods.
As stated, supplementing herbs nourish and invigorate. There are four categories of these that I would like to cover.
Let's take a look at some of these categories and try to understand what each engenders. I am trying to create a Western model for some of these concepts so that the practitioner does not have to diverge into either the Chinese or Ayurvedic models. As Western herbalists, I feel we need to develop these categories using terminology that is familiar to us and that we can readily communicate to our clients and students.
The herbs in this category actually increase the vital energy inherent in each cell and throughout the system. The more vital energy a person has, the more alive they feel and the more stamina they have.
Many of the herbs in this grouping govern the production and extraction of energy from food and air thus are building to the digestive system and lungs, both of which absorb and distribute the energy of life and circulate it to the various channels and organs. Most of these herbs are warming to the system, nourish the flesh, regulate the appetite, and control digestion and assimilation. When the appetite is balanced, the whole body can become strong.
It should also be noted that modern medicine is beginning to understand what the Oriental doctors have known for centuries: the immune system begins in the gut. If we have strong digestion and a digestive tract which is functioning correctly we can expect an increase in our immunity and well being. Latest research says that about 60% of the immune system activity is happening in the digestive system.
Many of the herbs in the vital energy tonics category also help keep the lungs strong and aid in the extraction of vital essence from the air we breathe. The lungs distribute this energy to the skin where it provides our outermost aspect of the immune system, called our outer defense system (one colleague dubbed this the 'defense shield like on the Enterprise'). Goosebumps, for example, are an aspect of the immune system. Remember, the skin is a major organ of assimilation and elimination and needs to have the right care to function properly. Strong lungs can give us better health; When we breathe deep, the blood is invigorated, the skin radiant, and the thoughts clear.
As we can see, these herbs can be categorized as 'herbs for the immune system' but with our deeper understanding of digestion and the breath we can see why they are sometimes called immunity builders.
In Chinese herbology there are numerous herbs that are put in this category. I will be placing some of the Chinese herbs in this list because I don't know any Western substitutes for them. I am also going to place many Western herbs in this category and hope that the reader will try to see them from a different perspective than what was previously experienced.
As Western herbalists, I feel there are many herbs that are growing wild in the U.S. but are not recognized as tonic/supplementing herbs thus are not planted nor harvested. We have to develop a philosophy for them to be recognized and then we can categorize them.
I feel this work is an ongoing one and needs to be explored and expanded upon. In no way do I feel that I am an authority on the tonic herbs of the West, for in some cases it may take many years of practice and client feedback to come to any definitive conclusions. However, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine can give us many guideposts and ideas as to how to recognize and utilize tonic herbs in the clinic. I draw from these traditions frequently.
The reader will also notice that many of the herbs fall in more than one category. Herbs have many personalities and often times have more than one action.
Chinese Tonic Herbs:
Substances and plants growing in US and harvested here:
As you can see many of these plants grown or can be grown in the U.S. successfully. If we have a category to put such herbs in then there will be the growers and wild crafters making them available to the herbalist/clinician.
I usually have the clients take tonic herbs with food when possible. Often times I have them cook roots and pieces of the herbs right in the soups and stews or I may even ask them to decoct certain ones in organic milk which also acts as a tonic or building agent. Most often, however, I have the clients take the herbs in the form of a powdered blend '“ one half teaspoon with meals three times a day. I also mix the powdered tonic herbs with molasses or honey and add other nutritive foods to them such as ground sesame seeds for calcium and to moisten the intestines, or walnuts to warm the kidneys, or chopped figs to nourish the blood and soften the stool. I have a grinder in which I grind cut and sifted herbs to a powder or if the herb is very hard or sticky, I have my herbal company grind them for me. Fresh ground herbs can have a shelf life of 6 months or more if stored in glass jars and kept out of light. Storing them in the refrigerator may be helpful as well.
I never use tonic herbs in tincture form when I am in the process of rebuilding someone. I feel that the whole herb taken in food or in powder will better nourish the person. This is the more traditional way to use tonic herbs and there are many references to explain this in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, the food and herbs which have the elements of earth and water '“ that which builds and moistens '“ are considered to be deeply nourishing and supplementing to the system. Many of the tonic herbs in the categories listed above, have an abundance of earth/water elements in them.
The earth/ water elements are considered to be somewhat sweet in taste. Sweet does not mean the taste of candy, but 'that which the body recognizes as building of tissue and vitality' '“ which are proteins, eggs, meat, seeds, nuts, beans, tempeh, and the tonic herbs taken in conjunction with building foods, such as astragalus, ginseng and codonopsis. Sweet taste means that the body feels loved and when we eat a truly nourishing meal our cells have 'spasms of delight' in being cared for. The sweet tonic herbs are also commonly used to raise one's tolerance to stress and pain and improve the general adaptive response to stress.
As stated above, it is best to give a person tonic herbs in conjunction with substances that have building qualities as well. Thus, mixing the herbs with molasses, or decocting the herbs in milk, reinforces the nourishing qualities - more earth /water is added to the person's tissues.
Alcoholic extracts have mostly fire, air, and water qualities. In other words, alcohol is warming, moves energy and is only slightly moistening to the system. In Chinese medicine alcohol '“ made as a fermented drink (wine) with a low alcohol level (not high alcoholic-proof tinctures) was used to move the blood and to break up blockages in the system. Using tinctures for building does not make sense when thought out in the context of the energetic principles. If a person needed protein to rebuild their tissues, you wouldn't give them an alcoholic extract of meat, let's say. The same with the tonic/supplementing herbs '“ the person needs the whole herb or the herb cooked with the nourishing foods to be truly effective. This, I feel, is an important concept for the Western herbalist to grasp.
The next category of tonics is blood builders. Blood has a moistening quality and helps to keep the organs nourished and vital. The blood also removes waste from every cell of the body. Strong, healthy, abundant blood whose constituents are properly balanced is essential to health. Blood tonics generally regulate the menstrual cycle and benefit pregnancy. However, blood tonics are not just used by women. Men, too need an abundant blood supply and the same blood tonics used by women are used by men to build blood and to strengthen the male reproductive functions.
The main organs for the blood are the heart which pumps the blood and the liver and spleen which store blood.
Some of the herbs in this category work indirectly in building the blood by improving the general health of the whole body and deeply nourishing the tissues. Some also promote improved blood circulation.
As mentioned earlier, the vital energy tonics can work in conjunction with the blood builders and often are put in formulas with one another.
The Western herbalist is most familiar with the cleansing herbs or what is termed 'blood purifiers.' What we are looking for here are substances that will build the blood, not just clear it of metabolic wastes.
Blood tonic herbs:
Blood tonic foods:
The herbs and the foods listed above for the blood can be used in conjunction with one another to make a paste, food or formula. Remember, the food is just as big a part of the rebuilding of tissue as the herbs are.
Nettles and yellowdock are cooling to the system and clearing to the blood. They contain minerals and are said to 'brighten the vital essence' through their clearing process but they do not build in the same way as the above herbs/foods do. I sometimes add these two herbs to the formulas that contain for example rehmannia or dong quai.
I often make a strong decoction of rehmannia, dong quai, and yellowdock and then infuse the nettles at the end. I strain out the herbs, measure out the liquid in a measuring cup and then add an equal amount of molasses. One teaspoon three times a day with meals is a moderate amount for rebuilding blood.
The fluid aspect of the body includes blood plasma, lymph, cerebral spinal fluid, reproductive fluids, mucous coating of the lungs and digestive tract, lubricating secretions of the mucous membranes, joints, skin, tears, sweat, saliva, urine, and hormonal secretions.
Fluid essence tonic herbs and foods nourish the tissues mentioned above and generally are sweet, solid, moist and nutritive. Because these herbs/foods are rather heavy and wet in nature they are usually combined with other herbs which guide them to their target area such as those found in the vital essence category as well as mild spices which lighten up their heavy quality and make them more digestible. Blood tonics are also moistening in nature and can also be used supportively and/or interchangeably with the fluid essence tonics.
Fluid essence depletion is quite common in our culture where people are burning out their juices with excess thinking, working, playing, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, pot, pharmaceutical drugs, sodas and other 'non-food' items.
If the fluid essence is missing from the lungs, then we have dry coughs, loss of voice, thirst, dry throat and dry skin as well as feelings of heat in those areas.
Lack of stomach fluid essence will result in inflamed gums and mouth, lack of appetite, irritability, thirst, dry mouth and constipation. There may also be burning sensations in the stomach, ulcers and poor digestion.
Deficient liver fluid essence may exhibit symptoms of dry, dull eyes, poor vision, dizziness, ringing in the ears, brittle nails, and in extreme cases will show up as heat rising into the head and cause irritability, anger, insomnia, and red tongue with no coating.
The kidneys, in this reference, are considered the root of the basic fluid essence. This is the storehouse of the water element. A deficiency of the fluid essence is often the cause of chronic disease and diseases related to aging. As one ages, the fluid essence dries up and produces general body dryness, wrinkled skin, loose teeth, depletion of muscle tone, thinning hair, weak muscles, compromised digestion, constipation, low libido, dry vagina, and so forth. In the clinic, people who are aging prematurely may present the above. Nourishing herbs and foods are the key to helping them out.
Heat can appear when the fluid essence is missing from anywhere in the system. The water/moisture keeps tissues lubricated and cooled, and it keeps the body heat, enzymes, and metabolic processes in place. When the moisture is missing then the heat begins to be rebellious and cause heat signs. The heat can appear as hot flashes, night sweat, afternoon fever, heat in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and warmth in the chest. It is important that Western herbalists know about this because to just use cooling, bitter herbs to clear heat signs will actually exacerbate the situation. These types of herbs tend to dry up the fluid essence even more! The nourishing, moistening cooling herbs listed in this category will nourish the deficiency that is underlying the heat signs. In some cases, the cooling, bitter herbs may be used in small amounts in conjunction with the more nourishing herbs '“ but should not be used alone. All the signs of course do not have to be present for there to be a diagnosis of fluid essence deficiency but there will be a definite pattern developing.
The use of these herbs tends to foster compassion, patience, tolerance and devotion as do those in the blood tonic category.
Contraindications for these tonics are: excess fluid in the system, mucus and cold, damp stagnation. For example, do not give these herbs to people who have a cold with lots of mucus, or to someone who has food stagnation in the stomach and has a heavy coating on the tongue.
FLUID ESSENCE HERBS:
Some of the herbs listed here are found in the area where I live and are not necessarily available commercially. Add your own herbs and foods to the list as well that embrace the qualities of fluid essence.
Foods: This list is not inclusive. Add foods that you regard as engendering fluid essence.
Warming tonics are of vast importance in the tonic herbal system because they can provide warming energy to the kidneys (adrenals) and in turn can increase the life force of the body/mind as a whole which results in a more dynamic life. Their energy is warm, sweet, pungent and sometimes sour. Their properties are generally tonic, diuretic, astringent and aphrodisiac.
Some symptoms of warming essence deficiency include the following: exhaustion, lack of will power, chill, pallor, feeling like being alone and not talking, fear of cold, lower back ache, joint pains, pale tongue, weak and deep pulse, impotence, watery vaginal discharge, infertility, wheezing and early morning diarrhea. Tonics that warm a person up increase the general physical energy as well as the energy of the spine and brain. They strengthen the sexual power, the blood and bones and stabilize the joints. They provide the energy of courage, fortitude and will power. The warming essence tonics increase the adaptive energy of the body and enhance internal defense mechanisms. They also regulate the function of the adrenal cortex, regulate energy metabolism, promote sexual functions, and strengthen resistance. Since they tend to be drying in nature, it is best to add some of the moisture-engendering tonics with them so that they do not damage the fluid aspects of the body, which is more delicate. The warming essence tonics can also be used to tone up the heart, circulation and digestion.
Warming essence herbs/foods:
Here is a sample recipe of the herbal pastes that I make. You will need to purchase herbs that are in powder form or you can grind them yourself. Put them through a sifter if they do not completely grind up to a fine powder.
Demulcent Soothing Herbs for Re-moistening
Spices to Aid Digestion/Agni
Combine about an ounce of the above ingredients with either almond or sesame butter, depending on the need. Add enough sweetener to make it taste good. I usually use honey, however, raw sugar, maple syrup or rice syrup can be used as sweeteners. About two tablespoons is adequate. A little ghee (clarified butter) may be added to the mixture. Mix in chopped walnuts, sesame seeds or dried fruits such as coconut, raisins, lycii berries, dried blue berries, dates, or cranberries. Use the foods that are most appropriate to your client's needs.
You may want to add some spices to your mixture such as those listed below. Just add a quarter teaspoon of each because they are strong. Make sure the paste is thick enough so that it won't easily drop from a spoon and will hold its form but not so dry that it is unappetizing. You may add more powdered herbs or oil to the mixture until you have the right consistency.
Roll into small balls and keep them stored in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator. For an added taste delight, you may want to roll the confections in carob powder or grated coconut.
For those who cannot eat nuts, an alternative is to puree dates and then add the powdered herbs until a thick consistency is obtained. Sweeteners are not needed with the dates as they are sweet enough. Ghee may be added. Follow the rest of the recipe as stated above.
The amount of herb a person actually receives from the herbal nut balls is less than if you use the herbs without the nut butter so here is a recipe for just the herbs in a paste.
STRONGER PASTE FORMULA
To make a strong formula, you can eliminate the nut butter and dates all together and make the paste with the herbs and molasses or honey, possibly with the addition of ghee. Gently heat the honey and /or molasses and stir in an ounce of the herbal combination. Do not let the mixture boil '“ just soften the honey/molasses with a low heat. Start with about 1/4 of the sweetener and add in the powdered herbs. A little ghee can be added to the formula at this time as well. The consistency should be a very thick paste that does not drip off a spoon. The dose is 1/2 to 1 tsp. with meals three times a day.
Candis Cantin Kiriajes